Zach LaVine's Chicago debut was technically a success. But it's tough to judge how well he fits with the Bulls when he's limited to 20 minutes of playing time and stays on the bench for the entire fourth quarter.
"It went really fast," LaVine said of his opening four-minute stint. "I looked up at the clock and it was over before it even started."
With LaVine relegated to the bench in the fourth quarter, the Bulls did just enough to edge the Detroit Pistons 107-105 on Saturday at the United Center. The Bulls are now 13-7 since Dec. 8, when their season turned around after a 3-20 start.
Lauri Markkanen hit the game-winning jumper off an inbounds pass with 1:08 remaining. Markkanen had just missed an open 3-pointer, but the rebound was knocked out of bounds and the Bulls were awarded possession after a video review.
Kris Dunn's free throw made it a 2-point lead, then the Bulls survived the frantic final seconds. With about a four-second difference on the shot clock, the Bulls ran some time, then Justin Holiday lost the ball as he drove into the lane. The Pistons took off on the break and Reggie Bullock missed a contested lay in just before time expired.
Bullock said after the game he thought he was fouled by Dunn on the final shot attempt and replays supported his case, but it doesn't matter now.
"When you're winning, everything is different, confidence is growing," Nikola Mirotic said. "Now we know how to close those games."
LaVine scored 14 points, hitting 5 of 9 shots overall and 3 of 4 from 3-point range. He was credited with 2 assists, 1 turnover and he spent the last three minutes of the third quarter at point guard, while Kris Dunn and Jerian Grant both sat on the bench.
On the Bulls' first possession of the game, LaVine calmly swished a 3-pointer for his first points since tearing the ACL in his left knee last year on Feb. 3 while playing for Minnesota.
"I expected it to go through (the net)," LaVine said. "I take so many shots, man. Late nights, I shot so many shots, hopefully I make that wide open one. And I was happy. I was into the game, so I didn't really have any emotions going through that point."
The two-time dunk contest champ didn't perform any high-flying slams in this game. Mirotic tried to underhand a short lob pass in the first quarter, but the pass wasn't high enough and LaVine couldn't control it.
"I thought he played very effective and efficient," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "I thought he took good shots, he played within himself. He made good plays when they stepped up and double-teamed him."
The Bulls (16-27) seemed to make the best of an odd situation. LaVine took the floor with the starters for the first time and then left for a rest quickly.
"It felt comfortable," Holiday said. "Really, the main thing was he came out and seemed very comfortable. I think that was good for him on a personal level. The rest of us were just here to continue doing what we're doing and it felt good to me.
Hoiberg stuck with the second unit well into the fourth quarter and they built a 100-95 advantage. As the starters trickled back onto the floor, Holiday and Mirotic missed wide-open 3-point shots and the Pistons went ahead on a pair of Andre Drummond tip-ins. The lead changed hands a few times before Markkanen's go-ahead jumper.
Markkanen led the Bulls with 19 points, while Dunn had 18 and Mirotic 16. The Bulls hit 17 of 36 attempts from 3-point range, with Markkanen and Mirotic knocking down four each.
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