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On the second night of a back-to-back, and their third game in four nights, the Chicago Bulls matchup with the San Antonio Spurs had trap game written all over it. Tired legs against a young, fast team. That was the recipe for many of the 2022-23 Bulls loses.
And getting off to a slow start, there was potential for a meltdown. But this Bulls group showed their resilience, fighting through a poor three-point shooting night to win 114-95.
“I felt like we clearly did not have the same pop to start the game as we did last night [against the Los Angeles Lakers] and that’s going to happen on a back-to-back,” Billy Donovan said. “I give our guys credit. They kind of had the mentality they were going to have to grind this game out because I think it’s very easy to get frustrated when you’re not making shots and getting good shots. But you’re going to have to do something defensively and rebounding wise and free thought and I thought we defended very, very well.”
Through three quarters, the Bulls were just 2-of-22 from three. But led by Coby White, who scored 12 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter, the floodgates opened in, as they went 5-of-6 from deep to close out the game.
“I was just taking what the defense gave me. In the first half the big was up a lot, so I was trying to read the backside and trying to get it to the pocket for Vooch. And then the second half, the bigs was more back, allowing me to get more downhill. I was just trying to just read a game and take what the defense was giving me.”
It’s easy to assume, based on the 24.6 points per game White has averaged over the last 10 games, that he is creating a ton of offense by himself, off-the-dribble. But White is most dangerous moving off-ball, running lanes to keep the floor spaced, shooting with a quick trigger when he had the chance.
Even when he is creating his own offense, a lot of it has come as a secondary action. Whether it’s spacing off of DeMar DeRozan or Nikola Vucevic and then attacking closeouts, or moving into space and reading what the defense gives him, one of White’s biggest areas for improvement is his ability to slow the game down, probe the mid-range with patience, and either explode to the rim, or fade away with a pull-up.
“I think the game is slow down for him,” Donovan said prior to Wednesday’s game against Los Angeles. “I think he’s been more productive in pick-and-roll, in terms of mixing up his game. When to drive, when to shoot, when to pass. I think he’s really mixed that up very well. I think he’s done a really good job of helping us get the ball into the paint, create help and generate shot for other guys. But the pace and the speed from slow to fast, fast to slow, several years ago, it was just one speed, he was great going really fast in the open floor. Didn’t know how to manipulate and change speeds like he’s doing now.”
And of course, be a big time shot maker with the ball in his hands when that’s what the Bulls needed him to do.
“I was just hoopin,” White said. “I was just playing. I was just trying to take what the defense gave me. I didn’t look at it as, ‘I need to score, I need to score’. It was moreso, I could get to my spot and rise up, and then that’s what I was doing. Or the defense collapse and kick it out. So I was just trying to make the right play.”
White has breathed life into this franchise for the first time since Lonzo Ball injured his knee. The Bulls are playing their best basketball since then too. An incredible turnaround from the first 19 games of the season, where things were as bad as they possibly could be.
And after all of that, they’re on a better winning pace through thirty games this season than last.
“We never gave up,” White said. “We never let the life flow out of us or anything like that. Like I said, the guys in his locker room continuously believe in each other. We continuously speak positive energy into each other and we care about each other and we want to win.”
Up next: Can the Bulls complete their second, four-game win-streak of the season? They’ll have a chance on Saturday against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
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