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On a second leg of a back-to-back, the Chicago Bulls traveled to San Antonio to face off with the Victor Wembanyama-less Spurs, and came away with a 122-116 victory. Now, exactly halfway through the season, the Bulls are 19-22, in command of the 9th seed in the Eastern Conference.
Here are my takeaways from the game…
— No Wembanyama (rest) in the lineup for the Spurs, who were also without Zach Collins (ankle) and Doug McDermott (ankle). Patrick Williams (ankle) was a scratch for the Bulls.
— With Williams out, the Bulls rotation was shortened yet again, but instead of Dalen Terry who had been playing backup forward minutes, Jevon Carter got the nod. Carter had been DNP-CD’d his last two games, so when he took the court, he made sure to get his shots up. In 13 first half minutes, Carter got nine shots up, good for 11 points and three made three-pointers.
He finished with 14 points on 5-of-12 shooting, and accounted for four of the Bulls 15 threes.
— Speaking of threes, Alex Caruso reached a career-high in three-pointers made in a season, surpassing his previous high of 55. He’s now 57-of-137 on the season, good for 41.6 percent. He’s also taking f0ur three-pointers per game, which is also a career-best.
That was game 41…he’s going to shatter that previous best if he keeps this up.
Caruso had 11 points on 3-of-5 shooting, with five rebounds, five assists, two steals and three blocks.
— Caruso was up to his usual shenanigans, erasing points from the opponent, diving all over the court to save loose balls, getting deflections and steals and blocks. He was a team-best +17 in the plus-minus category.
— Sitting on an eight point lead at halftime, the Bulls had yet another third quarter meltdown. On Friday, it was the Golden State Warriors who outscored the Bulls 48-20 in the third quarter. On Saturday, it was the Spurs who took command of the game with a 39-31 third quarter, headlined by Keldon Johnson and Malaki Branham.
The Bulls were able to sort things out in the end, but not before allowing an 18-point lead to turn into an eight-point deficit.
— Nikola Vucevic was the star of the show, with 24 points on 10-of-17 shooting. He reached the 9,000 career rebounding milestone in the first half and had 16 rebounds on the game. He also had five assists and three blocks, and did damage in critical moments. He blocked a shots down the stretch to help the Bulls claw back after surrendering the lead. He tipped out two offensive boards to get the Bulls second chance opportunities. And hit a dagger three from the corner to win it.
— Zach LaVine was not a big part of the offense from a scoring perspective. Attempting a season-low eight field goals, LaVine finished with just 10 points. Still, he made his presence felt with play making, racking up seven assists.
This was just the first time since January of 2021 that LaVine had three-straight games of seven or more assists.
— DeRozan struggled on the second night of the back-to-back. Scoring 20 points on just 8-of-19 shooting, DeRozan only had one trip to the free throw line, four rebounds and four assists. Pedestrian numbers for his standards.
Unfortunately, this is likely a product of age catching up to him. Obviously, DeRozan is still elite, but his production is beginning to slip, and that can mostly be felt on short rest.
DeRozan, 34, averages just 19 points per game on zero nights rest, down from his season average of 22.4. He’s able to boost his efficiency to 58 true shooting by lowering his usage to 21.2, down from a season average of 25.7 (which is already his lowest figure since 2012-13).
Things to monitor ahead of his free agency.
— Ayo Dosunmu went 8-of-9 from the field and scored 21 points. He was the team’s second-leading scorer. He started the second half for Coby White, who had to leave to get his lip stitched up after taking an elbow from Spurs forward Jeremy Sochan.
— Four Factors watch: The Spurs happened to beat the Bulls offensive rebounding (12-7), turnovers (8-9), and free throw attempts (23-20). They also out-performed the Bulls from three (the Spurs were 18-of-46 for 39 percent to the Bulls 15-of-34 for 44 percent).
However, the Bulls dominated the efficiency game, with a 59.4 effective field goal percentage compared to the Spurs 50.5. Make or miss league.
Up next: The Bulls are off Sunday, before heading to Cleveland to face the Cavaliers on Monday night.
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