Bulls

Bulls observations: Lauri leaves mark, bench brings boost in win

Bulls

The Bulls snapped a four-game losing streak with a 117-101 victory in Dallas against a severely short-handed Mavericks team on Sunday.

Here’s what stood out:

Luka Dončić got his

The Bulls dodged Luka Dončić and Kristaps Porziņģis in their Jan. 3 victory over the Mavericks in Chicago. Despite a lengthy inactive list, both of Dallas’ stars played in this one.

In an extension of his baptism-by-fire rookie season, Patrick Williams took lead defensive responsibilities on Dončić in their shared minutes. Again, Williams handled the assignment with poise, but Dončić got his. He scored or assisted on the Mavericks’ first 19 points -- notching 10 points and four assists on 4-for-8 shooting in the opening quarter -- including two stepback triples that beat solid Williams contests.

The second quarter saw him heat up further, and in especially unguardable fashion. He scored 14 points and canned four 3-pointers in a furious flurry to close the final three minutes of the half, and entered the break with 30 points, seven rebounds and five assists.

 

Midway through the third, he had his fourth triple-double of the season. Here’s the dime that pushed him over that threshold:

Dončić finished with 36 points, 16 rebounds and 15 assists. But the Bulls made him work. Only six of his 36 points came in the second half, and it took him 30 field goal attempts to reach that final tally.

"I didn't think that we closed down airspace well enough, especially to close the half out when he (Dončić) made those threes," head coach Billy Donovan said after the game. "We actually showed our guys some clips of that at halftime... I just thought we did what we wanted to do early in the game in that second half."

Bench boost

Ryan Arcidiacono (for Coby White) and Daniel Gafford (for Wendell Carter Jr.) marked Donovan’s first substitutions in this one after neither played against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Gafford made an immediate impact, scoring five points and blocking two shots to help key an 18-7 first-quarter run that flipped a 16-9 deficit into a 27-23 lead by the end of the frame (a lead which swelled from there).

"Really, there was no reason for him (Gafford) to be out of the rotation against OKC other than the fact that I knew OKC was going to have at least a couple guys who were going to shoot 3s and it was an opportunity to play Lauri some at the 5," Donovan said. "I give him a lot of credit for keeping himself ready."

The bench, generally, returned to their steady selves, taking advantage of an uber-thin Mavericks rotation. The visiting reserves combined to outscore the home side 61-22.

For the Bulls, Garrett Temple was the headliner, scoring 21 points, stuffing the stat sheet with three assists, two steals and a block, and taking turns defending Dončić himself. But it was a collective effort. As the Mavericks chipped away at the Bulls' lead throughout the fourth, Temple, Thad Young (15 points) and Otto Porter Jr. (14 points) took turns connecting on shots that righted the ship before the thought of another blown lead could creep into the team's thoughts.

RELATED: Why Temple thinks Bulls bench can be 'best in the league'

 

Denzel Valentine was the odd man out, recording a DNP after logging 15 minutes against the Thunder. Donovan opted for a 10-man rotation in this one, versus running nine guys against Oklahoma City.

Lauri leaves his mark

At halftime, the Bulls’ starting backcourt didn’t have a field goal between them, with six Zach LaVine free throws accounting for their only points.

It was Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. who buoyed the Bulls early. Markkanen notched 16 first-half points with just one 3-point make, converting five of six free throws and scoring eight points in the paint. After a mixed bag return to the lineup against the Thunder, he appeared assertive.

So, too, did Wendell Carter Jr., who parlayed a strong first two quarters into a final stat line of 12 points, seven rebounds, five steals and a block, with eight charity stripe trips to boot.

LaVine and White, meanwhile, combined for just 10 points -- all of them LaVine's -- on 1-for-13 shooting.

But they also cumulatively dished 14 assists -- ten of which belonged to LaVine -- against three turnovers by afternoon’s end. Markkanen and Carter each benefitted from their facilitating on multiple occasions rolling to the hoop.

Markkanen provided the stat line of the day for the Bulls. He finished with 29 points (10-for-19 FG), 10 rebounds and three assists despite 2-for-7 3-point shooting. His downhill play on the offensive end should encourage. Eight free-throw attempts (with seven makes) are a season high.

"I just mentioned to him, with the way they're flying at you, there's going to be drives open all over the place," Donovan said, referencing the Mavericks' hard closeouts on Markkanen 3-point attempts. "I give him a lot of credit, any time they had space and they flew at him, he put the ball on the floor, made some good passes, got some guys some shots and obviously scored going to the basket."

RELATED: How LaVine impacted win vs. Mavericks without typical scoring

Snapping the schneid

Yes, the Mavericks were markedly understaffed. But this was a much-needed performance for the Bulls to snap their four-game skid, nonetheless.

 

Their defense was notably more active and physical, swiping a season-high 14 steals and holding the Mavericks to an opponent season-low 101 points. On offense, the Bulls assisted on 32 of 43 made field goals while committing just 14 turnovers, more than four below their 30th-ranked season average entering play.

After squandering a 22-point third-quarter lead -- which remained as high as 16 with four-and-a-half minutes to play in the fourth -- against Oklahoma City, that this one ended in a double-digit victory is a step forward regardless of personnel.

"It’s a great group of guys. They want to learn and get better," Donovan said. "It speaks to their character that coming out of that (Thunder) game, they didn’t hang their head."

The result moves the Bulls to 5-8 on the season. Next up: Back home for the Houston Rockets on Monday.

BONUS: Homecourt cooking

Ask most players and coaches, and they’ll tell you homecourt advantage doesn’t exist in this mostly fan-less NBA season.

But, basketball happenings aside… This Mavericks court design is a keeper, especially combined with their forest green throwback uniforms:

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