LOS ANGELES — Just before Alex Caruso sat down to perform postgame media responsibilities, he flashed a smile.
“Didn’t make any shots and you still want to talk to me?” Caruso cracked.
Welcome to one of the most impactful 2-for-11 shooting games you’ll find.
Caruso replaced Javonte Green as the starting power forward, drawing — wait for it — Paul George, the All-NBA talent who has four inches and 30 pounds on Caruso. And all Caruso did was stuff the box score with seven points, nine rebounds, five assists, three steals, one block — and four fouls for good measure.
George shot 7-for-25.
“I’m a little naïve when it comes to basketball and what I think I’m capable of doing,” Caruso said of being undaunted by the assignment.
Caruso’s play proved emblematic of a team-wide response following Friday’s clunker in San Francisco and loss to the Warriors. The Bulls embraced their inner small-ball and still managed to outrebound the Clippers, forcing 20 turnovers and 35.8 percent shooting along the way.
“Man, he’s one of the highest IQ players I’ve played with since I been in the game,” DeMar DeRozan said of Caruso. “Just to have somebody with that natural IQ on the court, it makes things so much easier for you offensively and defensively.”
DeRozan’s heroics didn’t hurt either. And talk about responding: After the Clippers erased a 17-point deficit to take a one-point lead with 9 minutes, 58 seconds remaining, DeRozan scored four points and assisted Tony Bradley’s bucket in a quick 6-0 run that righted the ship.
DeRozan long has been known for his poise and calm demeanor. But he flashed some emotion after sinking a 20-footer that forced a Clippers timeout to try to stop a run that stretched to 9-0 after Zach LaVine sank a 3-pointer.
“We don’t get too long to play this game,” DeRozan said of his rare show of emotion. “Every time I play, whether if it’s a night I struggle, it’s an honor to compete with guys and put on a show. We were down one. That’s where the game gets fun. You want to pull your team in those situations, make big shots. The kid imagination comes out of you in those moments.”
The Bulls quickly are developing a reputation as a team that not only responds to challenges but corrects mistakes. While they still struggled some with halfcourt offense without Nikola Vučević, they scored 25 points off turnovers and somehow won the rebounding battle on a night Derrick Jones Jr. played backup center.
Caruso helped set the tone in the first quarter with his typically physical approach on George. The Clippers committed 10 first-quarter turnovers.
“I’m always up for the challenge,” Caruso said. “I like the competitive nature of it because I know I have to bring my best. If not, these guys are capable of having really good games.”
DeRozan noted that Sunday night marked the first time he had played in Staples Center since the passing of his father. Frank DeRozan raised DeMar in nearby Compton, and the two were extremely close.
“He was at every game,” DeRozan said. “(Sunday night) was one of those games where I wish he was here.”
He would’ve been proud of his son and the fortitude of his son’s new team.