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Onuralp Bitim gets his chance in the Chicago Bulls double overtime win

Will Gottlieb Avatar
February 29, 2024

Just 24 hours after an embarrassing loss to the league-worst Detroit Pistons on Tuesday, the Chicago Bulls (28-31) come back with a 132-123 double overtime win against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

“I was pissed off, up ’til six o’clock this morning just pissed off about losing last night. Just eager to get back out there tonight,” DeMar DeRozan said after the game.

Fortunately for DeRozan, the Bulls didn’t have to wait long to get their redemption.

The Cavs are the East’s second-ranked team. They had won seven-straight against the Bulls dating back to last season. The Bulls were without Alex Caruso, who injured his hamstring against the Pistons, as well as Zach LaVine, Patrick Williams and Torrey Craig.

Mashing the two big lineups

The Cavaliers are one of the few remaining teams in the league that rely heavily on two-big lineups. With both Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen in the fold, the Bulls countered with Nikola Vucevic and Andre Drummond, and the double-big look absolutely mashed the Cavs.

The Bulls secured a season-high 25 offensive boards to just four from the Cavaliers. This was the most offensive rebounds the Cavs have given up in a game this season, with their previous season-high allowed being just 18.

“The math is very simple. You got two guys that are very good at rebounding. One of them historically being the best to ever do it. And the other one is right behind me,” Drummond said post-game with a smile.

The Bulls had 14 total post ups in the game compared to the Cavs three. The Bulls outscored the Cavs in the paint 52-46. The Bulls blocked eight shots compared to the Cavs blocking six.

The Bulls had 39 rebounds in the first half against the Cavaliers, the most first half rebounds in franchise history since the play-by-play era began in 1997-98. With 72 total rebounds, they were the first team to eclipse the 70-rebound mark since 1975.

“Yeah, kinda reminds me of early 2010s, you know how two bigs were in the paint just, you know, going at it,” Drummond said. “And it was very hard fought game, very physical game. I’m glad the refs allowed us to play. Despite Vooch fouling out…he’s got to keep his hands to himself.”

Vucevic scored 24 points with 13 rebounds before fouling out. Drummond had 17 points and 25 rebounds, nine of which came on the offensive glass.

Onuralp Bitim gets his moment

In just his third NBA appearance, the Bulls newest player Onuralp Bitim got his big break.

He took full advantage of the opportunity. Immediately upon checking in, Bitim hit a corner three. And he parlayed that into 26 minutes of extended run.

“I really can’t describe how I really feel,” Bitim said. “It’s not about my English. Even in my own language [it would be hard], because I was dreaming of this moment for a really long time.”

Scoring eight points on 3-of-4 shooting with six rebounds, Bitim was tied for a team-best +14. He played critical minutes down the stretch of regulation and in both overtime periods, and impressed his teammates and coaches.

“It’s amazing to see a guy come in and do what he did,” DeRozan said. “It’s such a big game, you know, closed the game too. He hit some big shots, made some big plays, held his own defensively. It’s crazy. You know a lot of people probably don’t know him. You know, we we haven’t had much of practice with him, knowing the offense and having a rhythm with us, a feel for us.”

After the game, DeRozan gave Bitim a big hug and gave him some words of encouragement.

“Deebo told me that he was proud of me,” Bitim divulged. “That means a lot to me. I grew up watching him. He was one of my idols. Right now, we’re on the court together, we won together, and then hearing that from him, it’s a really huge blessing.”

“I’m happy for him,” Donovan said. “He’s really, really worked hard and I think for any young player when they get the opportunity and for their first opportunity to go like that you know, he’s a great guy and you know, obviously helped us immensely tonight.”

Though his shooting is clearly an asset the Bulls can use plenty more of, it’s yet to be determined whether this stint has secured Bitim a spot in Donovan’s rotation. But the early returns are encouraging.

“You can tell he can play,” DeRozan said. “You can tell the IQ is there, the feel is there. Can shoot the heck out the ball. But you could tell by his feel that he had that, you know, he got a great feel for the game already. And it showed tonight.”

DeRozan was impressed how easily Bitim fit into the lineup despite minimal practice time with the big league club. But now with a full-time roster spot, there’s an opportunity for him to continue to carve out a role.

And he’ll be ready whenever his name is called.

“As a player, we always want to be on the court,” Bitim said. “But this is a very good team and we have really good players. I don’t care how much minutes I’m getting or which games I’m playing. I’m just trying to be ready, and when I get the chance I try to do my best, and I will try to do my best to help my teammates.”

Up next: Bulls host the Milwaukee Bucks for a late-night ESPN game at 9:00 pm on Friday

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