Sluggish Bulls fall to Cavaliers

10 observations: Sluggish Bulls fall to Cavaliers originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich

CLEVELAND — The Chicago Bulls lost to the shorthanded Cleveland Cavaliers 109-91 on Monday night at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse. It’s the Cavaliers’ sixth straight victory in this series.

Here are 10 observations:

—For the first two-and-a-half quarters, the Bulls got outcompeted. They gave up 19 of the Cavaliers’ 26 second-chance points. They only got to the line five of their eventual 16 trips. They lost battles for 50-50 balls and just looked a step slow, which is inexcusable for a team playing an opponent that had played its last game in Paris.

—The game turned in the final half of the third quarter when coach Billy Donovan inserted the seldom-used pairing of Nikola Vucevic and Andre Drummond. The Cavaliers had amassed 21 second-chance points to that point, including 12 off four 3-pointers in the first half alone. Not only did the double big-man pairing close down the second-chance points, it helped spark the Bulls to a 21-3 run that turned a 21-point deficit when Drummond checked in into a one-possession game and three-point deficit entering the fourth. Drummond’s steal and heads-up pass to a streaking Ayo Dosunmu just before the third-quarter buzzer exemplified the change in energy. Drummond drew a foul and sank both free throws as part of his 10-point third quarter.

—The Bulls actually took their first lead of the night on Coby White’s free throws with 10 minutes, 1 second to play. But the Cavaliers responded with a 10-0 run, prompting Donovan to try the Drummond-Vucevic pairing again. The Bulls repeatedly lost the Cavaliers for open 3-point looks. The Cavaliers outscored the Bulls by 33 from beyond the arc. The Cavaliers attempted an opponent-season-high 57 3-pointers.

—Nikola Vucevic’s struggles from behind the arc continued. He entered shooting 28 percent and missed six of seven attempts. Donovan said Vucevic doesn’t take bad shots, so he wants him to keep shooting open 3-pointers because it helps the Bulls’ offense function better. But obviously, that percentage needs to rise for the Bulls.

Donovan Mitchell, who scored 71 points against the Bulls last season, continued his mastery in this series. In his 12th game this season over 30 points, he finished with 34 points and seven assists. He kept attacking with eight free throws.

—Coby White committed seven of the Bulls’ 19 turnovers, which the Cavaliers cashed in for 18 points. That combined with the Cavaliers’ 3-point shooting and second-chance points doomed the Bulls.

Zach LaVine took 14 shots after taking just eight in two of his first five games back. But this time, DeMar DeRozan didn’t make much of an impact, scoring a season-low six points.

—For the third straight game, the Bulls allowed at least 39 points in a quarter. The Warriors dropped a 48-point third quarter on them last Friday, the Spurs scored 39 in the third quarter on Saturday and Cleveland opened with a 40-point frame on Monday. Donovan has talked about the need to rotate to shooters, navigate screens and finish possessions better.

Max Strus scored two points after playing just 7 minutes in the Cavaliers’ last game against Brooklyn, which was this season’s edition of the Paris Games in France. He was listed as a gametime decision with right knee soreness. Last season, the Bulls played in Paris and talked about the lingering hangover they felt from the international travel. The Bulls scored just 17 first-quarter points in their first game after Paris. The Cavaliers didn’t suffer such a letdown. Beyond those 40 first-quarter points, they sank eight 3-pointers and led by as many as 20 points.

Patrick Williams missed his second straight game with that lingering right ankle and heel soreness. Donovan said before the game that there’s nothing structurally wrong with Williams ankle and, thus, no talk of shutting him down. Donovan also credited Williams for playing through the discomfort more often than not. There are just some nights, like Saturday in San Antonio and Monday, where Williams recognizes he wouldn’t be able to fully contribute if he played. The Bulls next play Thursday in Toronto.

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