In a weird and entertaining game, the Bulls scored 60 in the first half and were the first to 100 but a fantastic 4th quarter by Kemba Walker and the Hornets netted them the win 125-118.
Walker started the game misfiring but started working his way to the foul line, and then became unstoppable late. The Bulls would switch their bigs – which in the 4th was a Markkanen-Portis combo – and would get roasted. Walker finished with 37 points (25 in the second half) on 10-23 shooting, with 10 assists and zero turnovers.
Before Kemba put the game out of reach with a couple minutes remaining, it was a pretty back and forth game that had great offense (or bad defense…) on both sides. It was also extremely foul-y, with each team converting 25 free throws (the Bulls were perfect from the stripe). Lauri Markkanen was earning fouls way out on the perimeter and started piling up the points, and though not shooting well from distance wound up finishing with 30 points due to the 13 foul shots.
But the bigger story in this game was Bobby Portis. He had an insane first stint that lasted around 15 minutes straight, and he put up 16 shots in that time and scored 28 points. Due to foul trouble and the absence of Jabari Parker, Boylen went with a 2nd quarter lineup of Portis-Felicio-Sampson-Harrison-Arrivederci. And it worked! Because Portis was unstoppable in the mid-post, and then stretched out for 4 three point makes in that first half. If Bobby Portis being all Bobby Portis annoys you, this was not a fun watch because it was the full Bobby Portis experience. But he was objectively great. Even with a shaky defense, Portis’s O had the Bulls at a 15 point lead, though a late faltering had the Bulls up a less stable 9 points heading into halftime.
In the second half the Bulls defense continued to buckle, losing countless corner 3 point attempts. Between that and the Hornets going to the foul line every other possession (and Portis not coming in the game for a pretty long while), the Bulls lead was quickly gone and instead there was a 2 point deficit heading into the 4th. It was a bit odd that it took a fairly long time for Portis to enter the second half, but I actually credit Boylen for not fully buying in that he was going to get that kind of shooting again at the expense of what Portis was doing defensively. And indeed while the 4th period also started in the back-and-forth variety, the weird-ass bench lineup couldn’t duplicate results as Portis was double-teamed and not handling it well. Then Markkanen was added back in alongside Portis and the defense went into free-fall against Walker.
Portis wound up with 5 more points to get to 33 on the night, just over Markkanen’s 30. Zach LaVine was quietly pretty effective though he would’ve only had 13 if not for some last-minute buckets when the game was already out of reach (to be fair Markkanen had more than a few points earned in this time too). As for Kris Dunn, let’s instead agree to only mention when he has a really good game, the bad ones are the norm and he’s out of ‘the core’, by decree. If we’re going down the list of the lesser-important players, Shaq Harrison had a pretty good one (4-6, 10 points and 3 assists), and Cristiano Felicio had a couple nice roll-man finishes in his 12 minutes.