Boasting a 4-15 road record heading into the American Airlines Center on Friday night, the Chicago Bulls tipped off yet another back-to-back stretch by taking down the Dallas Mavericks in their own house 127-124. Though the Bulls almost came unraveled against a fullcourt press in the final minute to nearly give the game away, the team could not be stopped on offense in the final period behind what was easily the greatest game of Kris Dunn’s career thus far.
The Bulls looked about as good as a team can on offense during the opening minutes, hitting all eight of their attempts from the field and assisting on five over the intial four minutes of the contest. Four of those came from distance, albeit one was a Justin Holiday shot clock heave and another was a hold-your-breath Kris Dunn PUJIT. Even so, Lauri Markkanen had the other two makes after losing the elderly Dirk Nowitzki, and Dunn scored an additional six points to give the Bulls an early 20-7 lead. Chicago kept their lead at 13 points for a bit, but after Harrison Barnes went on a mini-scoring run of his own and Yogi Ferrell canned a three, the Bulls suddenly found themselves ahead by merely four points. Thankfully, the Bulls finished out the quarter strong enough on offense to finish the first with a 34-28 lead.
The Mavs got threateningly close to claiming the lead over the remainder of the half, but the Bulls consistently managed to keep ahead by at least a basket despite losing their lead from the previous quarter. Nowitzki had a stretch that saw him score eight points of his own over four and a half minutes, but Chicago received contributions from just about every player that got tangible minutes to keep Dallas at bay. Dunn finished the first half scoring only two points after his initial flurry, but Lauri Markkanen played brilliantly with 14 points on an array of impressive makes:
Lauri Markkanen dropped 14 points in the first half, including dropping 3 triples: pic.twitter.com/mBmYx7bq74— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) January 6, 2018
The Bulls went into the locker room up 57-53.
Within the first minute of the third quarter, the Mavericks notched five points to finally reclaim the lead after losing it in the opening minute of the game. It was a lead they would not relinquish for the remainder of the period, as all the Bulls other than Dunn and Robin Lopez failed to generate any offense whatsoever over the next seven and a half minutes. Fortunately, a lengthy cold streak for Dallas’ offense over that same stretch restricted them to merely a one possession lead. Unfortunately, the Mavs proceeded to rip off an 18-10 run over the final four minutes of the quarter fueled by J.J. Barea, Harrison Barnes, and Wesley Matthews. The Bulls entered the final period of play consequently down 88-80.
Yet, just when it appeared the Bulls were about to let this one get away from them, they came roaring back with a 10-0 run to recapture the lead amid the opening two minutes of the final quarter. David Nwaba led a concentrated effort to overpower Barea, and this focus helped open up a Chicago attack that poured in 25 points heading into the last four minutes of the game. Barnes cut the lead back to one possession, but then Lauri Legend did this:
Barnes cut the lead to a basket once again on the next possession, but Dunn responded with five unanswered points over the next minute, and then Nikola Mirotic split the defense for a layup that gave the Bulls a double digit lead with a minute remaining. Although Chicago spent the final minute floundering helplessly against the fullcourt press as if none of their players had seen such a defense before, the Bulls managed to hit just enough of their freethrows down the stretch to exit Texas with a 127-124 victory on the heels of a 47 point 4th quarter, easily their best of the season.
Kris Dunn was absolutely masterful, which was somewhat poetic given his performance came opposite of Dennis Smith Jr., a player that many a Bulls fan craved over Markkanen and/or Dunn prior to the start of the regular season. Dunn poured in a career high 32 points on 12-17 shooting (4-5 from 3-PT range!) to go along with nine assists and four steals. He appeared to have an extra bounce in his step this evening as he made some pretty impressive leaps from far out to finish over and through defenders. Subsequently, Dunn served as a terror in transition all night and used his impressive handle to regularly go anywhere he wanted on the court. It was easily the most spectacular all-around game Dunn has had in his NBA career thus far.
Elsewhere, Justin Holiday shockingly led the Bulls in minutes with 37, but rewarded his team with a hot scoring night from distance to the tune of 23 points amid 5-6 long range shooting. Lauri Markkanen had an extremely quiet second half outside of his massive putback slam down the stretch, but still finished with an efficient 16 points and nine rebounds. Nikola Mirotic had an ugly shooting night until the final minutes of the fourth quarter, but still led the Bulls in rebounding off the bench and finished the game with an 11/10 double-double. David Nwaba rounded out the key performances for the Bulls with a rugged 13 points that came mostly by way of bullying J.J. Barea on attempts close to the basket.
Though #TeamTank is understandably devastated by this victory—especially given how the Bulls almost blew it in the final minute in hilariously inept fashion—it’s hard for Chicago fans to come away upset given how well their young talent played tonight. If the Bulls are going to win, it should at least come about via encouraging performances from the guys that will actually be around when—hopefully—conditions are more competitive again. That’s exactly what See Red Nation got tonight.
The Bulls will have to realign their focus quickly to build off this win, as they will take on the Indiana Pacers in Indianapolis tomorrow night to conclude their back-to-back road trip.