10 observations: DeRozan-less Bulls storm past Nuggets


The Chicago Bulls entered Monday’s matchup with the Nuggets missing a slew of key contributors.

The first half was a slog, but they hung around, trailing 49-46 at the break. The second half brought a 63-point avalanche and, eventually, a 109-97 victory, the team’s Eastern Conference-leading 17th win.

Here are 10 observations:

1. Hours before tipoff, DeMar DeRozan entered the NBA’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols, in which Coby White and Javonte Green are already interned. At Billy Donovan’s pregame media session, the Bulls’ coach reported that Alex Caruso will miss at least another week with the hamstring strain that began ailing him in New York.

So, yes, the Bulls’ rotation looked a bit different against Denver. Ayo Dosunmu and Derrick Jones Jr. each started for the first time this season. Matt Thomas was the second man off the bench. Tony Bradley and Troy Brown Jr. returned to previously-held posts on the second line. And Zach LaVine (39) and Lonzo Ball (40) each played season-high minutes totals.


2. In turn, this one was a bit of an offensive grind for the Bulls early on. Only LaVine and Ball cracked double-figures in the opening two quarters with 14 points apiece, and as a team the Bulls shot 36.4 percent in the first half.

But LaVine woke the United Center crowd in the third by scoring 12 points in the quarter’s final four minutes to extend the Bulls’ lead from 67-66 to 77-71 entering the fourth (77-68 until an off-balance Aaron Gordon 3-pointer at the buzzer). LaVine attacked the basket for three tough layups, and smoothly buried two stepback 3s to go along with three assists in the period.

3. Third quarters have been an inconsistency for the Bulls, but thanks to LaVine, they won this one 31-22. They went on to win the second half 63-48, and saw their offense juiced by nine fastbreak points (15 for the game while holding Denver scoreless in that department).

Nuggets coach Michael Malone called multiple – visibly – frustrated timeouts in the second half after free runs to the rim for the Bulls in transition.

4. The Bulls entered play on Monday having not played a non-garbage time minute this season without either DeRozan or LaVine on the court, so Donovan had a challenge on his plate in regards to staggering. In this one, he did not deploy the tact of evenly staggering LaVine and Nikola Vučević (as he does LaVine and DeRozan), instead prioritizing matching Vučević’s minutes with Nikola Jokić’s. 

From the 2:21 mark until the closing seconds of the first quarter, Ball assumed the DeRozan responsibility of anchoring a reserve-heavy lineup (of Dosunmu, Brown Jr., Bradley and Thomas). The Bulls scored three points in that span, but limited Denver to two.

Donovan must have really had his breath held when, after playing LaVine all 12 minutes of the third quarter, he again had to turn to Ball and company to open the fourth. But that group won the first four minutes of the fourth 12-8, opening the period on a 9-2 run spurred by a six-point possession in which Ball was flagrant-fouled on a made 3-pointer (he made the ensuing free throw, then Dosunmu broke out a nifty pass to a rolling Bradley for a layup).

5. Dosunmu, who was introduced to those in attendance as being "from Chicago" ahead of his first NBA start, placed his impact all over this game while playing a career-high 42 minutes.

In the scoring column, he poured in 11 points, including an early-fourth-quarter catch-and-shoot 3 that made the Bulls’ lead 86-73 and a driving layup moments later that kept it 88-75. Running the floor, he piled up eight assists, including a fastbreak alley-oop to Ball midway through the final frame that ignited the crowd and marked one of the Bulls’ final stamps on this game’s outcome. On the glass, he scrapped for six rebounds, and defensively, he swiped one steal while providing his typical energy at the point of attack.


Another chapter in his enormously impressive rookie campaign.

6. LaVine, too, played one of his best all-around games of the season. Not only did he submit his sixth 30-point performance, which included that scalding third quarter and game-icing buckets in the fourth, but he also made the right decision as a passer more often than not, handing out eight assists against just three turnovers. Shooting 13-for-23 from the field, his efficiency, production and decision-making saw no drop-off without his star running mate on the wing in DeRozan.

7. Ball posted a double-double of 20 points and 10 rebounds, added four assists and blocks apiece, and got off the schneid shooting the rock by making four of eight 3-point attempts (though he buried the dagger 3 in Brooklyn, he shot just 4-for-17 from distance between the Knicks and Nets games). His and Dosunmu’s energy sparked the early-fourth quarter spurt that put Denver away for good.

8. The Bulls were outrebounded 38-31 – and outscored 10-0 in second-chance points – in the first half, but ended up nearly drawing level in the rebound battle by night’s end, pulling down 49 to the Nuggets’ 51. Credit the collective for that. Between Ball (10), Vučević (10), Jones Jr. (nine), Troy Brown Jr. (eight), Dosunmu (six) and Bradley (six), the Bulls had six players grab six or more rebounds.

That may not make as many headlines as the five players they placed in double-figures, but was key to flipping this contest on its head.

9. Vučević scored seven points on 3-for-5 shooting in the first quarter, helping the Bulls stay above water in a period they fell behind by as many as 10 points. Then, he missed nine of his next 10 shots. Though he sank a few buckets in the third, he entered the fourth 7-for-20 from the field and ended the night 8-for-24. 

That’s a microcosm for Vučević’s inconsistencies as a shooter this season, but he did produce a 20-point, 10-rebound double-double, shoot 3-for-8 from 3-point range and, with the help of some timely double-teams, hold up well on Jokić at the defensive end. Jokić had his 60th career triple-double at the 4:55 mark of the third quarter and busted plenty of Bulls traps en route to 15 assists, but shot an uncharacteristic 6-for-17.

10. It would have been interesting to see what Bulls looked like down the stretch of a close contest without their closer in DeRozan, but by building a double-digit lead early in the fourth quarter and maintaining it down the stretch, they never afforded onlookers the opportunity. The defense fared well in the absence of Caruso and Green as well, holding the Nuggets to 39.2 percent field-goal shooting despite some torrid 3-point success early on. More marks of this team’s resilience.


With the result, the Bulls extend their current winning streak to four and move to 17-8 on the season, trailing the 16-7 Nets by winning-percentage decimal points for the conference lead.

Next up: At the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday.

Click here to follow the Bulls Talk Podcast.

Download MyTeams Today!