The Chicago Bulls snapped a two-game schneid in enthralling fashion at the United Center Monday night, sprinting past the Brooklyn Nets with a fourth-quarter avalanche to win 118-95.
The result moves them to 7-3.
Here are 11 observations:
1. Billy Donovan and Bulls players alike have bemoaned slow starts in the team’s recent, sluggish stretch. Not so in this one. The Bulls led 35-27 after the first quarter, shooting 55.2 percent from the field and dictating the contest’s tone. The Nets’ first eight field-goal attempts, and 11 of 18 in the first, came from 3-point range, and while they shot well on those tries (5-for-11), the Bulls dominated inside, winning the first-quarter paint-point margin 18-2 and rebounding 17-7.
2. Zach LaVine got to every spot he desired early on, opening the game’s first nine minutes with 12 points on 6-for-7 shooting; six of those points came at the rim, two came from floater range, and four came from fall-away midrange jumpers.
3. The second quarter was a far different story. The Nets held the Bulls to 5-for-24 shooting and outscored them 30-16 to take a 57-51 lead into halftime. There were a slew of ugly offensive statistics for the Bulls in the first half — 39.6 percent field-goal shooting, 3-for-17 from 3 — but the worst was their 5 assists on 21 made field goals. DeMar DeRozan and LaVine each had 14 points, but the offensive attack as a whole devolved into isolation-heavy play.
4. On the other end, LaMarcus Aldridge was the story for Brooklyn, scoring 15 points on 7-for-8 shooting (11 in the second quarter) in the first half. That buoyed a Nets bench that outscored the Bulls’ reserves 22-9 in the first half. Bench scoring disparity threatened to again be a storyline, but the Bulls flipped the script later to finish ahead 33-32 in that category.
5. Nikola Vučević’s early-season slump — if not a stronger term — continued through the first three quarters. The Bulls looked to their All-Star center twice in the game’s opening minutes, resulting in two missed floaters — one off a post-up on Blake Griffin, one on the move while rolling.
Vučević got one layup to drop later in the period, but shot 0-for-4 in the second quarter to enter the halftime break with 2 points on 1-for-7 shooting. Embedded in that second quarter line were two blocked layups, another missed point-blank floater and a badly-bricked wide-open 3-pointer.
The third quarter brought more of the same. A missed dunk and layup on back-to-back rim-runs. On one possession, Vučević reeled in a pass from Lonzo Ball for what could have been an acres-open 3-point try, but he didn’t even look at the rim, instead choosing to pass out of the touch. Ball was noticeably chagrined by the decision.
6. But give Vučević credit. Similar to the Bulls’ early-season win over the Jazz, he came up with a number of big plays down the stretch. A 3-pointer to extend the Bulls’ lead to 11 upon checking in less than five minutes into the fourth. Two midrange swishes working two-man game with LaVine. A block of Bruce Brown with just under seven minutes to play. Vučević entered the fourth quarter with 4 points on 2-for-11 shooting, but finished with 11 points on 5-for-14, adding 13 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 blocks.
“Ultimate professional,” DeRozan said of Vučević’s finish. “He's not just a regular NBA player. His resume for being an All-Star player, a franchise player for most of his career. Understanding those moments and knowing that next big shot is the most important shot.”
7. The Bulls saw a lot go awry between the second and third quarters, but hung tight to trail just 78-76 entering the fourth. Then, the floodgates opened, catalyzed by a mostly-reserve unit featuring Ayo Dosunmu, Derrick Jones Jr., Tony Bradley and Alex Caruso.
Dosunmu brought a massive spark, scoring 11 of his new-career-high 15 points in the final frame on a series of fastbreak run-outs and hard drives to the rim — his finishing continues to look improved — plus a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer. When he checked out for the stretch run (before later returning in garbage time), the United Center crowd offered up a partial standing ovation, with LaVine joining the applause from the free-throw line. With a layup and forced turnover from Dosunmu in mop-up minutes, the energy heightened even with the game’s outcome decided.
“I see it. I feel it too,” Dosunmu said of the United Center’s regular raucous reactions to his play. “I just try and embrace it. I just try and come in with energy and positivity. Come in, play hard and have fun.”
“He's got the ‘it’ factor,” Donovan added. “He's a fearless competitor. And I think that kind of mindset is gonna serve him well going forward. He can't lose that, because to me that's gotta be his identity.”
Caruso, meanwhile, dialed the defensive intensity on James Harden to a maniacal level early in the period, and contributed a 3-pointer of his own. That group’s defensive fortitude stagnated the Nets and got the Bulls flowing, basically from the jump.
8. The end result was the Bulls holding their fourth opponent in 10 games under 100 points — this time, a high-powered Brooklyn squad. Other than Kevin Durant’s 38 points, Aldridge (19) and James Harden (14) were the only Nets to crack double-figures. As a team, they shot under 40 percent from the field and committed 15 turnovers.
9. The Bulls won the fourth quarter 42-17, shooting 5-for-6 from 3-point range after entering the period 4-for-25, and scoring 7 points off four Brooklyn turnovers. It was an incredible turnaround that bordered on torrential. Dosunmu’s spark and Vučević’s 7 points on 3-for-3 shooting were the headliners.
10. DeMar DeRozan, though, wasn’t far behind with 10 points in the fourth, including some steadying midrange jumpers and charity-stripe trips early in the period. For the eighth time in 10 games, both DeRozan (28 points, 10-for-20 shooting) and LaVine (24 points, 10-for-17) each cleared 20 points. LaVine, it must be noted, shot 0-for-4 from 3-point range, bringing him to 23.1 percent from distance since spraining his thumb early in the season. But these two are doing their part to anchor the Bulls’ offensive attack.
11. It’s an afterthought in a win, but the Bulls greatly struggled for answers against Durant — as many teams do. Especially with Patrick Williams sidelined, the Bulls simply had little in the way of big, mobile wings to throw at Durant, who finished with 38 points, 10 rebounds and 4 assists while making 13 of 24 shots. Even on his misses, he routinely got off clean looks over the top of Bulls defenders; when set, Javonte Green and Derrick Jones Jr. drew primary responsibilities on him.
But enough of that. Though only the 10th game of the season, this feels like a big win for the Bulls, who entered play on a two-game skid — with both losses coming against a severely underhanded Philadelphia 76ers team.
That it featured such a seismic second-half turnaround makes it all the more thrilling.
“It says a lot,” DeRozan said of the team’s 7-3 start. “Everybody resilient. Everybody want something out of this. Everybody put the work in. It's just not us talking about it. It's us doing all the physical things as well. Taking every single day serious.
“It's a constant understanding of: It's bigger than just winning a game or losing a game. We understanding it's the long run. And to be a good team you gotta understand you gotta work at it every single day.”
Next up: Home for the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday.