Bulls win without needing Zach LaVine’s late-game heroics
A fourth victory this season against the Pistons was welcomed with open arms, especially with big men Luke Kornet and Daniel Gafford delivering some surprise production. But coach Jim Boylen knows it’s only a matter of time before LaVine will be asked to deliver late once again.
DETROIT — Bulls guard Zach LaVine talks like a cold-blooded, late-game assassin.
And he has had more than a handful of games since last season where he did more than talk it. He walked it, putting the Bulls on his back in the final moments of games and leading them to victory.
The last few weeks, however, LaVine has had more misses than makes in crunch time.
In their 108-99 victory Saturday against the Pistons, the Bulls didn’t need LaVine to play hero late. His 25 points helped the Bulls build a lead that kept them from sweating the game out.
The result enabled the Bulls (14-26) to sweep the four-game season series against the Pistons, but that doesn’t mean the questions about LaVine’s ability to finish games still isn’t up for debate.
LaVine admitted taking and making clutch shots is a DNA thing, and he thinks he has that in his game.
‘‘You can’t be scared to fail,’’ LaVine said. ‘‘I think that’s something where you have to be fearless, and that’s not something learned. That’s something where that’s just who you are.
‘‘There’s definitely something innate about it, but you still have to learn the situation or the shots. I don’t think anybody just comes in and is great at something without practicing it. There has to be trial and error, failure, success.’’
That will continue to be tested with LaVine, especially if the Bulls have any hope of crawling back toward the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
They have handled teams such as the Grizzlies, Hawks and Pistons, sweeping all nine games against them this season. But it’s hard to get excited about nine of the Bulls’ 14 victories coming against those teams.
This is about being better than 1-15 against teams with records of .500 or better and continuing to build LaVine’s late-game abilities along the way.
‘‘He’s finished some games, times where he’s missed — yep, you’ve got to go through that process,’’ coach JimBoylen said. ‘‘There’s no doubt in my mind that he has been that guy at times, and he will continue to grow into being that guy more consistently. It’s on his heart. It’s something he talks about consistently. He cares about it.
‘‘What we try and do when he and I watch film or talk about late-game things is: ‘Where are your open looks at? Where can we get your shots? What decision could we have made here?’ He’s very coachable that way.
‘‘He wants to win. He wants to be thought of as not only an elite player but a winning player. We talked about it when we met this summer. It’s coming, and he’s working on it.’’
LaVine didn’t need to work on it against the Pistons after big men Luke Kornet (15) and Daniel Gafford (14) combined to score 29 points in place of injured Wendell Carter Jr.
Gafford also irritated Pistons big man Andre Drummond to the point where Drummond threw the ball at Gafford’s head and was ejected in the third quarter.
Afterward, Gafford wasn’t blinking.
‘‘I’m not just going to come out and a guy bigger than me is just going to bully me like that,’’ Gafford said. ‘‘I mean, I understand you have the size, but I’m not going to back down from that challenge. I like challenges.’’