Coach Billy Donovan couldn’t have asked for a better execution of his plan on Friday night to start the Bulls preseason final against the Grizzlies:
A driving layup by Zach LaVine to open the game. A few baskets from Nikola Vucevic. DeMar DeRozan showing off his offensive repertoire. As Patrick Williams hit a 27-foot three-pointer, the Bulls were leading 16-6 and Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins frantically signaled the game’s first timeout.
Donovan was himself in this position far too often last season and was frankly fed up with it. Calling a timeout early in the game usually means your team has dug a hole.
This is the year for Donovan and the Bulls to change that, and they’re certainly on the right foot, having ended their preseason 4-0 with a 118-105 victory.
“We all want some results after 48 minutes,” Donovan said. “You can’t get those results if you walk out the gate and you’re 10 or 15 late to start the game. It’s really hard when you’re catching up all the time, and we talked about it, even in training, where sometimes we had workouts where we went out and started a little slow, and talked about [how] we can’t go out in games like this.
While the four exhibition games are a small sample, the Bulls appear to have overcome their tendency to start slowly. A road game against the Cavaliers was more like a draw, and the other three games were all good starts in which they built up leads.
Not that all the tracks hold, including Friday’s.
The Grizzlies (3-3) came back with a bang after their own slow start, eventually taking a 35-28 lead after the first quarter. But as Donovan pointed out, the seven-point deficits aren’t as daunting as the double-digit ones. Every possession has moments, and it’s about winning more moments than the opposing team.
“Whether that’s the point of the screen in pick-and-roll with the physicality, when the shot goes up. . . a lot of different things are happening, ”Donovan said. “And all these different times of competition, you can’t expect to get the results you want in 48 minutes if you just decide to turn it on and play a three-quarter game and you miss the first quarter.”
LaVine had one of his best preseason performances, scoring 31 points on just 18 shots while getting a three-point 4-for-4 and 9-for-10 from the free throw line. Vucevic scored 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 bright spot.
However, the Bulls didn’t congratulate themselves much. Their attention quickly turned to the regular season and the games that matter.
“We’re an extremely explosive offensive team, and when we get stuck on the defensive we can be really scary,” said LaVine. “We still have a long way to go and we can do a lot to improve. ”