Raise your hand if you thought, after hitting rock bottom against the Orlando Magic, the Bulls would beat the top two teams in the Eastern Conference in back-to-back games?
Yeah, I didn’t think so.
After taking care of the Celtics on Monday, the Bulls kicked off their six-game road trip with a 118-113 win over the Milwaukee Bucks in Chicago North.
This was their first clutch game win of the season, and they’re finally starting to look a lot more like the team they hoped to be.
“It means a lot,” LaVine said. “Shoot. Back-to-back really good wins. We played this team in the playoffs, obviously they’re number one in the East right now. We can play against anybody, we can beat anybody. We just have to have the same mindset each and every game.”
The Bulls are now 4-2 against the top-four teams in the East from last season — Bucks, Celtics, 76ers and Heat.
Bulls defense is streaking
The name of the game, defending the Bucks, is trying to contain the world’s best player: Giannis Antetokounmpo.
For someone who finished with an efficient 36 points, 11 rebounds and 7 assists, the Bulls did a solid job against Antetokounmpo, which cuts off the head of the snake.
“I thought we really competed,” Donovan said. They’re a hard team to guard, just because they’ve got shooting all around Giannis. And if you don’t show a crowd to him, he’s just coming downhill and getting to the rim. What it does is it puts a lot of pressure on your defense, because you’ve got to go from these helping situations and shifting situations all the way out to the three-point line.”
Two things that stood out defensively were the switching and the timing of help:
It’s not often Coby White gets the Antetokounmpo assignment, but on the switch in the first clip, he held up. Forcing the Bucks to stop their offense to try to feed him the ball and preventing an entry pass makes them look pedestrian.
In the second clip, Patrick Williams slides over to show help as Antetokounmpo is spinning back toward the basket. Alex Caruso also did a great job of the same and it forced tough shots and kick outs to Bucks shooters, who went 12-for-38.
I would be remiss not to mention DeRozan, who played one of his best defensive games with the Bulls, both in effort and attention to detail, over the last two games:
“The second oldest guy on the team, the leader on this team,” he said. “I got to set it by example as well. Coach challenged me, Zach and Vooch a few games ago. We gotta live up to that. Keep this group going. And it’s a challenge we all accepted. It’s fun. As a competitor you want to be challenged that way to make yourself and the team better.”
The Bulls defense has been all over the place this season. They’re 11th in the NBA, but we’ve seen them flail during their four-game losing streak and now hold two of the best teams in the league to 103.9 and 108.7 offensive ratings, respectively.
Bend the Knee To Our Midrange King!
Coby White gets his swagger back
White had really been going through it.
After starting the season with 38.2 percent field goal shooting, 29.4 three-point shooting and 55.6 free throw shooting, White missed eight-straight games with injury. He clearly was playing below his level, and the injury set him back even further.
But in just his second game back, he played a huge role in the win, scoring 14 points on 5-for-10 shooting and drilling two, big-time threes to extend the Bulls lead in the final 90 seconds of the game.
Donovan played White in the closing group, save for a few defensive possessions, to help open the floor for DeRozan.
On the topic of three-pointers..
Bulls 3-point bonanza
The Bulls reached a season high in both made and attempted three-pointers. After the Bulls’ 14-for-29 three-point performance Monday against the Boston Celtics, they followed it up another scorcher, shooting 18-of-42.
“I think we just generated so many open shots, that we always stress, whenever guys get open shots to take them,” DeRozan said. “We’ve been doing a great job at that getting guys wide open shots, it’s on us to take them. I think that’s where we’re at. We’re trying to make ourselves difficult to guard. When we get good looks, I encourage guys to take them. Even if you miss, keep shooting them.”
These lofty percentages won’t stick, but the willingness to shoot, and taking the shots the defense is giving up, are important indicators of improvement for this team.
Zach LaVine’s flagrant foul
What seemed like a standard Zach LaVine fadeaway jumper turned into an offensive foul, and then upon further review, it was upgraded to a flagrant.
“Sometimes there’s good calls, sometimes there’s bad fouls,” LaVine said. “It’s an odd call because I was doing a fadeaway. That’s my natural shooting motion. But it didn’t affect the game. It’s just a weird call. You get some good calls, you get some bad calls. It’s just unfortunate.”
“It was a good shot,” he continued. “I just hit him in the groin, obviously I didn’t try to. But that’s my area, you know. It’s a normal fadeaway for me.”
I was pretty stunned by this call, not just that it was offensive, but that they took the time to review it and decided it was worthy of an upgrade. Truly bizarre stuff.
DeMar DeRozan, still very good
It’s only been 18 games, but we’re running out of superlatives. I tried to get DeRozan to do my job for me, asking if he is ever surprised by the things he can do out there, with regards to his 18-point third quarter on 7-for-9 shooting.
His answer: “No.”
DeRozan finished the game with 36 points on 14-of-24 shooting. He continues to amaze.
Up next: Thanksgiving. Then, Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday.