Bulls

10 observations: Bulls take care of business vs. Pistons

Bulls

The Chicago Bulls (27-11) saw a nine-game win streak snapped Sunday night in Dallas, but got back to their winning ways with a resounding 133-87 blowout over the basement-dwelling Pistons (9-31) Tuesday night at the United Center.

It's the Bulls' largest margin of victory so far this season, beating out a 123-88 victory at the Orlando Magic on Nov. 26.

Here are 10 observations:

1. Billy Donovan whistled for the game’s first timeout after 2 minutes, 27 seconds with the Pistons leading 9-5. Forty-two seconds later, Derrick Jones Jr. fouled Isaiah Stewart on a putback attempt, allowing Detroit to pull ahead 11-5.

Then, Ayo Dosunmu checked in (for Jones Jr.), and the tide swung. The Bulls’ rookie banked home a layup and swished a corner 3-pointer to lead a 9-2 run and push the Bulls in front 14-13. The Pistons punched back, but an and-one transition layup by Dosunmu later in the period helped the Bulls stem that too.

The Bulls led just 28-27 after one, but won Dosunmu’s nine minutes by seven points. When he finally checked out at the seven-minute mark of the second – yes, that means his first stint lasted 13 minutes, 51 seconds – he had 10 points and was a team-high plus-10.

"You certainly never want to play a guy that many minutes, that length of time. But he was playing really well, and our team responded while he was out there with some of the plays he made," Donovan said, adding: "Even when I took him off after that 14-minute stint, it wasn't like he was exhausted."

 

Dosunmu didn't score in the second half, but did provide some solid defense on Cade Cunningham – even blocking the 2021 No. 1 overall pick.

"Me being drafted in the second round, every night I have to play with a chip on my shoulder, just to prove where I thought I should have belonged," Dosunmu said of the matchup.

2. The Bulls began to break this game open in the second quarter, finishing the first half with 61 points (11 fastbreak) and 17 assists.

But the first four minutes of the third quarter is when nail met the coffin. In that span, the Bulls outscored the Pistons 17-0 to open a 78-52 lead. It was a sprint that featured a string of transition opportunities generated by Pistons turnovers and two 3-pointers apiece from Jones Jr. and Nikola Vučević.

And the onslaught hardly stopped there. In all, the Bulls won the third quarter 36-14, shooting 50 percent (5-for-8 from 3) while holding the Pistons to 4-for-21. With 9:12 to play in the fourth, and the Bulls ahead 109-72, Donovan yanked Lonzo Ball, the last of his starters in the game.

3. Vučević missed five of his first six shot attempts, including a couple bunnies around the rim, but made a complete 180 by night’s end. He finished with 22 points (10-for-18 shooting, 2-for-4 from 3), eight rebounds and four assists in 27 minutes.

His third quarter alone would represent a solid night for most centers: 16 points, five rebounds, one assist and a 7-for-10 shooting line (2-for-3 from 3-point range). After clanking a number of jumpers against the Mavericks, Vučević tickled twine from the outside and the post in this one – a solid get-right game.

"I've got a lot of confidence in Vooch. He's just a really, really good basketball player. He's a guy that can kind of course-correct in a game," Donovan said. "To me, offensively, in that third quarter he got everything involved that he can do offensively. You could kind of see his whole package: The passing, the posting up, the shooting the 3s, the pick-and-pop midrange, the offensive rebounding. He got a lot of things into the game there."

4. Coby White took an inadvertent shot to the face leaping in for an offensive rebound midway through the first quarter and staggered in its wake, prompting Donovan to burn a timeout to sub him out. But after a brief trip down the tunnel, White returned to the Bulls’ bench later in the first, and tapped back into the game at the 9:50 mark of the second.

When he did, he balled, knocking down a floater, transition 3-pointer and four free throws (earned with strong drives) to end the first half with nine points. By night's end, he had 13, his eighth straight double-digit outing.

 

5. The Pistons entered play 29th in the NBA in offensive rating. On paper, a terrific opportunity to correct some of the defensive slippage Donovan has highlighted from his group in recent weeks.

After a somewhat sluggish start (the Bulls trailed by as many as eight in the first quarter), they took advantage of that opportunity, holding Detroit to 87 points, 33.7 percent shooting and a woeful 6-for-35 mark from behind the arc.

6. Specifically, the Bulls got back to their swarming, aggressive identity at that end, scoring 27 points off 18 turnovers.

Ball was typically all-encompassing in that respect, nabbing three steals and covering acres of ground for multiple impactful rotations. And Troy Brown Jr. continued to hustle his tail off in the minutes he’s earned with the Bulls shorthanded of late (and still missing Alex Caruso and Javonte Green). Brown Jr. notched a career-high six steals – three in the first quarter to augment Dosunmu’s energy during the Bulls’ early run.

7. Ball also drained four of his seven 3-point attempts to move to 13-for-25 in his last three games, and 43.8 percent since returning from COVID-19 (a stretch which features a 1-for-7 outing in his first game back).

8. For all the (warranted) critiques of the Bulls’ size in the frontcourt, they entered play 13th in the NBA in defensive rebounding rate. Still, the Pistons rocked them on the offensive glass early on.

In the first half, Detroit pulled down seven offensive rebounds (four from Stewart) and established a 13-3 advantage in second-chance points – with a tip-in of a free throw at the buzzer to trim their deficit to 61-52 and emblematic highlight.

The Bulls’ defense stiffened as their offense erupted in the second half, but Donovan’s multiple timeout calls after offensive rebounds in the first half showed he wasn’t pleased with that dynamic.

9. Zach LaVine scored just 10 points (3-for-10) and dished seven assists, which could have easily gotten lost in the woodwork of a 46-point blowout. But after the game, Donovan highlighted the way he played within the flow of the contest as an example of LaVine's win-first mentality, which the Bulls' coach added he's experienced firsthand since arriving in Chicago.

"A game like today speaks, to me, of his greatness," Donovan said of LaVine. "He can get a shot any time he wants to. But he really is very, very much invested in winning. He's very much invested in the team. And he wants to do things that are gonna be sustainable over a long period of time.

"It's very admirable, to me, the way he played tonight. It was a game where he just kind of stayed in it. I thought he was aggressive, I thought he was decisive, he picked his spots. But you know what? We ended up scoring 133 points tonight. He didn't score a lot of them. But all he cares about is the team doing well."

 

10. The Bulls moved to an NBA-best 8-0 in games against opponents on the second night of a back-to-back (the Pistons impressively scored 78 points in the second half to beat Utah 126-116 on Monday) – in the process matching their season-highs in points and 3-pointers made (18-for-34).

That’s called taking care of business.

Next up: Home for the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday – a matchup the Bulls enter with 2.5 games of cushion for the Eastern Conference lead, and with better-rested starters than would be typical for the second night of a back-to-back.

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