The Chicago Bulls concluded their summer league campaign tonight in thrilling and undefeated fashion. In what was a competitive contest from start to finish, the Bulls managed to persevere through fantastic games by Tyus Jones and Adreian Payne to take down the Minnesota Timberwolves 84-82 in overtime, and Denzel Valentine provided a couple heroic moments along the way.
The first quarter started off with perhaps Jerian Grant's best stretch of summer league play thus far. In eight minutes. Grant went 4-5 from the field (with his lone miss on a three), pulled down two rebounds, and made several crisp passes while playing great defense on Tyus Jones. He also capitalized on a bad defensive communication between Jones and Adreian Payne for a thunderous slam:
Grant dunk off the bad defense. pic.twitter.com/ovHBC3Xj3t— ⓂarcusD (@_MarcusD_) July 19, 2016
The Bulls also played some stellar team defense for the first five minutes, limiting the Timberwolves to just two points. Chicago could have ended the quarter barely surrendering a double-digit total, but Rasheed Sulaimon gave Jones an incredibly bone-headed and-1 opportunity with a second left to conclude the first with an 18-13 lead.
Everything went up in smoke almost immediately when the Bulls' bench checked into the game. The Timberwolves elected to keep Jones and Payne in, and the latter proceeded to hit three straight threes on what proved to be a 22-0 run that lasted the first five minutes of the second quarter. The Bulls didn't score in the period until the 5:25 mark, and by then the Wolves had stretched their lead to fourteen points. Meanwhile, Denzel Valentine was once again nowhere to be found in the first half of a summer league game, missing all of his field goal attempts and failing to dish out a single assist (he did have seven rebounds). Bobby Portis registered twelve points and eight rebounds in the first half, but needed fifteen shots to do so as the Bulls ended the half down 42-32.
The start of the second half saw much better play from Chicago. Jerian Grant hit the Bulls's first three-point field goal of the game (after eleven misses!) early on, and a Valentine-to-Felicio assist later, the Bulls tied the game at 47 apiece. Portis then scored eight straight points for the Bulls during the midst of a 19-2 run that put the team up 55-49. After the T-Wolves poured in seven consecutive points of their own, the teams traded baskets for the remainder of the period until the Bulls ended the quarter up 59-58.
Predictably, when Pete Myers emptied the bench at the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Bulls surrendered the lead but found themselves only down two points by the time Felicio/Portis/Valentine checked back into the game. Eventually, despite Cristiano Felicio falling asleep on both ends of the court for multiple possessions, the Bulls managed to knot the game at 72-72 with three minutes remaining.
With 21 seconds left, the score remained tied at 74-74 and the Timberwolves had the ball. Then Tyus Jones hero ball happened:
hahaha tyus jones has the clutch jeansss pic.twitter.com/fMjSwEc0Wo— jack (@jackhaveitall) July 19, 2016
At this point, there were only three and a half seconds remaining for the Bulls to tie the game. Pete Myers drew up a fantastic out-of-bounds play that saw Felicio receive the ball near the opposite elbow, and then Valentine freed himself ups for a shot off of a screen to send the championship to overtime:
Unbelievable. As the championship went to a two-minute overtime period, Grant poured in five points to give the Bulls a late lead. Unfortunately, after a quick layup from Tyus Jones, Dinwiddie went to the line to try to put yet another game on ice (as he has frequently this summer league) but missed both freethrows. The Timberwolves banked in a three on the next possession to tie the game at 82-82, and Chicago called a timeout to advance the inbounds.
This time, Pete Myers remained hands-off in his approach. It paid off. Denzel Valentine received the ball as the clock wound down, dribbled to the freethrow line, took a hop-step backwards, spun around and then let it fly:
UN-BULL-EIVABLE! After failing to register a single point in the first half, Valentine saved his best game for last by keeping his team alive against all odds. As Stacey King once said about a beloved former Bull, "big time players make big time plays," and with the Vegas lights shining on him tonight, Valentine delivered two big time plays in breathtaking fashion. As far as starting an NBA career goes, this is certainly a positive first step.
The Championship Game MVP went to Jerian Grant, whom after a fairly disappointing performance in his first six contests played an absolutely stellar game this evening. Grant poured in 24 points on 9-19 shooting to go along with ten rebounds and five assists, somewhat temporarily quelling the naysayers that wrote him off as a bum before he even played his first game as a Bull. Portis was of course stellar as he has been the entire summer, putting up a double-double of 26 points and 10 rebounds while shooting 4-7 from beyond the arc. Although Felicio had several lapses towards the end of the game where he failed to rotate on defense, he still finished with a nice 12 points and 8 rebounds on only eight shots.
This was an exhilarating game, and Pete Myers spoke in his award ceremony speech about how culture changes start with performances like this that result from young guys setting the tone for work ethic. It's hard not to look fondly towards the future after watching this squad become only the second team to go undefeated and win the championship in Las Vegas. You have to believe that Rajon Rondo, Jimmy Butler, and Dwyane Wade (even as he's an ocean away in China) are all looking fondly to playing with--at least--four guys that accomplished a certainly impressive feat over the past couple of weeks.
Bulls fans have certainly had a lot to be confused and upset about in 2016, but this is not an evening to be a pessimistic sourpuss. Rejoice together, See Red Nation, for the Chicago Summer Bulls are champions on this night.