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It’s been a while since the Bulls won like this: A 135-130 overtime win over the Clippers headlined by a 50-point on 65 percent shooting night by DeMar DeRozan.
The Bulls trailed for the vast majority of the game. With 4:39 left in the fourth quarter, the Clippers had a 96.4 percent win probability.
But then DeRozan did his thing and took the Bulls home.
It was a wild ending. The Bulls chipped away at the lead over the course of the fourth quarter and finally got within striking distance in the closing minute. The Bulls earned a technical free throw on a foul away from the ball during an out of bounds play that got them within two points.
Then Paul George fouled DeRozan on a three-point attempt which gave the Bulls a chance to win it in regulation.
He made two of three, and despite getting the win and scoring 50, he was still frustrated about that miss.
“It felt like a bomb went off inside my head. Just frustrated with myself,” he said.
A win is a win. And with it the Bulls now own the fifth seed in the East over the Toronto Raptors by a half game and the tie breaker. They also move three games ahead of Cleveland. The Cavs would have to make up four games on the Bulls with only five remaining to push the Bulls into the play-in tournament.
This was a huge win for the standings, but even more for morale.
Here are a few other storylines to keep an eye on:
The Paw Breaks out
Patrick Williams had his best game of the season with a 10 points, 11 rebounds, two blocks and a steal. He shot 4-for-4 from the field and 2-for-2 from deep in 37 minutes. He finally put his paw print on the game. He made a few impactful plays that really stood out — that’s exactly what has been missing and a huge cause of concern.
Despite not taking a shot during the entire first half, Donovan and multiple teammates “challenged” Williams to be more aggressive attacking the basket, shooting without hesitation and then this happened:
Williams also mentioned that he was late to practice and subsequently fined by the team. Apparently, it was something they wanted to keep in house because DeRozan couldn’t believe he let it slip to the media.
“He said that? I gotta tell him he can’t say that to the media. He’s trippin,” DeRozan said. “He gotta learn. God damn, why he say that. Shit.”
It was all feel good vibes for Williams. Hopefully he can on build this momentum.
Zach/DeMar pick and roll
The Bulls spammed the Clippers relentlessly with Zach LaVine setting screens for DeRozan down the stretch and there was no answer.
“DeMar and Zach have a good connection. They manipulate the screen really well,” Billy Donovan said. “Zach’s really good at setting and slipping out. And he’s such an elite shooter. Sometimes it gets some confusion there and it can get him downhill.”
When asked about it post-game, DeRozan called out a specific example that highlights the risk you take when trying to trap him with LaVine screening and slipping out to the three-point line.
“It was a play where I told Zach we’re going to run it and he asked me what I wanted to do,” DeRozan explained. “I said it doesn’t matter what you do because they’ve gotta make a decision. He came up and that’s when I got the dunk.”
“Both defenders gotta make a decision,” DeRozan said. “If you switch, he slips it and you gotta worry about Zach going out to the three. There’s so many options out of that. With the big sometimes, the big could be up. Vooch not gonna sprint up there like Zach and get to the free throw line, so it’s a little slower.”
Playing through Vucevic in the post
The Bulls have not been able to figure out the right formula for featuring Nikola Vucevic in the offense. It’s been difficult to utilize him as a scorer outside of forced post-up possessions and the occasional pick-and-pop jumper. Tonight, something clicked. After scoring eight quick points to start the game and then going scoreless for the rest of the half, Vucevic scored 12 more in the second half and picked up another bucket in overtime.
“There have been times where we got him going early and he hadn’t been the same in the second half,” Donovan said. “I thought his balance tonight in terms of how we used him was good. He had a really good balance. He took some threes, he posted up, he made that big three late. He had some pocket passes for floaters. He got to the free throw line.”
This simple cross-screen action became a pet play for the Bulls to get Vucevic one-on-one in the post. It’s not my preferred style of offense, but if they can draw switches or doubles and play out of them, it’s great for the Bulls to find another scoring outlet for games DeRozan isn’t scoring 50 points.
Small ball lineups!
It may have been matchup specific — the Clippers run lineups with Robert Covington, Paul George, Marcus Morris, Reggie Jackson and Nicolas Batum — but the Bulls went to a small-ball lineup to end the fourth quarter that was really interesting, and something I’d love to see more of moving forward.
“We were having such a hard time with the Reggie Jackson pick and roll in overtime. He was forcing Vucevic to switch,” Donovan said.
It went about as you think it would — Bulls switch the pick-and-roll, Williams nearly comes away with a steal and runout, but the Bulls end up allowing an offensive rebound instead.
“The thing you worry about in those situations is you’re really, really small. If they offensive rebound and kick it out for a three, that’s a problem. I do like it. I trust Javonte, I trust Patrick, I trust our guys to be able to do that.”
All in all, a timely positive vibes game. They needed this.
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