Hit by adversity, Bulls crumble again in loss to Pacers
Coach Billy Donovan wasn’t going to sugarcoat anything, admitting after the defeat that his team gets in its own head and folds when it hits a rough spot.
The expression on Bulls center Wendell Carter Jr’s. face said it all.
It went from anger to sadness to torment in a matter of seconds as he walked off the court with just less than four minutes left in the third quarter Saturday against the Pacers at the United Center.
He was the picture of defeat and just another example of what has been so wrong with the Bulls in their first two games.
What concerns coach Billy Donovan is how the Bulls allow in-game adversity to physically and emotionally wreck them.
Carter wasn’t the lone culprit in the Bulls’ 125-106 loss, but he remained the easiest one to pick out because of how he wears his emotions on his sleeve. Or, in this case, his face.
‘‘That’s this team’s, so to speak, cross to bear,’’ Donovan said after the game. ‘‘They don’t handle it. They don’t at all. They internalize their mistakes; they internalize what’s going on.
‘‘I’ve said this before: They’ve got to do this together. They’ve got to fight together, do it together. We’re probably, on most nights, not going to be the most athletic or the most talented or the most experienced, but we can be a team — we have control over it — that can have a lot more fight in ourselves there.
‘‘I came out on the court one time because I saw them come out of the huddle, and they just all looked totally dejected. The bottom line is, this is professional basketball. You’ve got to be able to respond and deal with adversity. I think, for anybody at this level, if you can’t handle that, it’s hard to be a great, great player at this level.’’
Carter recognizes that, but controlling his emotions has been a longtime battle for him.
‘‘That’s something I’ve always struggled with my whole career, since I started playing basketball,’’ Carter said. ‘‘When I work on a certain craft for a very long time, to see that ball just not fall, bounce around the rim, in-and-outs, I tend to get down on myself.’’
Not that Carter again didn’t have reason to be introspective about his shortcomings.
After the Hawks had their way with the Bulls in the paint in the season opener Wednesday, the Pacers had no problem taking the blueprint, studying it and following it almost to perfection.
The Bulls came out in the first quarter and looked as though they had worked some issues out. Coby White made three three-pointers, Lauri Markkanen was offensively engaged and the bench looked to have some life, as Tomas Satoransky, Garrett Temple and Denzel Valentine made their season debuts.
By the second quarter, however, an all-too-familiar aroma started permeating the arena. The Pacers outhustled, outmuscled and outplayed the Bulls in almost every facet possible on their way to a 21-0 run and a 39-point quarter.
Unfortunately for Carter, a lot of it happened while he was patrolling the paint.
By the time halftime came, the Bulls looked lifeless. Then they came out of the locker room and allowed the Pacers to go on a 10-0 run to start the third quarter.
No wonder Carter and Co. looked ready to tap out.
The bad news for the Bulls is there won’t be much time for them straighten things out with the Warriors visiting Sunday. Donovan and his staff obviously have their work cut out for them.
‘‘It’s something we’re addressing and talking about on a constant basis,’’ Donovan said.