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Bulls’ Zach LaVine responds to benching with active all-around game

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You could focus on Zach LaVine’s numbers, which featured 22 points, five rebounds, five assists and two steals in the Chicago Bulls’ losing-streak-snapping victory over the Boston Celtics on Monday night at the United Center.

You could focus on his energy and activity at both ends, which included perhaps his best individual defensive stretch and offensive explosion that produced an angry dunk and another dunk attempt over two Celtics that led to two free throws.

You could even focus on his nine points in the final 6 minutes, 12 seconds, which included three 3-pointers to tie Ben Gordon for second all-time on the franchise list behind Kirk Hinrich.

You know, the stretch-run minutes that LaVine so adamantly stated he deserves to play in after coach Billy Donovan benched him last game.

DeMar DeRozan chose to give voice to perhaps LaVine’s biggest move of the night.

“He moved on,” DeRozan said.

That’s what uber-confident players do. That’s how faces of the franchise operate.

LaVine didn’t need to be benched in the last game to know he played poorly. But neither his 1-for-14 night in last Friday’s loss to the Orlando Magic nor the benching shook his deep belief that the next shot is going in — always.

“I go home and evaluate my game like I do with good games, bad games,” LaVine said. “I talk to my wife. I talk to my father a lot. That’s someone I always talk to. He gave it to me straight, ‘You played like s***. Go play better next game. It’s as simple as that. It’s one game. You’ve played 500 games in your career. You’re going to have another bad night. Just hopefully it’s not as bad as that one. Go play better next game.’”

 

And so perhaps Paul LaVine deserves an assist for Monday night. But, really, this falls on LaVine’s unshakeable confidence and attention to detail.

That’s where Donovan placed his focus — how LaVine impacted the game early even when his shot wasn’t falling. He read defenses, set up teammates and flashed the aforementioned active defense.

These traits are what Donovan felt LaVine lacked last game. In other words, Donovan didn’t bench him merely for missed shots. LaVine, as his late-game, 3-point flurry showed on Monday, believed he has earned the right to play through mistakes.

Whatever the case, as DeRozan said, LaVine moved on and the Bulls may too after such an important victory.

“Everybody has a career-worst night. You just don’t know when it’s going to happen. I guess that was my night,” LaVine said. “Take them in stride and try to be better. I put the work in. I treat the game with respect. I think I’ll come out in the positive if I do that.

“I just played hard, took my shots. I missed some easy shots. Even the game where I went 1-for-14, my shot felt good. I’m missing shots I normally don’t. But I’m going to keep shooting them with confidence, keep trying to get downhill. Legs are starting to feel better. I just tried to be active — offensively, defensively, trying to get other guys involved. I think it showed. And we came out with the win; that’s all that mattered.”

Indeed, the Bulls did. And the victory underscored the belief inside the locker room that this team still can be very good, that these early-season struggles may toughen them for the stretch run.

“Show me somebody who played 82 games and was perfect, who didn’t have a s****y game at some point. It happens. It’s part of the game,” DeRozan said. “You can’t let that dictate who you are.”

On Monday, LaVine and the Bulls didn’t.

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