Bulls switch up starters, then finish poorly in loss to Brooklyn

Vincent Price once made a movie forecasting the scene at the United Center on Friday. It was called "Theatre of Blood."

Playing on a garish red court, constructed in honor of the NBA's new concoction, the In-Season Tournament, the Bulls lost their tourney opener to Brooklyn 109-107.

Regardless of the color scheme, this was the third straight Bulls game that boiled down to making shots and getting stops late in the fourth quarter.

With the Bulls trailing by 3 with 4.9 seconds left, the Nets fouled Zach LaVine intentionally. He hit the first free throw, missed the second intentionally, and when Ben Simmons tipped the rebound outside, the ball landed back in LaVine's hands. He took a dribble and shot a turnaround 22-footer, which came close but bounced off the rim just before time expired. The nearest referee signaled it was a 2-point shot.

"Pretty good shot for a Hail Mary missed free throw," LaVine said in the locker room.

A few seconds earlier, the Bulls had the ball down by 2 when LaVine drove past Simmons, then ran into a stationary Royce O'Neal and threw an errant shot off the backboard. Brooklyn got the rebound, but Mikal Bridges missed a free throw with 12 seconds left, giving the Bulls another chance.

"I thought I drew some good contact," LaVine said. "I didn't want to settle. Put it in the ref's hands, it didn't go our way."

LaVine and DeMar DeRozan scored 24 points each, while Coby White added 18. Three-point shooting continued to be an issue. They started out on target, hitting 9-for-17 in the first half, then went just 2-for-11 after halftime. The two makes were by DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic in the final four minutes, after the Bulls fell behind by 4.

Besides the rosy court, the other news of the night was a change to the starting lineup. Billy Donovan addressed one of the Bulls' early-season concerns by pushing Patrick Williams to the bench and making veteran Torrey Craig a starter.

Craig hit a 3-pointer on the Bulls' opening possession of the game, and the two forwards played together for a few minutes. Overall, the switch had little impact on Friday's game.

During the first five games, Williams averaged just 4 points, 3.2 rebounds and went 2 of 16 from 3-point range. On Friday, he delivered a season-high 10 points and hit 2 of 3 attempts from 3.

"I think the one thing we've got to be really mindful of with Patrick is he doesn't need 25 people talking to him every single day," Donovan said before the game. "That to me clouds his head even more. It's always been, 'I am here if you need me, but I can't keep be taking your temperature every single day to see how you're feeling.'

"In Indiana (earlier in the week), we spent some time together and talked. And I love being around Patrick. He's a great guy and wants to do well."

Williams wasn't happy about the loss but took his new role in stride.

"I wouldn't say it was difficult (playing with the starters)," he said. "I would just say I was going through a stretch there where I really couldn't make a shot.

"It's just basketball on the end of the day. I kind of pride myself on being a guy that's versatile and can play with different lineups, at different positions. For me, it's just kind of showcasing that in a sense."

Before the game, Donovan said the team talked about the In-Season Tournament at shootaround and planned to take it seriously.

The event is tough to explain in limited space, but essentially there are six divisions, pool play continues for the rest of November and eventually the top four teams will advance to the semifinals and championship in Las Vegas.

Ayo Dosunmu missed the game with an illness and Donovan said the third-year guard wouldn't travel with the team to Denver for Saturday's contest.

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

San Antonio Spurs center Victor Wembanyama (1) drives on Phoenix Suns forward Kevin Durant during the second half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Nov 2, 2023, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
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