The Bulls earned a victory on Friday night, and the box score will read that they did it scoring 127 points, shooting 56 percent and making 14 3-pointers.
That's fine, and it came against a Dallas team that had won four straight before barely losing to the Warriors two days earlier. Kris Dunn scored a career-high 32 pioints, Justin Holiday was an efficiency monster scoring 23 points on seven shots, and Nikola Mirotic double-doubled.
So why was it such an ugly victory?
The Bulls led by 10, 114-104, with 1:08 left in the game. They wound up needing Yogi Ferrell to miss a wide open 3-pointer as time expired to avoid overtime. From that point on the Mavericks scored on eight consecutive possessions before Ferrell's missed triple. Dallas got as close as 125-124 with 3.2 seconds to play. In that same span the Bulls missed just one free throw, but Nikola Mirotic had a costly turnover that led to a dunk, and Dallas also grabbed two offensive rebounds to keep possessions alive.
Simply put, it was ugly. Even the Bulls' inbounds were a nightmare down the stretch. It was indicative of a young Bulls team still learning how to close games, so count it as a teaching moment. As for Fred Hoiberg? He and his coaching staff will likely be going to the drawing board on how to close games out.
When it's all said and done the Bulls picked up their first victory of 2018. But despite a packed box score it was ugly as can be down the stretch.
Fun fact from our buddy, Chuck Swirsky:
The two teams combined for 35 points in the final 68 sec wowza— chuck swirsky (@ctsbulls) January 6, 2018
Kris Dunn dominates Dennis Smith Jr.
If you were to ask anyone during the Las Vegas Summer League (including this author) whether they'd rather have Kris Dunn or Dennis Smith Jr., the consensus would have been Smith. He was the hottest rookie and looked like the steal of the draft after the Mavericks took him 9th overall in June.
Dunn, on the other hand, was struggling mightily. So what's changed since then? Let's look at Friday night. Dunn was everywhere, scoring a career-high 32 points and handing out nine assists in just 32 minutes. He made four of his five triples and grabbed four steals. It was arguably his best game as a pro in a second season that contiues to add superlatives.
Smith was absent most of the evening. He finished with 15 points and seven assists, but 10 of those came in the wacky final 68 seconds (see above). It'd be silly to write off Smith just yet, but for now Dunn looks very much the part of a franchise point guard Smith was being touted as a few months ago.
Justin Holiday boosting his trade value?
We'll begin here by admitting it's unlikely the Bulls find a trade partner for Justin Holiday. He isn't much of a ball handler, and his streaky shot doesn't have much value on a contender's second unit. That being said, he's been excellent the last two weeks and could at least give teams a second thought about dealing for him.
Holiday posted 23 points on just seven shots, going 5-for-7 from the field (5-for-6 from deep) and a perfect 8-for-8 from the line. He had just one turnover in 37 minutes, though he also didn't have an assist and grabbed three rebounds (Andrew Wiggins is blushing somewhere).
But Holiday has turned the calendar over to 2018 and looked like a different players. He's averaging 21.0 points on 59 percent shooting in three January games, and he's doing so while logging his continued heavy minutes (41, 39 and 37 in January). Perhaps he sees the writing on the wall with Zach LaVine's impending return, or he knows minutes and, more importantly, shots might be freeing up if Nikola Mirotic is traded. Either way he's looked the part in January, and maybe the Bulls could get something for him if they want to free up the wing log jam. Just a thought, and a small sample size to think about at that.