The Chicago Bulls moved to 9-11 on the season with a 114-107 win over the Utah Jazz Monday night.
It took weathering an early onslaught from old friend Lauri Markkanen, and flipping a 10-point third quarter deficit, but ultimately, the Bulls bounced back from Saturday's loss to the Thunder, and moved to 2-1 in a critical early-season road swing that began with a win at the Milwaukee Bucks.
Here are 10 observations:
1. Markkanen got up for this matchup against his former team, to say the least. He wasted no time asserting himself by scoring a career-high (for a half) 24 points in the opening two quarters, shooting 9-for-10 from the field and 5-for-6 from 3-point range.
Yes, that scoring was built on a foundation of catch-and-shoot jump shots. But he also found a few easy buckets at the rim on a post-up bruising of Zach LaVine in the first quarter and two timely cuts in the second, which speaks to the diversity of his usage in Utah:
Markkanen added another two 3-pointers in the third quarter to eclipse 30 points. But he was largely invisible down the stretch, scoring just two points and committing two turnovers from the final minute of the third quarter on to finish with 32 points and nine rebounds.
2. The Bulls were dominated from beyond the 3-point arc in this one, another commentary on this roster's lacking personnel in that department. The Jazz shot 11-for-24 (45.8 percent) from 3-point range in the first half, while the Bulls attempted just 10 shots from that distance (making three, which was good for a 24-point disparity). They trailed by seven points at that juncture.
By game's end, even as the Bulls won by seven, the Jazz held a 39-point advantage from beyond the arc by shooting 19-for-49 (38.8 percent) to the Bulls' 6-for-21 (28.6 percent).
3. However, the Bulls compensated for the above disparity by dominating the free throw and paint points departments. The Bulls shot 22-for-25 from the line compared to a woeful 6-for-15 by the Jazz, and outscored Utah 64-44 in the lane.
4. The third quarter, which the Bulls won by a margin of 33-20, was also a pivot point after the Jazz jumped out to a 60-53 halftime lead. In the third, DeMar DeRozan scored 12 points after shooting 1-for-7 in the first half and the Bulls tallied seven points off four Utah turnovers, erasing a deficit that at one point climbed to 10.
5. From Coby White's left quad, to the left shoulders of Andre Drummond and Goran Dragić, injuries have broken up the Bulls' preferred bench mob for some time. But in this one, with all of those players available, the second unit made a difference, outscoring the Jazz reserves 39-18. Notable contributions included the following.
6. Dragić, with two early assists, keyed a late first quarter run that turned a seven-point Jazz lead into a tie game entering the second. The veteran lead guard flashed his patented on-court chemistry with Drummond in the process:
7. Drummond amassed an efficient double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds in just 14 minutes. He had six points in that first quarter run, and added four early in the fourth quarter as the Bulls stretched their lead as high as 10. Each of his field goals in the latter span featured shows of athleticism, from the below steal-and-score on the fastbreak, to an acrobatic putback moments later:
8. White hurled flames off the pine to the tune of 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting, 3-for-5 from 3-point range. Not only did he throw down an authoritative slam early in the fourth with Markkanen trailing the play and nail a dagger 3-pointer to give the Bulls a nine-point lead with 69 seconds left in regulation, he also outpaced Dragić (14) and starting point guard Ayo Dosunmu (22) in minutes by logging 23 and closing both halves.
That is a sign of Billy Donovan's growing trust. And Monday marks two times in the last three games White has delivered in clutch moments, adding to his pair of massive 3-pointers down the stretch against the Bucks.
9. With the win, the Bulls move to 2-8 in "clutch" games this season, defined as contests that fall inside a five-point margin with five minutes or less to play. DeMar DeRozan, who finished with 26 points, was key there by scoring 10 points in the fourth quarter. So, too, was Patrick Williams, who, with the Bulls ahead 104-100, picked Kelly Olynyk's pocket and goaded Collin Sexton into a clear path foul, which gave him two free throws and the Bulls possession back (two of 12 points the Bulls scored off five Jazz turnovers in the fourth).
The Bulls also, after that Williams play, pulled down offensive rebounds and converted second-chance opportunities on the next two possessions. Both opportunities were generated by Nikola Vučević. On the first, he missed a hook shot but, with the help of a hustling Alex Caruso, tapped out the offensive rebound to extend the possession, which ended with a DeRozan floater; on the second, he put back a missed stepback jumper by LaVine to make the Bulls' lead 110-100 at the 2:48 mark.
Incidentally, the Jazz entered play 29th in the NBA in defensive rebound rate and 28th in opponent second-chance points per game. The Bulls grabbed 13 offensive boards and scored 14 second-chance points in this one.
10. Zach LaVine scored 20 points, tied Caruso for a team-high in plus-minus (+11), and had a few highlight plays, including a loud dunk on an alley-oop pass from DeRozan in the third quarter. But he still does not look quite himself. LaVine went 1-for-6 from 3-point range, and missed five of his six shots from the field in the fourth quarter (on a diet of mostly forced looks) en route to a 7-for-20 shooting night, overall.
Next up for the Bulls: At the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday.