It was not pretty through three quarters. In fact, for much of the fourth, it wasn't much better.
But in the end, the Chicago Bulls notched a home win it felt they needed on Wednesday against the Washington Wizards, prevailing 115-111 to snap a three-game losing streak and move their season-long record to 10-14.
Here are 10 observations:
1. There was a bit of a role reversal early in this one as it relates to the Bulls' propensity for slow starts. Instead of falling behind by double-digits in the first half, it was the hosts who built as much as a 10-point advantage in the first quarter, leading 29-22 after 12 minutes.
Better yet, the Bulls wasted no time playing to their preferred defensive identity, forcing five Washington turnovers in the frame and allowing 0-for-5 shooting from 3-point range. At the half, the Wizards had 11 cough-ups and had missed 13 of 15 3-point attempts.
2. The good news is the Bulls held on to lead 52-49 at the half, marking just their sixth halftime lead in 24 games this season. But, to paraphrase a recently used Billy Donovan-ism, the Bulls' consistent inconsistency came to fruition in a second quarter the Wizards won 27-23. After committing just three turnovers in the first quarter, the Bulls handed Washington nine in the second, allowing the Wizards 17 points off turnovers in the first half, overall.
Most of that ground, it should be noted, was made up at the beginning of the frame, with the Bulls' reserves mostly running the show. Goran Dragić (two turnovers) and Andre Drummond (four turnovers in five minutes) struggled, in particular.
3. But the Bulls' turnover troubles were team-wide, and seemed to let the Wizards back in the game every time the hosts made a push. With Zach LaVine (six) and DeMar DeRozan (five) leading the way, they finished the game with 19.
At least, you could say, the Bulls forced 18 Wizards turnovers at the other end. But Washington was better at capitalizing on those opportunities by scoring a potentially devastating 28 points off turnovers to the Bulls' 15.
Most bedeviling is that the Bulls actually entered play with a better than average turnover rate for the season (14.3 percent, 11th in the NBA).
4. Daniel Gafford flies under the radar in the realm of revenge games. But the Bulls' 2019 second-round pick, who was traded in 2021 as part of the three-team deal that netted Javonte Green, played with a pep in his step. He changed the game by sparking a surge that thrust the Wizards ahead between the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth; from the 2:12 mark of the third until he checked out five minutes into the final frame, Gafford notched six points, three rebounds and two blocks.
Former Bull Taj Gibson, too, was a factor in the second half, scoring five points and knocking down a 3-pointer.
5. The Bulls fell behind by as many as six early in the fourth quarter. But in a refreshing development, their stars came to the rescue.
DeRozan, mired in a slump (10-for-33 from the field and 5-for-21 from midrange in his last two games) entering play, came alive to start the fourth with eight quick points to get the Bulls rolling.
Then, when the Wizards began to levy double-teams his direction, LaVine caught fire by draining 3-pointers on three straight possessions between the 6:22 and 5:09 marks of the fourth quarter. He also twirled home a fastbreak layup to put the Bulls ahead 104-101 after DeRozan stripped Deni Avdija at the defensive end.
And Nikola Vučević, who posted a strong outing of 25 points and 11 rebounds while shooting 10-for-16 and 3-for-5 from 3-point land, followed LaVine's flurry with a corner triple of his own to put the Bulls ahead 102-101, send the United Center into a frenzy, and force a Wizards timeout.
6. Unfortunately, the Bulls did not accumulate enough stops for the above inferno to be anything more than trading blows with the Wizards. But eventually, they pulled away — and again, the Big Three working together was at the heart of it.
The three-possession stretch after the Wizards clawed back to take a 105-104 lead was a perfect example: First, LaVine eschewed a contested 3-pointer to feed Vučević in the post, where the Bulls' big man got a bucket to put his side ahead 106-105. Then, Vučević blocked a Monte Morris layup, leading to a DeRozan midrange jumper. Soon after DeRozan converted an and-one floater to make it a 111-105 game.
The Wizards drew back within 111-109 in the final seconds, but after a LaVine missed layup, Alex Caruso pulled down an offensive rebound and kicked to DeRozan for the free throws that, along with two later by LaVine, iced the game. On a night he amassed five points, nine assists, four steals and a game-high +17 plus-minus, Caruso's impact cannot be understated, which speaks to Donovan turning to him as a complement to the Bulls' stars in the first unit.
7. In all: DeRozan (27 points), LaVine (25) and Vučević combined for 77 of the Bulls' 115 points on the game. With 15 points by DeRozan, 13 by LaVine and five by Vučević, they also combined for 33 of their 35 points in the fourth.
And so DeRozan's slow shooting start to the game (3-for-8 in the first half), LaVine's arid stretch in the middle (he at one point was 3-for-12 after making two of three 3-point attempts), and each's ball security struggles are footnotes. Because they stepped up when it mattered most.
8. While the first three quarters of the game were largely sloppy on both sides, the fourth quarter was encouraging in that it represented an example of the Bulls out-executing an opponent down the stretch. Not only did the Bulls shoot the lights out in the final frame — 57.1 percent from the field, 4-for-6 from 3 — they also committed just three turnovers and made all seven of their free throw attempts.
Such sharpness late in games has been a rarity during a season in which they are now just 3-9 in contests that fall within a five-point margin with five minutes or fewer to play.
9. While the Bulls, who entered play 28th in the NBA in 3-pointers made per game, typically lose the 3-point shooting battle by sizable margins, Wednesday was not one of those nights (the Wizards entered play 23rd in that category, after all). The Wizards' final line of 9-for-31 was actually an improvement on their 2-for-15 first half, but was still outdone by the Bulls going 10-for-23 (43.5 percent) from distance.
10. Javonte Green missed his second straight game with "right knee soreness," which Donovan recently clarified stems from a mild bone bruise. The Bulls' coach also noted pregame that the team's plan is to return Green to the starting lineup when he's healthy in order to get an extended look at he and Caruso with the Bulls' "Big Three," and Ayo Dosunmu and Patrick Williams with the second unit.
For whatever it's worth, Dosunmu was sharp in his 20 minutes off the bench, slashing to the rim aggressively for eight points, while Williams added 11 points on 5-for-8 shooting in his own right.
Next up for the Bulls: Home for Luka Dončić and the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday.