Even though the Philadelphia 76ers were missing their perennial MVP frontrunner Joel Embiid, Friday’s 126-112 victory was a complete and encouraging win for the Chicago Bulls, who have now beaten two elite teams in the Eastern Conference in back-to-back games.
The Bulls’ win was anchored by a nuclear performance from Zach LaVine, who made 11 three-pointers en route to a 41-point game.
While the three-pointers take the headlines, LaVine’s overall playmaking was on point. He spent the majority of the game initiating pick-and-roll with Nikola Vucevic, who registered a 19-point, 18-rebound, 10-assist triple-double.
LaVine’s passing has seen a noticeable improvement over the last stretch of games.
Assists aside, he is attacking space with a focus on getting to the rim, making the right read when the defense collapses and giving his teammates a chance to generate threes.
The Bulls are now 7-3 since the 150-point disaster against the Minnesota Timberwolves and have climbed back into the 10th seed spot in the Eastern Conference with an 18-21 record.
Bulls third quarter magic
The Bulls and Sixers played nearly even through the first half, but the tide completely flipped in the third stanza.
Outscoring the Sixers 40-26, the Bulls erupted from deep, shooting 12 three-pointers and making eight.
LaVine and Patrick Williams did the bulk of the damage, combining for 35 total points. That means the two outscored Philadelphia by nine points.
After a uncharacteristically slow start to the year, LaVine picked his averages up in December to his usual elite standards, and that has carried over into the new year.
In the third quarter in particular, he took it to another level. He dropped 19 of his 41 and made his first five three-point attempts.
Meanwhile, after going scoreless on two shots in the first half, Patrick Williams also came out firing.
After being gifted a layup after a Vucevic offensive rebound, Williams arrived, scoring 16 in the period on a perfect 7-for-7 shooting. He had a pair of three-pointers, an offensive rebound putback dunk and an assist. Coming off his best game of the year, this was easily his best all-around quarter.
Derrick Jones Jr. provides a boost
Aside from Lonzo Ball and Zach LaVine’s surprise knee maintenance to start the year, the Bulls have been pretty fortunate to avoid the injury bug in 2022-23.
But with Alex Caruso and Javonte Green now on the shelf, Derrick Jones Jr had a chance to step up and he did just that.
Scoring seven points (3-for-3 shooting) in just 12 minutes, Jones gave the Bulls a dynamic dive man in pick-and-roll situations with LaVine.
Both providing rim pressure and passing, Jones was able to play up the middle, allowing Vucevic to serve as a floor spacer in the opposite corner, as well as a weak side post threat against the 76ers small lineup.
Jones left the game in the second quarter after appearing to injure his wrist on a charge call. He was able to re-enter the game in the second half, and play small-ball five next to Patrick Williams.
Jones Jr. finished with 8 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists and certainly earned himself a role in the rotation, at least as long as Green remains out of the lineup.
Up Next: Bulls take on old friend and All-Star to be Lauri Markkanen and the Utah Jazz on Saturday night at the United Center.
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