There are going to be nights when the three-point shot betrays you, Bulls coach Billy Donovan has warned.
Check. The visiting Bulls shot 7-for-32 (21.9%) from three-point range Friday night in a 112-105 loss to the 76ers.
There are going to be games where it feels like a giant patrols the land.
Check. Sixers big man Joel Embiid finished with a career-high 50 points and 17 rebounds.
There are going to be matchups against elite teams where you seem to be an afterthought.
Check. The 76ers are an Eastern Conference-best 20-10.
Donovan’s philosophy for all of that: Still, just find a way to win.
And despite so many things working against them, the Bulls (12-16) almost did it. Another lesson learned. A painful one, but another lesson learned.
“That’s the message I’ve been trying to preach,” Donovan said. “If we can play low-turnover, not excessively foul and just be solid in [defense] and rebounds, we can overcome an off shooting night, or we can overcome Zach [LaVine] going 9-for-28, whatever it was, or Coby [White] not shooting the ball great, or whatever it may be.
“When a game is not going well for you, don’t make it that much harder. I thought at times we made it harder for ourselves, but I give our guys credit: We competed and we kept ourselves in the game and gave ourselves a chance to maybe steal it.”
Like most Bulls games this season, it came down to the final minutes. After LaVine’s three-pointer with 2:17 left, the Bulls were down two and looking to commit the improbable robbery. After a rare miss by Embiid, LaVine had a chance to tie the game but committed an untimely turnover with 1:44 left.
“We had some self-sabotaging moments,” Donovan said. “There were just some plays where we didn’t have to make those plays.”
That’s familiar territory for the Bulls. Then again, in most late comebacks this season, there was no Embiid.
With two free throws, a rebound off a LaVine miss and a ridiculous 17-foot step-back jumper from the left side with 41.8 seconds left, Embiid deflated the Bulls’ hopes.
“We did it as a team,” Embiid said after the game. “It wasn’t a one-man effort.”
Really? It sure looked and felt like one.
“He had one of those nights, man, and it’s tough,” LaVine said. “He made a lot of contested fadeaway jumpers, and even when the double-team came, he got offensive rebounds. For a guy that size to be that skilled and to shoot that well, there’s not a lot you can do when he’s making those shots, to be honest with you. It’s tough.
“Tried to get it out of his hand and make everybody else beat you, but he had 50, man, and it was a close game. It took him to get 50 to beat us. He did his job as an MVP candidate, obviously.”
LaVine. who’s hoping to make the All-Star team as a reserve, finished with a team-high 30 points and played some of his better defense of the season. But the missed shots definitely irked him afterward, especially in the only game the Bulls will play on national television this season.
“I’m upset about it,” he said. “Obviously, you never want to go out there and miss shots. I know I played hard. I just missed some easy shots I normally make.”