The Bulls shocked the Magic in Orlando on Friday night with a blowout 105-83 victory. A balanced attack from the starting five along with a few solid bench performances earned the Bulls just their second victory of the season. The Magic were averaging 115 points going into the night but couldn’t get anything going in the second half.
The Bulls got off to a 15-4 start behind solid defense and rebounding. Orlando clawed back as Nikola Vucevic got anything he wanted early on. Chicago’s early strategy involved plenty of switching, and too often they were caught with a mismatch on a posting Vucevic. Evan Fournier caught fire precisely as Denzel Valentine began “guarding” him, but the Bulls were able to maintain a 28-26 lead behind 14 points on 5/7 shooting from Justin Holliday.
Orlando did a good job forcing the Bulls offense into a string of bad second quarter shots as they were able reclaim a 45-44 halftime lead. Kris Dunn struggled running the offense, committing three turnovers to only one assist in the first half. He looked fairly explosive hunting down seven of own shots but only tallied five points. Dunn can only make wide-open shots outside the paint and is not quite big or athletic enough to consistently score on drives. On a positive note, he drilled a pair of open threes in the second half and continued to be a hound defensively, bothering his man and poking his hands all over as a helper.
Orlando was down their first and second-string point guards in Elfrid Payton and DJ Augustin. For most of the night, they struggled to get into any actions on offense and relied on Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier to create their own shots. The two combined for 32 points on 27 of them, well short of their combined average of 43 points.
The Bulls really took off in the second half, riding an Energizer Bunny performance from David Nwaba and more strong play from Lauri Markkanen. They stormed out to an early third quarter lead and never looked back, outscoring Orlando 29-15 in the third and 32-23 in the fourth. Defensively, the Bulls were disciplined in forcing the Magic into uncomfortable long-range shots. They shot just 10/35 from distance and 40.7 percent overall.
Nwaba tallied 16 points, five boards, two steals, and a block in a career-high 35 minutes. He did an excellent job guarding Orlando’s plethora of talented wings closely and served as an effective engine on the fast break. The Bulls front office (very deservedly) takes a ton of heat, but Nwaba was a nifty find.
Markkanen added 13 points, nine rebounds, and three assists, including one really impressive crosscourt bullet to Holliday. His jumpshot is already deadly and the Magic treated it as such. The Bulls had everything working in this one, but they need to do a better job of finding Markkanen going forward. As he showed Wednesday night against Miami, Lauri is clearly more than just a shooter. These meaningless games are the perfect time for tough development.
Lauri is a man with many nicknames right now, but the Finnisher is an appropriate one for this play right here: pic.twitter.com/A9phlyzvBl— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) November 3, 2017
(Editor’s Note: I cringed so hard reading that tweet that I could feel the muscles in my face contort with disgust.)
It was a great night for the Bulls, though, as everyone chipped in with strong play. Holliday finished with 19 points on an efficient 7/12 shooting while Robin Lopez added a quiet double-double. This exclamation point, however, was loud:
Even down two point guards, Orlando has to feel like they let one get away. The Bulls brought their A-game tonight and took down a likely playoff team on the road. While many fans are smartly rooting for the losses to pile up, you have to appreciate good basketball on the rare occasions it delightfully surprises you.