A few benchings, some halftime cuss words and an epic Bulls comeback
The NBA threw a curveball at the Bulls from a scheduling standpoint, but that was no excuse for such a slow start, as far as Billy Donovan was concerned. That all changed in the third quarter after he made three lineup changes.
The prep time wasn’t ideal for coach Billy Donovan and his staff, but it definitely wasn’t awful.
There was a quick pivot from the Hornets game plan to one for a team the Bulls hadn’t seen all season as well as a morning shootaround Wednesday to get ready.
Donovan and company felt prepared even though the NBA threw a scheduling curveball their way, with the Bulls facing the Pistons for the first time in 2020-21.
Too bad his players didn’t seem prepared — at least in the first half.
The Bulls fell asleep through the first half and were down by 25 to an eight-win team.
Inexcusable? For Donovan, it was.
That’s why he benched Coby White, Wendell Carter Jr. and rookie Patrick Williams to start the second half, went with veterans such as Thad Young, flipped the switch on Zach LaVine and watched his team come back in one of their more impressive second halves of the season, eventually winning 105-102 at the United Center.
“We guarded,’’ Donovan said of that third-quarter group. “We were more physical, and I thought we were mentally tougher. We need to continue to grow and mature and continue to understand the things we can control and take ownership and responsibility in that.
“I thought [Detroit] completely took it to us [in the first half]. It wasn’t a matter of schemes. They were just driving at us and taking us. In the second half, we had a lot more resistance than we did in the first half.’’
There’s no doubt it wasn’t an easy 48 hours for the organization.
After an emotional win against the Pacers on Monday, the Bulls started hearing rumblings that their scheduled game with Charlotte on Wednesday was in jeopardy because the Hornets were dealing with the NBA’s health and safety protocols.
On top of that, a snowstorm in Chicago forced the Bulls to stay in Indianapolis on Monday night.
The thought process early Tuesday was a few days of practice now that there was no game, then fly to Philadelphia on Friday to face the 76ers.
Then the NBA came knocking, and just like that, Donovan again had to change plans for his staff and players.
“You know this is kind of the stuff I was talking about earlier; you’ve got to be able to adapt and be flexible,’’ Donovan said. “It is hard because the more games that get postponed, the more it gets pushed into the second half of the season. Obviously, we’re already playing I believe 17 games in 31 days, so it was an opportunity to not have three games postponed but two, and it worked out that Detroit could play, so I think for both teams, we haven’t faced each other. Both teams found out at the same time.
“There was a lot to get ready for because as a staff, you have guys that are working on Charlotte to get prepared to play them. [Detroit] was in the same situation. … There was enough time to prepare.’’
One difference? The Pistons had to try to prepare for LaVine.
After a sleepy first half, it was another eye-popping performance. LaVine scored 15 in the third quarter and even joined the veteran core in squeezing Detroit (8-20) on the defensive end.
While LaVine carried the Bulls to 27 points in that third quarter, the defense held the visiting team to 12.
“It’s a flip of the switch,’’ LaVine said. “Sometimes you gotta go out there and make a play.’’
As far as the benching, White felt a lesson was learned.
“I need to grow up a little bit,’’ said White, who came back in and hit a big fourth-quarter three. “It was a learning experience for me. I’ve got to accept the challenge.’’