One game after the Bulls gave up 71 points to Donovan Mitchell and lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers in two straight games, the Bulls pulled a rabbit out of their hat and beat the streaking Brooklyn Nets 121-112.
Of course they did.
It had been exactly one month since the Nets last lost a game. Brooklyn had won 12 straight games and 16 of their last 17. Ninth in defense, fifth in offense and fifth in net rating. They’ve been lighting the world on fire, basically since the Bulls got them last on November 1, when Steve Nash was fired and Kyrie Irving was at the center of an absolute shitstorm over his defense of an anti-Semitic movie.
Of course the Bulls would.
Though DeMar DeRozan got it going late, this was not a big three takeover. It was Ayo Dosunmu (17 points on 7-of-14 shooting and Patrick Williams (22 points on 6-of-8 shooting) who carried the Bulls to the win and overcame a casual 44-point effort from Kevin Durant.
Patrick Williams did the thing
Patrick Williams did the thing, finally. A season-high 22 points (6-for-8 from the field, 3-for-4 from three and 7-for-7 from the line).
One of the arguments for the “he needs to be more aggressive” agenda is his lack of trips to the free throw line. The thought process being, he won’t get fouled if he doesn’t go up strong. He won’t go up strong if he doesn’t go at all.
And it’s not a bad point.
Williams is averaging 0.9 free throw attempts per game this season, exactly half his previous career low from his rookie year. He hadn’t been to the line once in the last seven games. But against the Nets night, he reached a season-high seven free throw attempts, and matched his total from the previous 16 games combined.
Granted, he got three after being fouled on a three-pointer, but it’s emblematic of the larger point. Williams, again, got a few shots early, but rather than fading away from the rest of the game, Williams continued to take shots, and not just the open spot up jumpers.
For the second game in a row, Williams has gotten minutes on the floor while DeMar DeRozan is on the bench, which has allowed him to get off one self-created look in each game.
“That has happened some,” Donovan said when asked if there has been an emphasis on putting Williams in positions to make reads and score. “Some of it has been who’s matched up with him and who’s played him, in terms of trying to put him in actions, against, maybe, quite honestly, if someone’s trying to hide a defender on him. And trying to get him active and make that guy have to guard a little bit. And also get [Patrick] involved.
“It’s not so much, hey listen, “Patrick this is your play, we’re running this play for you. When you catch it, just shoot it.” I don’t subscribe to that,” Donovan continued. “But you can put him in some actions where he’s got to make decisions and be aggressive. And he, of late, to your point, has been in some of those situations.”
The bar is extremely low. One self-created shot per game isn’t much. But it’s a start. And he absolutely needs to get some of these opportunities, to, at the very least, shoot the ball when he has the chance.
“Cuz if he don’t shoot it, he’s gonna get cussed the fuck out,” DeRozan shouted from across the locker room.
Defense tightening the screws
There’s only so much one can do with Kevin Durant. Often times, perfect defense isn’t good enough to shut off the water. So in that case, executions around the rest of the floor need to be good enough to prevent other leaks.
With Caruso leaving the game in the game in the first quarter after a right ankle injury, the Bulls were still able to find success on the defensive end.
Without a primary stopper, they relied heavily on showing at point of attack, stepping to help on the back line help and executing rotations when the ball sprayed out.
The second play in particular is encouraging. Coby White has been known, more than anything else to this point in his career unfortunately, for his bad defense. But the awareness and execution he has displayed on that side of the court over the last stretch of games proves he is growing and learning.
The Bulls are now 17-21 on the season and have re-gained a hold on the 10th seed. Huzzah!
They’ll head to Philadelphia to play the 76ers on Friday night, before returning home for the Utah Jazz on Saturday and head to Boston to face the Celtics on Monday.