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The Chicago Bulls pulled off a miraculous 22-point halftime comeback to defeat the Minnesota Timberwolves 129-123 in overtime.
Led by the jumbo lineup with Andre Drummond and Nikola Vucevic playing together, they were able to match the Wolves size and give them trouble. Along with a monster scoring night from Coby White (33 points) and DeMar DeRozan (33 points), the Bulls knocked off what was the top seed in the west, and the number one defense in the league.
Facing the Minnesota Timberwolves frontcourt, headlined by Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert, Billy Donovan elected to start Drummond and Vucevic together in a twin towers lineup.
And it did not disappoint.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Drummond said. “I’ve been waiting for this moment.” I’ve looked forward to playing alongside him.”
Drummond finished with 16 points and 16 rebounds, while Vucevic had 24 points on 10-of-16 shooting and five rebounds as the power forward.
They were +12 on the night.
Why was it so dangerous?
“They gotta pick their poison,” Drummond said. “Whether you let me beat you up in the paint or he can shoot the three or beat you up in the paint.”
The Bulls have played the two bigs together for just 59 possessions prior to Tuesday night, but it was performed exceptionally well. At +16.5 points per 100 possession, they rank in the 99th percentile of the league.
“We did some of that when I was in Oklahoma City with Enes Kanter and Steven Adams when we were playing against San Antonio in the playoffs,” Billy Donovan recalled. “And all the numbers said it was bad. And I think sometimes you have to, when you look at the numbers, you have to watch the film against the numbers. Because there’s times that they could actually be playing well, but they may have missed some shots, missed some free throws, things didn’t go well, turnovers and the other team scores, and it looks like it’s a it’s a bad combination.”
It can be clunky at times, with Vucevic and Drummond both rolling, the Bulls need to be cautious about having Vucevic pop to open up space in the lane. At the same time, you don’t want to remove the pocket game from Vucevic in the middle of the floor where he loves to operate.
Against teams like the Wolves, Towns represents an even more difficult challenge for a defender like Vucevic, who has to chase the Wolves big man off pin down and flare screens, as they use him like a 7-foot two-guard.
“With the way they were using Towns, they were not using Towns to post him,” Donovan explained. “They were running Towns off flare screens, running picking pops where they were making those guys chase him. And he’s good at that. Because then once he catches it, he’s playing against close out, he’s driving the ball and he’s getting downhill. There’s a lot to it. And that’s why sometimes when you’re a little bit smaller it’s a little bit easier to negotiate those things.”
This was a matchup based decision by Donovan, but it inspires some intrigue as to whether it can work for the Bulls on a more regular basis.
“With practice and some real time together, I don’t see why it can’t work,” Drummond said. “Vooch has played with bigs throughout his career. I’ve played with bigs throughout my career, so it’s not shock factor or nothing new. We’ve both done it in our careers, it’s just getting that real work in.”
The Bulls have barely gone to this lineup in games, and apparently, they’ve spent even less time repping it out in practice.
“Shit, today,” Drummond said of when they started practicing these lineups together. “Today. And that wasn’t really that long either, but we figured it out. He’s a smart player, I’m a smart player. I stay out of his way and likewise. We figured it out throughout the game and found good chemistry.”
Drummond soaked in the moment. He hit Gobert with the ‘too small’ gesture not once but twice. He raised the roof after Iced Cuppy won the Dunkin’ Race. He even whipped out the Sam Cassell ‘big balls’ dance.
If this was Drummond’s last game in the United Center as a member of the Bulls, he went out with a bang.
Coby White’s second half breakout
In the first half, Coby White shot just 1-of-7 from the field and 0-of-4 on three-pointers for just three points.
He finished with 33 points on 11-of-21 shooting and 7-of-13 threes.
And yet, despite scoring thirty in the second half, DeMar DeRozan (who also finished with 33 points) got the look for the final shot in regulation.
“I have the team’s trust for sure,” White said. “Coach ran some stuff for me. Pick-and-roll, and getting me the ball. For me, they just started a little bit more physical. Showing a little more physicality. I mean, I made some, some tough plays, I kicked the ball out a lot. But at the end of day, we’re trying to win the game. And Deebo has shown he’s Mr. Fourth, Mr. Overtime, whatever, whatever it’s called. So at the end of the day, I want those moments. I want those moments but you know, he got it going in overtime. He was making the right play, and then Vooch was making the right plays and then Drum had two big baskets. So for me, it was more of a collective effort. Everybody made some huge plays down the stretch and overtime and we did it together.”
White has been a good soldier. He says the right things. He makes the right plays.
His moments will come.
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