Bulls

Observations from Bulls-Bucks: Closer Dunn, Defender Nwaba, Niko and Hoiball(!)

/ by Vincent Goodwill
Presented By Goodwill
Bulls

Dunn, the closer: It was an amazing sight but one that isn’t all too surprising if you’ve seen Kris Dunn play over the past few weeks—attacking a defender late in a game for a layup.

Except the defender was one of the longest and perhaps most athletic player in the game, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Dunn repeatedly attacking Antetokounmpo when they were matched up in the fourth quarter, as opposed to ceding to Antetokounmpo’s length.

Rocking the ball from right to left, he gathered momentum toward the rim and finished with his off-hand for a creative finish with 53.8 seconds left to give the Bulls a 111-104 lead.

“I feel like I had the matchup,” Dunn said. “I wanted to be aggressive the whole game. He’s long and athletic, but I thought I could get at his feet and that’s what I tried to do.”

The intelligence in that statement, realizing if there’s a place to attack a player like Antetokounmpo, it would be his feet. It helped complete perhaps one of Dunn’s most complete games as a pro, with 20 points, 12 assists, four steals and two blocks.

Dunn had four turnovers, but three of them occurred in the first quarter—a period where he had six assists. With a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, it’s a lot easier to swallow—in fact, the turnovers mean next to nothing when you take care of the ball late and finish the way he does to close out games.

 

“He didn’t settle,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I thought he did a good job of attacking and getting into the paint. He had really good finishes tonight.”

More important than helping the Bulls win their eighth game in 10 tries was the way he bounced back after their Saturday night loss to the Celtics in Boston. He took the loss on the chin and instead of it spiraling to a place where bad performances repeat themselves, Dunn washed it away.

“We’re resilient,” Dunn said. “Each and every game we’re trying to improve as a team.

“Me trying to be a leader, I had to show them I could be positive. I can’t have my head down. This team believes in me. I’m gonna keep being aggressive.”

Nwaba, the stopper: Antetokounmpo had two fouls midway through the second quarter and was playing with fire, barreling into David Nwaba on a fast break, hitting him square in the stomach.

The officials swallowed their whistles as Nwaba was doubled over catching his wind after Antetokounmpo’s layup.

The superstar calls are a way of life in the NBA and Antetokounmpo has earned that treatment. Nwaba will have to make his living absorbing plays like that, knowing the benefit of the doubt won’t go his way in most cases—while still having to crowd the superstar wing men of the league to make life difficult.

“It’s exciting, so I enjoy it,” Nwaba said. “It’s nothing I need to prepare for. I just need to know what I can bring to the table and know I have to lock in.”

Nwaba’s lock-in turned to a lockdown of the NBA’s second-leading scorer in the fourth quarter. Antetokounmpo made his first five shots from the field and scored 24 in the first three quarters, but didn’t register in the score sheet in the fourth until there was 2:11 remaining—and the Bulls led by 9.

“People don’t realize how strong he is,” Dunn said. “He’s a muscle-head. Props to him for taking on that role and trying to make it difficult for him.”

It didn’t go unnoticed by Nwaba’s coach, either.

“Nwaba does a good job, you’re not going to complete stop (Antetokounmpo),” Hoiberg said. “Giannis is going to be in the MVP talk all season long. But David isn’t going to back down from anybody.”

Niko, again? Yes, again: The pump fake was back, although Nikola Mirotic wasn’t using it on every single possession. But the relentlessness remained and the confidence is overflowing from Mirotic, who led the Bulls with 24 points.

Eight of those came in the fourth when the Bulls outscored the Bucks 32-23. Mirotic hit a couple back-breaking jumpers from ball movement, unbothered by Antetokounmpo running out at him.

“All this work is from practice. We’ve been practicing great as a team,” Mirotic said. “You can see the chemistry of the team is a little different. Everybody knows his role, knows what he needs to do. Defensively we are improving.

 

“We are finally learning how to play with each other. This has a lot to do with Fred. Calling the right call each time. The team is executing very well.”

Averaging over 18 points and nearly eight rebounds, it mitigates the regression of rookie Lauri Markkanen, who watched the critical moments of the fourth quarter from the bench.

Markkanen, who used to be the lone dependable starter, was now the only starter not in double figures, going one of seven in 20 minutes. But Markkanen grabbed seven rebounds and had his first taste of being defended by Antetokounmpo.

He’ll learn.

Wait, what?

So let’s see: The Bulls had eight turnovers to the Bucks’ 20—and four of the Bulls turnover came in the first quarter….

Five Bulls scored in double figures and none of them were named LaVine or Markkanen…

Their best plus-minus performer didn’t score in double figures and according to the advanced stats, makes everyone better around him (Bobby Portis)…

It was Portis who grabbed Kris Dunn and kept him from getting into it even more with Bucks swingman Khris Middleton when both got tangled up in the final minute, going to the floor…

“Peace and love, that’s what I’m all about,” Portis said with a smile….

It was also Portis who swatted a shot into the expensive seats after a whistle had been blown, Kevin Garnett-style, prompting a smile from Hoiberg on the bench…

Was that Jerian Grant playing aggressive in the fourth quarter against Eric Bledsoe?...

And this Bulls team, being scrappy, playing confident, tough and sharing the ball to the tune of 26 assists—averaging 26.1 assists in their last 10 games?

That’s Hoiball.