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Bulls and Zach LaVine battle in season-opening loss to Thunder – NBC Sports Chicago


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The Chicago Bulls opened their season with a 124-104 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night at the United Center.

It’s not a good sign when you hear that after the first game.

“I don’t feel like we played with enough heart. And that’s our fault. It’s a terrible way to start the season,” Zach LaVine said. “It’s unacceptable. I also don’t think it’s something people do on purpose. We need to come together during these (opponent) races.”

Here are 10 observations from the loss:

—LaVine endured a rough night. He shot 4 of 16 with four turnovers and three fouls. He also attempted six free throws in the first quarter to try to get going offensively, making all six, but did not travel to the line again. As explosive as LaVine looked in the preseason, he struggled with his decision-making and ball security in a debut he’d like to forget.

“I missed a few shots,” LaVine said. “I didn’t feel like I struggled. I got to the foul line pretty easily and then got in trouble and couldn’t play in the second quarter.”

—Nikola Vucevic finished with 11 points and nine rebounds, but took just eight shots and expressed frustration on the bench after being removed in the third quarter to rest. This followed a stretch in which Vucevic did not attempt a shot for a full quarter bridging the second and third quarters, as well as receiving a technical foul for throwing the ball against the basket post out of frustration following a defensive breakdown by the team. Vucevic and coach Billy Donovan exchanged strong words on the bench as Vucevic expressed his frustration.

—Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a star who will terrorize many opposing defenses this season. And the Bulls had difficulty controlling him, especially in the first half where he scored 17 points and four assists in 18 minutes. Donovan spoke about the need to protect teams and players collectively, something the Bulls did with great success last season by boasting a top-five defense. But Gilgeous-Alexander consistently exploited screen-and-roll situations to create odd advantages for the Thunder. Patrick Williams started on Gilgeous-Alexander. But Alex Caruso took turns against him, as did Coby White. Gilgeous-Alexander finished with 31 points and 10 assists.

“We didn’t help enough,” Vucevic said.

—The Bulls finished 12 of 42 from 3-point range for 28.6 percent. They shot just 6 of 23 in the first half and perhaps one shot symbolized their futility. Torrey Craig, who was otherwise very solid and a full-court presence, caught a swing pass and lined a 3-pointer into a wide-open corner to hit the side of the backboard. This marked Craig’s only miss of the first half as he accounted for half of the Bulls’ 3-pointers in the first half. Meanwhile, the Thunder connected on 19-for-39 from beyond the arc. Overall, the Bulls shot just 41.5 percent.

—LaVine especially struggled in the first half, other than getting to the free throw line. He missed his first five shots, including four 3-pointers, and committed four turnovers with three fouls in his first 10 minutes. One of those fouls came following a successful challenge by Thunder coach Mark Daigneault. LaVine originally thought he was going to the line for two free throws, but instead he was booked for an offensive foul on Isaiah Joe after video review. LaVine spent the final 10 minutes of the first half with three fouls.

“I asked (Donovan) and he said it was because of a foul problem. He didn’t want me to get my fourth,” LaVine said. “You understand that. You just want to be on the floor.”

—Andre Drummond did things to Andre Drummond during an eventful six-minute stint in the first half. He completed a nifty pass from Patrick Williams on a well-executed out-of-bounds play designed by Donovan — but drew a technical foul for hanging at the rim. He later stole the ball from Chet Holmgren, making his NBA debut, near the top of the key and raced down the court to break Holmgren’s ankles with a crossover dribble and layup.

—In fact, the play featured a trio of rarely seen technical fouls. Drummond received his for hanging on the rim. Thunder’s Lu Dort drew for failing under new NBA rule. And Vucevic received one for throwing the ball against the basket post out of frustration following a botched defensive coverage by the Bulls.

—The Whites committed two quick fouls in the 9th minute and 47th second of the first quarter. Donovan often rolls the dice when a player does this. And this time, it worked. White played another 3:37 without recovering their third until Jevon Carter entered with Alex Caruso as the first substitutes. Caruso came in for LaVine, who returned as a “staggered” starter to play against some of the Thunder’s reserves.

—Donovan used a 10-man rotation. But with LaVine staggered to get some minutes against the reserves, Ayo Dosunmu landed like the odd man out. He only played six minutes until cleanup time. In the second half, Donovan passed to DeRozan as the starter who faltered to play a few minutes against the Thunder reserves.

—Last season, keeping Caruso healthy was one of the organization’s main goals due to the reckless abandon with which Caruso plays. In fact, he sprawled on the floor chasing a loose ball on his first possession after entering the game. Last season, he played in a career-high 67 games, averaging 23.5 minutes. Donovan said that while there was no set minutes limit, a similar plan was in place for this season. “I think when it gets into the 20s and 30s consistently, that’s when there can usually be problems,” Donovan said. “You’re definitely going to have some games that go into overtime and he’s going to have to be a part of that. But you want to try to keep him in that mid-20 range to protect him and make him available for games.

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