You know when your dog takes a massive dump on the floor but proceeds to look at you with those “I’m so sorry” eyes? Then, you can’t resist, so you proceed to rub the heck out of his belly? Yeah, that’s kind of how I feel about this past week of Bulls basketball.
They made me all kinds of frustrated with two stinkers in Milwaukee and New Orleans, but the team proceeded to drag me right back in with two massive wins over the Cavaliers and Raptors. These were arguably the two biggest games of the season, and it’s undeniably a positive that they were able to perform in the way they did.
No, all the questions I have about this group have not been answered by two regular-season victories, but I do feel a little better about their ability to rise to the occasion. They now have recent proof of what they can accomplish with their back against the wall. The hope is they can now use that as motivation to finish these final eight games strong.
• The Bulls established Nikola Vucevic’s presence early … and it paid off. The big man dropped 10 points in the first quarter on a quick 4-6 showing from the field. With the Cavaliers’ defense locked in on the post, the Bulls were able to begin using Vucevic’s interior passing skills to their advantage. He went on to finish the night with 4 assists, which were his most since the March 3rd contest against the Atlanta Hawks. Using the big man as an offensive connector in between actions is something the team has gotten away from in recent weeks, but it’s a must for them to play their best ball.
Gaming #Bulls‘ Offensive dip since All-Star break, Billy Donovan pointed out their shot profile is similar to earlier in season.
They aren’t shooting as well, and he cited the need to get downhill more and use Nikola Vucevic as a “connector” within the offense more often.
— Cody Westerlund (@CodyWesterlund) March 26, 2022
• More importantly, Vucevic looked as agile as we’ve seen him on the defensive end. Using a mix of active hands and solid vertical contests at the rim, he helped hold rookie sensation Evan Mobley to just a 4-13 shooting performance. Likewise, he had a number of solid possessions where he either blocked off a driving lane from Darius Garland or recovered in time to put a body on the All-Star guard.
• In fact, we even saw head coach Billy Donovan move away from the team’s normal drop scheme at times. Vucevic blitzed the ball on a handful of defensive possessions to force a tough Cavaliers’ pass and throw the team’s offense for a loop. While this isn’t a strategy we should expect to see the team use regularly, it was a nice adjustment from Donovan that gave the Bulls a boost on that end of the floor.
• Speaking of defense, the Bulls’ new-look starting lineup played about as well as it could have over the first two quarters. The backcourt combo of Ayo Dosunmu and Alex Caruso helped hold the Cavaliers to just 35 points in the first half. Then, despite a second-half surge from the Cavs offense, Garland was held to just a 9-22 performance from the field and a 1-7 night from downtown. Garland didn’t even score his first bucket of the second half until about two minutes into the 4th quarter!
“I thought maybe putting Ayo back at the point and getting Alex at the power forward spot, where he can defend and the ball finds him. Now, he’s able to make the next play the next pass,” Donovan told reporters after the game.
• Something about watching the Bulls starting lineup last night felt right. Sure, that’s easy to say when they get the win, but I truly think playing both Dosunmu and Caruso allowed for this team to play closest to their early-season identity. While Dosunmu may not carry the size or polished play of Lonzo Ball, he does at least give the team an above-average perimeter defender to strengthen the first line of defense. He and Caruso wreaking havoc as on-ball disruptors make it that much easier to stop high-percentage shots at the rim.
• As for the other side of the ball, replacing Dosunmu with Green gives the Bulls another ball-mover and ball-handler that can keep this offense in motion. Remember, Dosunmu averaged roughly 6.0 assists over his 29-consecutive starts earlier this season. He learned over that time how to navigate the offense around three high-level scorers. Caruso isn’t incapable of being the playmaker this team needs at times, and he does a tremendous job of helping this group push the pace. But, as Caruso alluded to himself, not having to focus so heavily on one thing allows for him to fill a more versatile role.
“I think it allowed me to play the game I’m best at,” Caruso said when asked about playing next to Dosunmu. “I think I impacted the game really well tonight, and I only took three shots. Came off initial actions, tried to get the flow going, tried to get everyone involved as far as moving the ball, making reads, helping the offense flow.”
• Caruso had one of his best games since his return from injury with 10 points, 7 assists, 8 rebounds, 2 steals, and zero turnovers. Playing this swiss army-knife role off the ball allows him to cut hard to the basket and swoop in to keep possessions alive. On defense, we all know what he’s capable of, and he only has more energy to do those things when someone else helps carry the facilitating responsibilities.
• There was something so poetic about DeRozan dunking on Lauri.
DeMar DeRozan went reverse on this slam 😨
— The Crossover (@TheCrossover) March 27, 2022
• I also can’t stop watching this clip:
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) March 27, 2022
This pass from Jokic is unbelievable
—Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) March 27, 2022
• Somewhere an NFL ref blew their whistle for taunting.
—Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) March 27, 2022
• You love to hear it.
There Is “Probably a Good Chance” That the Bills Don’t Match Bears Offer on Ryan Bateshttps://t.co/6hZacmvmlu pic.twitter.com/gIrQ4GURP2
— Bleacher Nation Bears (@BN_Bears) March 25, 2022