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After a queasy first half, the Bulls finally decided to play like they did during the first 60 games of the season. They pick up a HUGE win against the Raptors to break their losing streak and hang onto the 5th seed in the East standings for another day.
And for the first time in a while, they looked themselves
Here’s my analysis of the key storylines:
Third quarter, a thing of beauty
The Bulls have been a bummer of a watch over the last few weeks because they have completely lacked their identity.
Tonight was a completely different story.
“We’ve had moments where we play really good basketball, but it’s not sustained for a long enough period of time,” Billy Donovan said. “We had these lapses that hurt us. Tonight, from start to finish, we played to an identity.”
The Bulls took hold of the game with a 30-18 win of the third quarter. Zach LaVine scored 16 on his own. They Bulls rattled off a 14-0 run in 4.5 minutes. The tempo, the movement, the level of execution was the best it has looked in weeks.
Best of all, they did it on defense.
Everything was coming up Bulls. 29 points on turnovers. 16 fast break points. They forced 5 turnovers in the 3rd quarter alone. We haven’t seen near-shot clock violations, active hands, crisp rotations and closeouts like this since Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso got hurt.
THIS is what the Bulls are supposed to look like.
“The ball movement was really good. We got downhill. We sprayed it. They’re a very long, athletic team that cover a lot of ground and I thought we tried to help each other defensively, we were active and got out in transition,” Donovan said.
Caruso fighting over screens, Nikola Vucevic guarding in space, help defense draped in the paint, Patrick Williams getting steals and run out layups. Chef’s kiss.
Speaking of WIlliams…
How did Pat look?
7 points, 2 rebounds, 1 steal. 3/8 shooting, 1/3 from three. Not an overwhelming stat line in Williams’ return, but there was a lot to be excited about.
“I think the hardest thing for a young player is ‘when do I shoot, when do I pass.’ He read situations really well tonight. He took his pull up when it was there, he took his corner three when it was there. He had a chance to rip through and finish that drive there,” Donovan said. “That’s the learning curve for a young player.”
WIlliams is a smart kid who is still figuring his way into the rotation. I don’t think expectations should be too high on him, but he showed why he can be a valuable part of the rotation moving forward.
“When I do get it out of the pocket, or when Vooch kicks it to me or it’s skipped to me, just being able to make quick decisions,” Williams said. “We know in the playoffs that’s what’s going to happen. They’re gonna trap Zach and trap DeMar and other guys need to make plays.”
“He’s first and foremost a defer, unselfish kind of guy. But he’s got to understand that we need him to do some of those things and I think he’s understanding his spots a little bit better.”
Bulls against math
It was a buried story line after the Bulls awesome third quarter, but for some reason, they Bulls absolutely refused to take any threes in the first half. As a team, they take the fewest threes in the league. They rely on lower efficiency mid-range shots, which is fine, as long as they can supplement it with shots at the rim and from the free-throw line.
Lately, this has been a major problem. The Bulls passing up open looks has a cascade effect, where DeMar DeRozan gets trapped, he dumps it off to the roller for a 4-on-3. Then the roll man kicks it out to a shooter who passes up an open look. They hot potato to another shooter who passes it up. Now the defense has a chance to reset.
The next pass goes back to DeRozan who now has to break down the defense again, but this time with 8 seconds on the shot clock.
These situations lead to fewer shots at the rim and free throw line as well because no one is attacking the basket.
The Bulls shot chart is tough to overcome. They can’t make it any harder on themselves than they need to.
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