The Chicago Bulls lost 114-109 to the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday despite coming back from a 19-point deficit.
The Bulls fell to 3-4 after dropping both games of a back-to-back.
Here are six takeaways from Saturday’s loss.
1. Slow starts continue to plague the Bulls.
The loss to the 76ers was more of the same as the Bulls fell behind 37-22 after one quarter.
This season has seen a consistent pattern of the Bulls digging themselves into a hole in the opening quarter, then spending the rest of the game attempting to climb out. The Bulls are 29th in the league in first-quarter defensive rating, allowing opponents to shoot 57.1% in the opening quarter of their first seven games. They have outscored only two opponents in the first quarter.
While the Bulls have been able to pull off some massive comebacks this season, consecutive losses Friday against the San Antonio Spurs and Saturday against the 76ers showed how big early deficits will be untenable as the team moves deeper into the season.
“I can’t sit there and say it’s one player — it’s that group,” coach Billy Donovan said. “It’s a group of five players. It’s something we’ve probably got to take a look at and evaluate.”
2. Joel Embiid remains unbeaten against the Bulls.
The star 76ers center is 12-0 against the Bulls since entering the NBA in 2014. He scored 25 points Saturday after sitting out Friday’s victory against the Toronto Raptors for load management as he returns from a knee injury.
The smaller Bulls often struggle to defend dominant centers such as Embiid because of his size and ability to score from all points of the court. Nikola Vučević spent more time guarding Embiid without Andre Drummond (left shoulder strain), whose absence left the Bulls undersized in the paint.
Embiid was left entirely unguarded on the game-winning play, hitting a 3-pointer without a hand in his face to extend his eight-year streak against the Bulls.
3. Nikola Vučević bounced back to lead the offense.
Vučević responded after a shaky night in San Antonio to lead the Bulls with 23 points and 19 rebounds. He went 5-for-7 from 3-point range, hitting four of his 3s in a scorching third quarter.
After struggling to shrug off subpar performances during a streaky first full season in Chicago, Vučević’s ability to bounce back quickly from the Spurs game was a promising sign for the Bulls even in a loss.
4. Zach LaVine regrets a late missed play.
LaVine missed an attempt to put the Bulls ahead with the game tied 109-109 and 1:41 on the clock. He pulled up for a 20-footer, missing a wide-open Vučević behind the 3-point line.
LaVine said after the game he wished he had passed the ball to his teammate for a potential go-ahead shot.
“After looking, I should’ve thrown it to Vooch. He was wide open,” LaVine said. “It was a bad read on my part. That’s a learning process of us being in that situation.”
5. The Bulls continue to get dominated from the 3-point line.
The 76ers became the latest team to scorch the Bulls from 3-point range, going 14-for-29. The Bulls are second-worst in the league in 3-point defense, allowing opponents to shoot at a 42.6% clip and make 14.4 3-pointers per game.
Although the Bulls are only seven games into the season, Donovan said the sample size isn’t too small to identify this as a clear weakness. The issue is exacerbated in the first quarter, when the Bulls are allowing teams to shoot the majority of their 3-pointers.
“We’ve got to be better about starting the game,” Donovan said. “There are some times when you are in help and you’re in rotations and you’re trying to protect the paint, but we’ve got to have better awareness and recognition.
“One area we can really clean up is in transition because that’s where we’re really, really poor right now.”
6. The Bulls are missing Ayo Dosunmu and Andre Drummond.
Dosunmu (thoracic bruise) and Drummond were out Saturday after suffering injuries Friday in San Antonio.
Dosunmu was quickly cleared from concussion protocol after suffering a blow to the head Friday but was sidelined Saturday because of stiffness in his neck and upper back. Drummond similarly returned to Friday’s loss after falling to the ground on his left shoulder but could not play Saturday.
Neither injury is expected to result in extensive missed time, but both absences reflected the players’ importance. The Bulls missed the rim dominance of Drummond, who has accounted for nearly a quarter of their rebounding this season. And Dosunmu’s absence forced Alex Caruso into the starting lineup, disrupting the rotations and weakening the second unit.
Dosunmu’s and Drummond’s availability for Tuesday’s game in Brooklyn has yet to be determined.