Gafford plays great, but Bulls fade late in loss to Bucks
The Bulls unleashed a promising young star, created some fourth-quarter excitement, but finished with the same old story -- a fourth-quarter collapse against a more talented, experienced team.
Rookie center Daniel Gafford, who had never scored a point in an NBA game, joined the rotation and quickly became a highflying, athletic presence. He led the Bulls with 21 points, with 6 dunks, 5 rebounds and 2 blocks.
Fellow rookie Coby White buried back-to-back 3-pointers to cap a 9-0 run and put the Bulls ahead 99-98 with 6:21 left. From there, the Bulls missed all 10 shots the rest of the way and finished on the wrong end of a game-ending 17-2 run. The Bulls didn't get much from their main rebuilding blocks as Lauri Markkanen went 2-for-12 from the field and Zach LaVine was 4-for-16.
"I'm going to try to keep developing them to come in and win games, learn how to win," coach Jim Boylen said. "I believe in both of them. I believe they're important to what we're doing."
The reality of this result, though, is the Bulls have a flawed roster. They finished the game with a lineup of White, Markkanen, LaVine, Wendell Carter Jr. and Ryan Arcidiacono on the floor against reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, Eric Bledsoe, George Hill and other veterans.
The Bulls need a couple of veterans on the floor to help LaVine, Markkanen, White and Carter learn how to win. In the NBA, that's the way it works. A group of young players doesn't learn how to win without help.
"I'm just trying to put the work in and that's the only thing I can think of to get out of it and try to just stay positive," Markkanen said. "All shooters go through slumps, so to speak. Everybody's breaking through it at some point. When I'm staying confident, believing every shot is going in, I know it's going to turn around."
Before the game, Boylen promised Gafford would play in the first half, and he got the call at the 5:58 mark of the first quarter when Wendell Carter Jr. picked up his second foul.
Before Monday, Gafford had logged a total of 12 minutes in the NBA but didn't score. He had a couple of 20-point games in the G-League for the Windy City Bulls.
Gafford's impact wasn't difficult to identify. He gives the Bulls a guy who can play above the rim. Fellow rookie Coby White got him started with an alley-oop dunk, and Gafford kept the easy buckets flowing all night. He went 10-for-12 from the field after shooting 80 percent in the G-League.
"I'm extremely grateful that I got my chance tonight," Gafford said. "I'm just kind of like shellshocked right now because I finally got in and I finally was able to show people what I can do and be able to show people what I can do to help my team as well. Whenever I get my chance again, I'm going to do the same thing."
White finished the third quarter with a 3-pointer to bring the Bulls within 84-81. Knowing the rookie's tendency to run either white hot or ice cold, the Bulls should have gone to him early in the fourth.
When they finally got it to White, he drained back-to-back 3-pointers to cap a 9-0 run and put the Bulls ahead 99-98. The rest of the way, though, they managed just 2 free throws by Markkanen.
"It's all part of this process," Boylen said. "We're slugging uphill right now and we've got to keep slugging. That's all I can say."
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