10 observations: Bulls' comeback falls short vs. Joel Embiid, 76ers

10 observations: Bulls' comeback falls short vs. Joel Embiid, 76ers

Updated: 3 months, 2 days, 17 hours, 19 minutes, 5 seconds ago

The Chicago Bulls nearly completed the improbable Saturday night against the Philadelphia 76ers at the United Center.

Falling behind by as many as 19 points in the first half, the Bulls pulled ahead by as many as five in the third quarter and traded haymakers down the stretch. But ultimately, the 76ers prevailed, pulling out a 114-109 victory.

Here are 10 observations:

1. The Bulls again got off to a slow defensive start, allowing Philadelphia 37 points and 6-for-10 3-point shooting in the first quarter. The Bulls entered play 29th in the NBA in first-quarter defensive rating (127.5 points per 100 possessions), with opponents shooting a mind-bending 32-for-56 (57.1 percent) from 3-point range.

Obviously, slap the variance caveat on a sample size so small, especially given how random 3-point shooting results can be. But head coach Billy Donovan did spend part of his pregame presser highlighting the Bulls' struggles defending in transition and properly contesting the 3-point line on the back-end of rotations, particularly early in games.

The latter of those issues is exacerbated in a matchup against a force as dominant as Joel Embiid. Although he finished with just 4 assists, his mere presence generated plenty of double teams, and thus, open looks for the 76ers' offense, particularly from behind the 3-point line.

2. Andre Drummond's absence was felt in the second unit, particularly on the glass. In just the opening 4 minutes, 11 seconds of the second quarter, Philadelphia pulled down four offensive rebounds and converted four second chance points against a small Bulls front line consisting of Derrick Jones Jr. and Patrick Williams before Donovan turned back to Nikola Vučević.


Throughout, Donovan opted to go small in Vučević's off minutes in lieu of running Tony Bradley, who, depending on your evaluation of Marko Simonović, is the only other true center on the roster. But perhaps that should have been expected after Donovan flipped a question about Bradley into a joke that the Bulls planned to guard Embiid with Coby White during his pregame presser.

3. However, with the 32-point loss to the Cavaliers in the home opener the exception, these Bulls don't go quietly into the night. In the final 5 minutes, 27 seconds of the second quarter, they engineered a 21-10 run to turn a 19-point deficit to 64-56 76ers at halftime, drawing as close as three in the final minute of the period. Embiid sat for 4 minutes, 55 seconds of that stretch with three first-half fouls.

4. That run continued into the third quarter, with a Zach LaVine layup tying the score 72-72 at the 7:18 mark, and the Bulls eventually pulling ahead 81-76 at 4:15. Vučević, who had 7 points and 12 rebounds in the first half, was the star of the stretch, shooting 4-for-4 from 3-point land and putting together a few nice defensive possessions on Embiid, including a strip.

From that point on, Donovan matched Vučević's minutes to Embiid's as closely as he could. But a midrange jumper with just over four minutes to play in the fourth was his last meaningful contribution.

Still, Vučević's final line of 23 points, 19 rebounds and 5-for-7 from 3-point range was gaudy. After struggling badly in the Bulls' Friday night loss in San Antonio, shooting 4-for-13 and ceding closing minutes to Drummond, the bounceback was welcome, especially in such a high-profile matchup.

5. In all, the Bulls' big three of DeRozan, LaVine and Vučević combined for 67 of the Bulls' 109 points. That was needed on a night the Bulls' reserves did not score as prolifically as it did in the 43- and 57-point outbursts in each of the last two games. While the energetic contributions of Javonte Green (9 points, 6 rebounds, 1 steal) and Derrick Jones Jr. warrant mention, the bench corps combined for 24 points to the 76ers' 39.

(With Ayo Dosunmu — thoracic contusion — and Drummond — left shoulder strain — sidelined, Donovan ran a 10-man rotation, which even included three first half Dalen Terry minutes.)

6. The 76ers' second unit featured some momentum-swinging contributions as well. Burgeoning Bulls killer Georges Niang sank 3-of-4 3-pointers en route to 15 points, while De'Anthony Melton (10 points, 4 assists) and Matisse Thybulle combined to wreak defensive havoc.

7. The stretch run was a slog. Between the 4:14 and 18.1-second marks of the fourth quarter, neither team made a field goal, recording only empty possessions or free throw attempts en route to a 109-109 tie.

But at the latter juncture, a massive 3-pointer by Embiid, generated by his patented pick-and-roll partnership with Harden, pulled the 76ers ahead 112-109. A chaotic sequence followed, in which DeRozan missed a contested layup at the rim, then Alex Caruso stole an outlet attempt but missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer. Tobias Harris free throws iced it from there.


That the above sequence followed a missed LaVine midrange jumper — which was freed up by the 76ers trapping DeRozan — after looking off an open Vučević in the corner made it all the more painful.

Zach LaVine: "After looking at it, I should've thrown it to Vooch. He's wide open. It was a bad read on my part... I'm more confident than anybody to be able to make that shot, just if you're gonna take it, make it. If not, I gotta find Vooch. I wish I was able to re-do it." pic.twitter.com/65wejfJE6O— Rob Schaefer (@rob_schaef) October 30, 2022

8. The Bulls' defense drastically improved after the first quarter. They outscored Philadelphia 65-53 across the second and third, scored 29 points off of 19 turnovers, and, on the whole, did a phenomenal defensive job on James Harden. Between Caruso, Williams, LaVine and others, the Bulls perimeter corps held Harden to 2-for-13 shooting and 3 turnovers.

9. In an uncharacteristic move, Donovan burned his coach's challenge (unsuccessfully) trying to reverse a blocking foul on DeRozan in the second quarter, which would have taken two free throw attempts off the board if successful. Typically, the Bulls' coach prefers to hold his challenge in case a game-changing play is available to review later in games.

In his postgame availability, Donovan acknowledged that the challenge would have come in handy to take another look at a key foul by Williams on Harden with 2:31 to play and the score tied.

Donovan on why he used 2nd-quarter challenge, a rarity for him: We had been struggling and finally had some momentum and wanted to help our guys.

Agreed he would've loved to have it for that Patrick Williams foul call on Harden late. Harden appeared to initiate contact.

— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) October 30, 2022

10. It was fitting that Embiid's 3-pointer was the decisive moment in the contest, because he added to one of the more incredible niche Bulls statistics with Saturday's win. Embiid now owns a 12-0 lifetime record against the Bulls, and led the way in this one with 25 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists. He is now averaging 29.1 points, 11.3 rebounds and 4 assists with 55.4/39.5/74.6 percent shooting splits against the Bulls in his career.

Next up for the Bulls: At the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday.

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