Gordon Hayward’s third 30-point game of the season was not enough to get past the Bulls, as the Hornets fall 123-110 for the fourth loss in a row.
PJ Washington got the scoring started for the Hornets, who made three of their first four shots as a team in the opening minutes. The starting unit was buoyed by Devonte’ Graham’s hot start, who had 8 points after the first five minutes as the Bulls called timeout with the Hornets up 14-11.
Cody Zeller checked in for the first time since opening night after the timeout and confidently jacked a three soon after; a good sign, no doubt. LaMelo Ball got to the rim and drew a foul twice in his first stint on the floor, but a 10-5 run from Chicago cut the Hornets lead to one point with four minutes left in the first frame.
Both teams went small to finish the first, with Washington and Thaddeus Young matching up at the five. We got a very audible “WHAT THE F**K” from Miles Bridges after a missed foul call—reminding us that there are some benefits to empty arenas—before the Bulls closed out the quarter with a 30-29 lead. Devonte’ hit three triples and led all scorers with 11 points after one.
The second quarter started with some really gross offense from both teams, though the Hornets took a bit longer to clean things up. After nearly six minutes, the Hornets had six turnovers and the Bulls had stretched their lead to 45-39, led by Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine. LaMelo almost killed a man via dunk, but he missed it, and of course Bleacher Report posted it like it was a highlight:
Devonte’ buried his fourth three to force a Chicago timeout with the Hornets down 45-42 with 5:41 remaining in the half. The Hornets offense was sloppy throughout the quarter, but there was a stretch in the late-second that heavily contributed to the Bulls’ 61-55 lead at halftime. Charlotte finished the first half with 13 turnovers, which outweighed their 54.1 field goal percentage. Devonte’s 22 points (4-8 3PT) were a game-high at the break. Markkanen and Lavine had 15 and 13 points, respectively.
It was an evenly-played game to start the second half, with the Bulls leading by seven at the first timeout. Terry Rozier got his first points of the game early in the third on what seems like his 10th and-one dunk of the season:
Terry Rozier getting it done at both ends of the court pic.twitter.com/MMzzTt9aeZ— Yahoo Sports NBA (@YahooSportsNBA) January 23, 2021
Hayward kept the offense alive in the third while Devonte’ cooled off, absolutely dominating the Bulls’ defense to the tune of 17 points in the quarter. His feel for the game is through the roof and he’s an elite shot creator in the mid-range and at the rim. Charlotte’s offense would be dreadfully inconsistent without him (they’re just regularly inconsistent with him). The Bulls led 85-75 with 3:37 left in the third, and since Hayward was the only Hornet making shots in the second half, they stretched it to 95-83 by the end of the third.
During the first handful of minutes at the start of the fourth, James Borrego ran an isolation for Caleb Martin, as is customary in a close game down the stretch. Hayward was still the only Hornet doing anything on offense, and they just couldn’t string together stops consistently. Markkanen’s trey with 6:27 to go was the initial dagger that stretched Chicago’s lead to 106-97, and then LaVine’s three with 2:56 left to make it 115-104 was the nail in the coffin. Charlotte couldn’t find offense from anyone outside of Hayward late in the game, and their turnover issues in the first three quarters put them in too big of a hole for one player to dig out of. The Bulls won with a final score of 123-110.
LaVine led the Bulls with 25 points, nine assists and six rebounds, while Markkanen added 23 points on 10-17 shooting. Chicago shot 51.6 percent from the floor as a team.
Hayward dropped 34 points on 12-20 from the field (8-10 FT) to go with six boards and four assists. Devonte’ scored just two points in the second half after a scorching-hot first and finished with 24 and six assists. The Hornets turned the ball over 20 times and shot 21.9 percent (7-32) from beyond the arc.
Live-ball turnovers were the difference in this game. Despite taking 32 free throws and shooting 49.4 percent as a team, Charlotte lost by 13. It’s not like the Bulls played a fantastic game, either; they had 17 turnovers and committed 21 fouls. If the Hornets were able to take care of the ball and not allow the Bulls to score 24 points off of turnovers, this game is much closer at the end. Their defense wasn’t that bad when they weren’t being forced to scramble back into a matchup zone.
The quick-hitting takeaways from tonight:
Borrego’s “protect the paint” scheme needs to be adjusted in-game at times, can’t keep letting teams bury open threes in the fourth with no repercussion; Zeller looked very rusty but at least he was battling for rebounds; The Ball and Bridges bench duo played badly besides two nice passes from Miles; if only the Hornets had an athletic combo guard that can penetrate the lane and create offense for himself and others on the second unit... wait a second...