Bulls

11 observations: Bulls post complete effort in win over Jazz

Bulls

The Chicago Bulls followed their first loss of the regular season, and losing Patrick Williams for four-to-six months to a wrist injury, with a 107-99 win over the Utah Jazz at the United Center Saturday night.

The victory moved the Bulls to 5-1 on the young season. Though the Jazz played without starting point guard Mike Conley, it was a wholly impressive performance over the NBA’s last unbeaten team — one that Billy Donovan said postgame was the Bulls' "most consistent" performance of the season as it relates to playing to the team's envisioned identity of a fast-paced, rim-attacking, defense-minded group.

Here are 11 observations:

1. With Williams out, Javonte Green drew the start at power forward and supplied his typical energy in 22 minutes. In his first stint, he scored 3 points and took a steal the distance for a fastbreak dunk. In the opening moments of the third, he tipped home a putback off an offensive rebound.

2. The effectiveness of the Bulls’ second unit has faced questions early in the season, but the reserves stepped up in this one.

For the first time since preseason, Derrick Jones Jr. cracked the rotation, sliding in at backup power forward and notching 4 points and 3 blocks in 19 minutes.

And, facing a ton of size at center in Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside, Donovan rounded out his 10-man rotation with Tony Bradley (in addition to Alex Caruso, Ayo Dosunmu and Troy Brown Jr.) over Alize Johnson. Bradley provided 13 solid minutes, tallying 2 points, 4 rebounds and 2 blocks. He was particularly effective in the third quarter, battling hard with Rudy Gobert on the interior on every possession and keeping multiple Bulls chances alive with tips and deflections.

 

"I was in Utah for three seasons and I know Rudy pretty well, just going against him in practice," Bradley said. "Just try to be physical with him, not letting him get offensive rebounds, things like that. That was my mindset coming in."

By night’s end, Bradley (+19), Jones (+18) and Dosunmu (+17) were the team’s leaders in plus-minus, largely buoyed by a second-half burst. 

"I thought that was a huge difference in the game, how well that group played together," Donovan said. "Forcing turnovers, getting out on the break, really defending. They were aggressive."

3. Donovan also followed through on a rotation tweak he pledged to enact after Friday’s practice. Instead of staggering solely DeMar DeRozan alongside reserves to close the first quarter, he added Lonzo Ball to a unit featuring DeRozan, Jones Jr., Bradley, and either Caruso or Dosunmu.

That unit (which started with Caruso but eventually included Dosunmu after Caruso picked up an early second foul) flipped a 19-15 deficit into a 38-29 advantage between the 2:38 mark of the first quarter and 8:44 mark of the second.

4. DeRozan, who tallied 14 points and 2 assists while hurling flames from the midrange in the aforementioned six-minute stretch, was a steadying force. In addition to that flurry, he added 8 points in the third quarter as the Bulls vaulted ahead 79-72 entering the fourth. Another 8 points in the final frame brought him to a game-high 32 points for the night.

5. The Jazz entered play first in the NBA in 3-point attempts per game (43.5), and experienced a ton of variance in this one. In the first quarter, which the Bulls won 25-24, they were an ice-cold 1-for-11 from deep. In the second, they went 5-for-11 from deep, and won that period 33-29. In the third, they shot 1-for-7, and the Bulls won the frame 25-15. In the fourth, Utah came to life a bit to shoot 4-for-9, but the Bulls finished out ahead.

In all, the Jazz were just 28.9 percent from 3-point range on 38 attempts, well below their standards.

6. In addition to cold Utah shooting, the Bulls generating turnovers and sprinting out on the fastbreak coincided with their best stretches of play. In the first half, the Bulls scored 13 points off nine Jazz turnovers; in the second, they poured in 12 points off 11 turnovers. That’s good for 25 points off 20 turnovers for the evening. 

And yes, the Bulls held the NBA’s top-rated offense at the beginning of the night to 99 points and 38 percent field-goal shooting — the third opponent in six games the Bulls have held under 100.

 

7. The Jazz enjoyed a massive advantage on the glass early on, but the Bulls stemmed the tide as the game went. By night’s end, the Jazz had a 61-55 rebounding advantage, and 18-10 advantage in second-chance points, but both figures could have been much gaudier if first-quarter trends had continued.

8. Zach LaVine entered the fourth quarter 6-for-15 from the field, but awoke down the stretch. He scored 8 points on 3-for-4 shooting in the fourth, including a decisive seven-point spurt at the beginning of the period in which he drilled a 3, caught an alley-oop from Ball and drove hard to the basket for a difficult layup over Whiteside. LaVine is still battling a left thumb sprain, and noticeably favored it in-game, but he’s contributing at a high level all the same. His night ended with 26 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 0 turnovers.

9. Donovan raved postgame about the downhill mentality the Bulls played with all night, which showed in the team’s 30 trips to the free-throw line and 54 points in the paint despite facing a fearsome interior matchup in Gobert. LaVine (8), Nikola Vučević (8) and DeRozan (6) combined for over two-thirds of the team’s charity-stripe attempts. The Bulls amassed 30 free-throw attempts just five times in 72 games last season.

"We have to play downhill. We have too many ball-handlers and creators. And I think for the first four or five games, I think that has been something from my perspective that we needed to improve upon," Donovan said. "I thought tonight we played downhill, we got to the basket, we played at the rim, we played in the paint."

That helped compensate for a 5-for-21 (23.8 percent) night from 3-point range. And, as Donovan also alluded to, it was good to see the Bulls' offensive destiny not defined solely by its jump-shooting success.

10. Vučević’s started the night 2-for-16 from the field, a continuation of a slow-shooting start to the season (he entered play shooting 43.4 percent from the field and 31.6 percent from 3). And he displayed noticeable signs of frustration early in this one. But he came alive down the stretch, burying a monster 3-pointer and driving Gobert for a layup on back-to-back possessions to pull the Bulls ahead 105-97 with 53.9 seconds to play.

"We just kept being upbeat with him," LaVine said of Vučević. "I told him, 'I'm coming to you every time if they show it. Be ready.' And he showed why he's a multiple-time All-Star... He can have a bad game, but he comes through when we need him."

"It's a great lesson for all of our guys on our team," Donovan added, lauding Vučević's activity on defense and the glass even as he shot poorly. "He kept his head in the game... If he's out of the game mentally or loses confidence or just says it's not my night, I don't know what happens."

 

11. The Bulls celebrated Toni Kukoč’s recent Hall of Fame induction throughout the night. At the first second-quarter game stoppage, a tribute video featuring Jerry and Michael Reinsdorf, Bill Wennington, Steve Kerr, Horace Grant and Kukoč’s family played. At halftime, a stage was brought out to center court, where Artis Gilmore introduced Kukoč to address the crowd (both wearing their Hall of Fame jackets).

“Split, Croatia is my hometown, but Chicago is my heart and my home,” Kukoč said to big cheers.

Next up for the Bulls: A trip to Boston to face the Celtics on Monday.

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