Bulls’ first-quarter defense, fourth-quarter offense might be coming around

Through the first seven games of the season, the Bulls’ first-quarter defense and fourth-quarter offense have struggled. Against the Nets, the story was different.

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Bulls guard Zach LaVine shoots during Tuesday’s game against Brooklyn.

Bulls guard Zach LaVine shoots during Tuesday’s game against Brooklyn.

Jessie Alcheh/AP

It’s a small sample size, but the trends are there. Through the first seven games, the Bulls’ first-quarter defense and fourth-quarter offense struggled. But against the Nets on Tuesday, the story was slightly different.

Zach LaVine led the Bulls on a fourth-quarter crusade in their 108-99, and the defense in the first quarter was strong despite letting Kevin Durant get hot. 

The Bulls were 23rd in the league in overall field-goal percentage and last in the fourth quarter, shooting only 36%. In their victories, that mark improved slightly to 39%. Led by LaVine’s 20-point effort in the fourth, the Bulls outscored the Nets 31-19 in the quarter. As a team, they shot 11-for-21 from the field in the fourth quarter against Brooklyn. 

Defensively, they were last in the league in opponents’ field-goal percentage in the first quarter, allowing teams to shoot 53.8%. In the fourth quarter, coach Billy Donovan’s team was holding opponents to 41.9% shooting, fifth-best in the league.

Before Durant got going, scoring 14 points and shooting 4-for-6 in the first quarter, the Bulls looked strong defensively. 

Donovan says it’s too early to draw any legitimate conclusions from the difference in his team’s road victory. 

“We’ve had guys out, and going into the Brooklyn game, some had played a little bit more than half of our number of games,” Donovan said. “So you want to be fair to the group and give it a little bit of time. I thought defensively we got off to a good start, then obviously Zach was tremendous. I thought he made a lot of really great decisions of when to drive and when to shoot. I thought we started better, and we need to do that. The group is capable of doing that.” 

Building off a strong performance

Pat Williams had a strong game against the Nets — scoring 12 points, shooting 5-for-10 from the field and grabbing seven rebounds — and followed it up with a 16-point effort in the Bulls’ 106-88 victory Wednesday against the Hornets. He has scored in double figures in four of his last five games. 

But Williams knows better than anyone that he still has a lot to figure out.

“I didn’t play how I wanted to start the season, but I can’t change that,” Williams said. “To be the player I want to be, I know I have to take that next step. I’m all for it. It’s just a matter of me figuring it out, and I will. The type of person that I am, I’m not going to stop until I do figure it out.” 

Injury updates

Coby White and Andre Drummond remained on the Bulls’ injured list against the Hornets. White missed his second consecutive game after suffering a left quadriceps bruise against the 76ers on Saturday. It was Drummond’s third consecutive absence after he sprained his left shoulder against the Spurs on Friday.

“Every day that’s gone by, [Drummond has] felt better, but his range of motion is not great,” Donovan said. “[When] he gets that strength and mobility back, that’s when he’ll be cleared to play.” 

LaVine played in his first back-to-back of the season. 

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