“It’s a step towards what we are trying to build,” Nikola Vucevic said after the game.
The Bulls beat the Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics 120-102 on Monday night and if you just look at the box score, you might think this was an ordinary win. An impressive one, as it came against the Boston Celtics, but an ordinary one nonetheless.
But this game was far from ordinary.
The Bulls got smacked in the mouth in the early part of the first quarter, trailing 9-0 in the first two minutes. The Celtics hit eight of their first nine three-point attempts and had the Bulls on the ropes, down as many as 19.
“It’s deflating but you have to stick with it,” Vucevic said. “It’s just what it is. It’s the NBA, guys are really good. They’re going to get hot and hit crazy shots. You just have to fight through it. At some point, it’s going to turn around and they’re going to start missing.”
Eventually they did. After their hot start, they hit only one of their next 13, opening the door for the Bulls to come back.
But they didn’t just come back. They built up their own lead of 23 points. A 42-point swing. It was one of the most feel good, all-around team wins this group has had since January.
This is a game the Bulls likely lose last year. Especially given the fact that it came against one of the top four teams in the conference. So when Billy Donovan talks about establishing an identity, this is what that looks like.
“We’re going to be hit with adversity many times in the future, and we have to find a way to respond each time,” Vucevic said. “That’s how you’re going to build your identity. When things go easy and well, it’s easy to play that way. When things get hard, that’s when you see what your team is built like.”
Vooch’s hot start continues
Vucevic has gotten off to an awesome start to the year, but this was his best game by far.
The Bulls have had trouble trying to figure out what to do with Vucevic since acquiring him. Against Boston, they seemed to figure that out. He scored 18 points and grabbed 23 rebounds, 10 of which came on offense, and dominated the Celtics’ relatively small front line.
The Bulls have struggled to blend Vucevic’s back-to-the-basket game into the flow of their offense. But with the Celtics switching as much as they do, Vucevic was able to take advantage
“They did a lot of switching, so there were a lot of opportunities when I would get a small on, and try to back to the paint,” Vucevic said. “I have to be careful I’m not just sitting in the paint and they’re just staring down at me and making the defense stagnant.”
His shot chart was mostly interior looks, which makes sense when you see he had so many putbacks.
Vucevic’s scoring and rebounding are both up compared to his numbers from last year and while his three-point percentage is still low, he’s found a way to be much more impactful four games into this season.
In the Bulls’ win over the Miami Heat, Ayo Dosunmu scored 17 points. He scored seven and five in losses against the Washington Wizards and Cleveland Cavaliers respectively. In Monday’s game against the Celtics, he scored 22 points on nine-of-10 shooting and four-for-four on threes.
Sensing a trend?
Dosunmu started the game with a turnover and missed three, but didn’t let that break his confidence. He hit two quick threes and then leveraged that to beat defenders and get downhill.
Dosunmu leaving those mistakes behind him and sparking the Bulls first run is the best representation of the identity the Bulls are trying to build. He won’t shoot this well every night, but it is great to see him play with the assertiveness and desire to get downhill. The Bulls scored 46 points in the paint, their best number of the year.
No more all-bench lineup
Donovan seems to have ended the all-bench lineup. After allowing the Cavs to build a 13-point lead in their Saturday night game, Donovan opted to leave one of DeMar DeRozan or Zach LaVine on the court at all times.
Alex Caruso was +29, Goran Dragic was +21 and Andre Drummond and Derrick Jones Jr. were +16. Just a much better showing from that group compared to last game against the Cavs. It helps a lot having a 25-point-per-game scorer out there to bail out the offense if it stagnates.
This clearly worked a lot better from a box score perspective, but it also helps balance things while one of the two All-Stars are on the court. Getting Goran Dragic or Alex Caruso in helps juice the pace and keep those starting lineups accountable to their standard for speed.
“It was a better response from us than the other night,” Donovan said. “We dug ourselves into a hole in the first quarter, but I give our second unit a lot of credit. Those guys came in and played with great energy and great enthusiasm and kind of turned the game.”
Donovan is right not to make too much of small samples early in the season, but I think we can feel comfortable writing off the all-bench group. At least for now.
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