Bulls

Zach LaVine saves day with late-game steal as Bulls hold off Magic

It definitely wasn’t pretty.

Not that the Bulls’ 105-101 win over the Magic on Monday was supposed to be, but this was the definition of ugly basketball.

On top of two teams already looking forward to an almost week-long break, it was also two rebuilding teams with front offices in the business of tanking and each missing key players.

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Fitting that it ended with a flurry of bad plays, ineptitude on offense and then a poor inbound play that led to what proved to be the game-winner.

After battling back from 18 points down, the Magic had a chance to take the lead with just over 15 seconds left in the game.

But Zach LaVine had other plans.

Jonathon Simmons inbounded the ball to Shelvin Mack, but LaVine poked the ball and ran it down for the easy go-ahead slam.

“I pushed up on him and just tried to make it tough,’’ LaVine said. “Justin [Holiday] made a good play. He shaded the ball to the right. I bumped into Mack, made the dude pass it, obviously, to the left and came in and made an aggressive play on the ball.’’

It was a play the Bulls (20-36) badly needed.

“He made a great read on the play, shooting the gap and getting the steal,’’ coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Obviously, we needed it. We were awful in the last seven minutes as far as closing out that game. Had the big lead and just took our foot off the gas and allowed them to get back into it just with careless turnovers. Part of that was when we had to take [LaVine] out so that he could finish the game.’’

LaVine wasn’t the only Bulls player to come through. Bobby Portis hit two big shots to keep the Bulls in it and set up LaVine’s steal.

“I was open, so coach always says it’s the open shot that’s the best shot for us,’’ Portis said. “I took it, rose up with confidence and it felt good.’’

The Magic (18-38) had an opportunity to answer after LaVine’s steal. But Mario Hezonja’s three-point shot with 4.2 seconds left  missed badly, just skimming the bottom of the net.

LaVine then iced the game, making both free throws.

Not exactly how Hoiberg envisioned the ending, especially with the big lead and the Magic sitting three of their top five scorers in Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross.

“It shouldn’t have [come down to that], but it’s something for us where it’s a great learning opportunity for our young group,’’ Hoiberg said. “We had an 18-point lead with under 10 to go and again, we just got careless. We had five turnovers [in the fourth], and they scored off every one of them.

“Our contests were lazy and we had to find a way to close it, but, again, it’s always better to learn from a win. There’s no doubt about that.’’

The side note in the game?

Denzel Valentine finally got his first NBA dunk.

“It was good to see him get up and do it,’’ Portis said. “I was so ecstatic for him. He always does all these dunks in practice, gets up and dunks. He said he was going to dunk on somebody, this and that, but it was good to see him get his dunk. Proud of him.’’

Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com