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That one was needed.
Following the chaotic start to the Bulls season — which included a heated exchange between Nikola Vucevic and Billy Donovan and a players-only meeting after a 20-point loss — coming back from down 19 to beat the Toronto Raptors in overtime 104-103 was exactly the rebound the Bulls needed.
More than anything, it was the way it happened. The Bulls went down 14-2 in the opening minutes of the game, before Donovan tweaked the lineups (aka pulled Patrick Williams in favor of Torrey Craig) and got the Bulls back on track.
The rest of the game was full of twists and turns. The Raptors led by as many as 19, the Bulls by as many as 17. Each team went on a 20-0 run. There were seven lead changes and five ties.
The Bulls had to overcome Zach LaVine’s poor shooting night — he scored just 8 points on 3-of-14 shooting, 0-of-6 on threes with three turnovers. LaVine finished a team-worst -23, and was as bad as -39 at one point. Vucevic also struggled from the field, posting 11 points on 4-of-15 shooting. And though DeMar DeRozan was pedestrian through three quarters, his royal clutchness came to play in the fourth and overtime.
DeRozan had 18 points, including 10-of-13 free throws in the fourth quarter alone. He drew a vintage DeRozan foul on his appetizing pump fake on a three, that gave the Bulls a chance to tie the game. When he missed the third free throw, Caruso was of course there to have his back. Drawing a charge on the inbounds pass, Caruso gave DeRozan another opportunity, this time for a game-winner.
DeRozan again got fouled on a pump fake and had a chance to ice the game at the line. He made the first free throw to tie it, and then missed the second. Overtime.
After a competitive overtime, the Carushow ended the night with a bang — a steal and game-winning three to give the Bulls their first victory of the season.
“We’re playing for a stop, Pascal drove right and just kind of tried to ‘big shoulder’ me it didn’t really get any separation,” Caruso explained. “Put the ball out there, I got a good strip. I saw Zach was was boxing out and got the ball from Boucher or somebody. Then eight seconds left, something like that, I’m just trying to space the floor. Zach made a great read, he had to trust in me to hit me.”
Considering the lane LaVine had going to the rim, this was a selfless, heads up play from a guy labeled a bad decision maker in clutch situations.
“He bailed us out,” DeRozan said in reference to his missed free throw that could have won the game. “He made a hell of a play. Getting that steal. He made some great plays, you know. Getting the steals in the backcourt, getting offensive rebounds, the effort every day to play with shows.”
But none of that would have been possible without Caruso creating plays, making stops, corralling loose balls, drawing charges, getting deflections and offensive rebounds to open up those chances for DeRozan.
“It’s amazing,” DeRozan said. “It’s amazing. The effort that he puts in, the sacrifices he goes out there and plays with, throwing his body around. His instincts. His IQ. It’s amazing to watch. It’s kind of like letting a cheetah out of the cage to run wild. He makes it look pretty.”
Caruso finished with 13 points, 13 rebounds (six offensive), two assists, two steals, and a block and was a team-high +29. His ball pressure got the Bulls back into the game in the first quarter and helped them win it in the fourth and overtime.
After the discouraging start to the season, Caruso’s play alleviated a lot of those concerns for the time being. And it was ideal to see it play out in a clutch scenario, something the Bulls struggled with last season.
The Bulls hope to springboard this moment of karmic justice into the next game.
“We have a good team team chemistry. With our ‘players only meeting’ the other day, it was just frustration of how we came out and played,” Caruso said of the team’s embrace at the final buzzer. “Today, we showed spurts of how we want to play being together. Playing for each other, playing hard. And I think that’s that’s kind of how I embody myself as a basketball player, how we want to play.”
“So they know I play for the team and whenever I make big plays in the game, they show me love.”
The Bulls have plans to overhaul their offense by offensive rebounding, getting out in transition and getting into the paint to generate kickout threes, layups and free throw attempts. Here’s how they performed in each of those categories:
- Free throw attempt rate: 22.4% (65th)
- Offensive rebound rate: 28.8% (61st)
- Rim frequency: 39% (80th)
- Three-point attempt frequency: 36% (40th)
- Transition frequency: 13.1% (14th)
Up Next: Bulls head to Detroit for their first away game of the season, on a second night of a back-to-back
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