The Chicago Bulls are on a roll.
With Monday’s 130-118 win over the severely shorthanded Atlanta Hawks, the Bulls extended the team’s current win streak to four games and its season-long record to 21-10 – the franchise’s first time 11 games above .500 since April 2015.
Here are 10 observations:
1. The Bulls’ perimeter defense survived its first test without both Lonzo Ball (COVID-19 protocols) and Alex Caruso (foot sprain) against the Pacers. But Trae Young, who was cleared from protocols hours before tipoff, proved a greater challenge.
Coby White opened the game on Young and didn’t have much for him. The Hawks star slithered his way to 10 points and four assists in his first nine minutes, drawing two fouls – one of which led to a three-point play – on White in the process. He finished the opening frame with 12 points and five assists.
2. With a second-quarter explosion of 17 points that featured backbreaking jumpers and acrobatic finishes reminiscent of last season’s 50-point outburst at State Farm Center (which included a 25-point second quarter), Zach LaVine led the charge for the Bulls in the first half.
At the break, LaVine had tallied 23 points, five assists, three rebounds and a steal, shooting 8-for-15 and 4-for-5 on 3s. The highlights, which he capped with a fadeaway jumper at the second-quarter buzzer to extend the Bulls’ lead to 69-63, were plentiful.
LaVine finished the night with his 10th 30-point game of the season, slinging nine assists against just two turnovers, and shooting 11-for-21 (5-for-8 from 3).
Between his first All-Star game last March, first career 50-burger last April, and Monday’s exploits, you think he likes playing in Atlanta?
3. Along with LaVine’s scoring, Ayo Dosunmu’s defense helped turn the tide in the second quarter after Atlanta built as much as a nine-point first-half lead. Dosunmu seized primary defensive responsibilities on Young in that period, and, while Young scored six points in the second, the rookie guard fared significantly better than White, navigating screens more adeptly and even blocking Young on a floater attempt.
Dosunmu also finished three layups for six points, and dropped a no-look fastbreak dime for a LaVine dunk, to make his presence felt at the offensive end.
4. White’s first-half struggles trickled to the offensive end, where he went scoreless on just three shot attempts, and foul column, where he committed three and ceded two and-one finishes (to Young and Cam Reddish).
But he responded nicely out of the halftime locker room, scoring 10 points and burying two of four 3-point attempts in the third quarter. Though Javonte Green absorbed the Young assignment at the outset, White even stripped his first-half foil from behind for a steal helping on a drive. And he added another frustration dunk to this season’s catalog:
Then, with 79 seconds left in the fourth quarter and the Bulls ahead by 11 points, the third-year guard drilled a dagger 3-pointer to put the Bulls ahead 130-116 – and give him 13 points for the evening.
With three pull-up midrange jumpers, two free throws, a cutting layup, and three dimes (two for Vučević 3s, one a lob for a LaVine lay-in), DeRozan scored or assisted on 18 of the Bulls’ first 20 points of the period. With three 3-pointers – including one bail-out banker at the end of the shot clock – Vučević’s shotmaking contributed to stemming multiple comeback tides by the Hawks.
In all, DeRozan (12) and Vučević (13) combined for 25 of the Bulls’ 32 points in the fourth quarter.
6. And, for the game, DeRozan (35 points, 10 assists, 14-for-20 shooting), LaVine (30 points, nine assists, 11-for-21 shooting) and Vučević (24 points, six assists, 9-for-19 shooting) combined to score 89 points, shoot 56.7 percent from the field (11-for-18 from 3-point range), and hand out 25 assists against five turnovers.
That level of production and efficiency from the Bulls’ “Big Three” should be insurmountable on most nights. Vučević, specifically, has picked up his play of late, averaging 19.3 points, 12.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.3 blocks (50 percent shooting, 44 percent from 3) in his last four games. Even for LaVine and DeRozan, Monday marked the first game both exceeded 30 points in the same contest.
7. Acting head coach Chris Fleming cited Dosunmu and Green’s defense on Young – which offered the Bulls more length and versatility – as a turning point in the game. Young tallied 12 points, five assists and shot 5-for-8 from the floor in the first quarter; in quarters two through four, he posted 17 points and four assists – but shot 3-for-15 and committed two turnovers.
8. Cam Reddish’s 3-point shooting was a problem, early and late. He buried three 3-pointers in the first quarter as the Hawks pulled ahead, and four long-balls (en route to 14 points) in the fourth as the hosts attempted to scrap back. The Hawks’ third-year wing finished with a career-best eight made 3s.
9. For the second night in a row, the Bulls won bench points – this time, 26-24. In addition to Dosunmu’s aforementioned contributions, Troy Brown Jr. poured in seven points, and Matt Thomas drilled three 3-pointers. Fleming’s rotation once again ran nine deep, including the starters, those three and two-way forward Tyler Cook.
10. This was one of the Bulls’ crisper offensive performances of the season. In addition to scoring 130 points, they shot 54.8 percent from the field, 48.6 percent (18-for-37) from 3-point range and tallied 29 assists compared to just 10 turnovers. That it came without Ball and Caruso, and on the second night of a home-road back-to-back, was all the more impressive.
Next up: Back to Chicago for a second date with the Hawks on Wednesday.