Bulls finish preseason unbeaten — quick starts a reason why
The Bulls found themselves in deep holes early in games far too often last season, and that needed to change. So far it has with coach Billy Donovan stressing fast starts.
Coach Billy Donovan couldn’t have asked for better execution of his blueprint Friday night to start the Bulls’ preseason finale against the Grizzlies:
A driving layup by Zach LaVine to open the game. A few baskets by Nikola Vucevic. DeMar DeRozan showing his offensive repertoire. By the time Patrick Williams hit a 27-foot three-pointer, the Bulls were up 16-6 and Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins was frantically signaling for the game’s first timeout.
Donovan was in that position far too often himself last season, and frankly was tired of it. Calling an early-game timeout usually means your team has dug a hole.
This is the year for Donovan and the Bulls to change that, and they’re certainly off on the right foot, having finished their preseason at 4-0 with an 118-105 victory.
“We all want certain results at the end of 48 minutes,” Donovan said. “You can’t get those results if you’re coming out of the gate and you’re down by 10 or 15 to start the game. It’s really hard when you’re playing catchup all the time, and we’ve talked about that, even in practice, where sometimes we’ve had some practices where we’ve come out and started a little slow, and have talked about [how] we cannot come out in games like this.”
Although the four exhibition games are a small sample size, the Bulls seem to have gotten past their tendency to start slowly. A road game against the Cavaliers felt more like a draw out of the gate, and the other three games were all good starts in which they built leads.
Not that all leads hold up — including Friday’s.
The Grizzlies (3-3) came storming back after their own slow start, eventually taking a 35-28 lead after the first quarter. But as Donovan has stressed, seven-point deficits aren’t as discouraging as double-digit ones. Each possession has moments, and it’s about winning more moments than the opposing team.
“Whether it’s the point of the screen in pick-and-roll with physicality, when the shot goes up . . . a lot of different things happen,” Donovan said. “And all these different moments of competing, you can’t expect to get the results you want out of 48 minutes if you’re just going to decide to turn it on and play a three-quarter game and you miss out on the first quarter.”
LaVine had one of his better preseason showings, scoring 31 points on just 18 shots while going 4-for-4 from three-point range and 9-for-10 from the free-throw line. Vucevic chipped in 23 points and DeRozan added 19.
Williams, the second-year forward, played 22 minutes and scored six points on six shots. He came out healthy after recovering from an ankle injury, so that was the real positive.
The Bulls didn’t do a lot of patting themselves on the back, though. Their attention quickly turned to the regular season and playing in games that matter.
“We’re an extremely explosive offensive team, and when we lock in on the defensive end, we can be really scary,’’ LaVine said. “We still have a long way to go and a lot we can do to get better.”