Huge missed opportunity for LaVine, Bulls
The state of the Bulls right now is a work in progress, with new faces in the rotation and new roles for several players.
The state of Zach LaVine is, well, still very complicated.
Here's the quick recap of Friday night's game in Atlanta: LaVine scored an incredible 39 points in the first half. During the past 25 years in the NBA, only Kobe Bryant (42) and Klay Thompson (40) have scored more point in a first half, according to ESPN.
The possibilities were tantalizing. Could LaVine score the most points in the NBA this season? The total to beat was Steph Curry's 62.
Could LaVine hit 70 points? That's a feat that has only been done 11 times in league history (six by Wilt Chamberlin) and would have broken Michael Jordan's franchise record of 69.
The reality was less spectacular. The Hawks sent an extra defender at LaVine, he finished with 50 points and the Bulls went from a 13-point halftime lead to a disappointing 120-108 loss.
On one hand, maybe it's unfair to downplay the accomplishment of scoring 50 points. It was a career-high for LaVine and he became the fifth Bulls played to hit the half-century mark.
At the same time, what could have been LaVine's legendary moment turned into an empty stats night. While it's not his fault the Bulls lost, as the best player on the court, he could have made a difference in helping the Bulls win. Scoring, assists, a big steal, key offensive rebounds -- something while the lead was slipping away.
"We still have to find a way to pull that game out," LaVine said after the game. "That's upsetting. I would've much rather had a 50-point game in a win than a loss. That's the salty part about it."
There was some lively banter on Twitter following Friday's game. LaVine didn't get enough help from his teammates was a popular argument. Well, yes and no. Coby White scored 11 points in the fourth quarter and Nikola Vucevic finished with 25, so he did get some help.
It's certainly not LaVine's fault Bulls defenders couldn't elude the screens Atlanta set for Danilo Gallinari, who scored 15 in the fourth quarter. LaVine seemed to wear down by the end of the game, going 3-for-9 from the field for 6 points in the fourth quarter. Maybe coach Billy Donovan could have found a few more minutes of rest on the second night of back-to-back games.
Donovan did take LaVine out for a 1:40 stretch just past the halfway point of the fourth quarter. The Bulls were outscored 7-2 without him.
My thoughts are more of a big-picture evaluation than based strictly on the Atlanta game. LaVine has made an impressive rise to deservedly become an NBA all-star this season.
But there's an elite level he hasn't reached yet, when it comes to team success and consistently producing in the clutch. The Bulls have seen it up close and in-person again and again this season. Guys like Damian Lillard, Jamal Murray, Devin Booker and Kawhi Leonard have hit huge shots or dominated late in victories over the Bulls.
Maybe it's a matter of time before LaVine does the same, especially since he's playing with another all-star (Vucevic) for the first time in his career.
But on a night when the Bulls had a chance to record their first four-game win streak in more than three years and failed, the individual milestone felt a little deflated.
• Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls