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How Cameron Payne and even less likely options contributed to the season’s first win

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the (deep) bench mob

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Chicago Bulls Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

What a stupid and weird game that was.

If you’re sitting at home and thought the Bulls, led by a barrage of three-balls from Cameron Payne, would steal a game from the Hornets, then congratulations to you. For us mere mortals, watching limited role players inject life into a team reeling post news of Kris Dunn’s extended absence, this was incredibly fun game to soak in, even if it was the biggest aberration one could’ve possibly predicted.

Who needs Dunn?

Losing Dunn in his first game back was the last thing the Bulls needed. Without him, the defense had been terrible and movement on offense was nonexistent. Dunn alone may not have changed the equation, but with no credible backup solution behind him in the rotation, how the team would manage without their starting point guard was always going to be a point of concern.

Naturally, in typical Bulls fashion where the reverse of what’s expected happens, of course Payne goes off. Needing a burst of offense, the maligned guard delivered, tying a Bulls franchise record with seven made threes in half.

After going scoreless in the first half, Payne started making everything. I mean, look at this shit. This, from a man who’s rarely shoots more than four-to-five times a game, suddenly started driving the ball, getting his own rebound and stepping into threes.

Supporting Payne and his random shooting binge was Ryan Arcidiacono, who provided solid backup minutes. Together, the pair combined for 31 points and six assists. As a duo, they were two points shy of outscoring the opposing PG combo of Kemba Walker and Tony Parker, but were far more efficient.

We obviously shouldn’t expect another showing like this from Payne. It was a complete outlier, perhaps the biggest one could’ve imagined. Still, we’ll take it. For this night, and maybe this night only, the tank commander wasn’t interest in racking up the Ls. There may not have been any of his patented dance moves after his seventh made three but there was plenty of swag, and rightfully so.

9th and 10th man up

The Bulls needed every bucket from Payne to scrap together a win, but are they even in the game without the first-half performances from Cristiano Felicio and rookie Chandler Hutchison?

In a move few were prepared for, Felicio was the first big man off the bench, seemingly going past struggling center Robin Lopez in the rotation. We’ll see if this continues, but after one game, it’s hard to argue with results: nine points, five rebounds, and a plus-nine in 15 minutes.

More than the basic box score numbers, utilising Felicio signaled an increase in defensive aggression from the center position, something that was needed if the Bulls were ever to contain Walker without Dunn — Lopez, a traditional, lumbering big who drops to the rim would’ve given free reign to Walker in pick-and-roll.

More mobile than Lopez could ever be, Felicio allowed the Bulls to hedge hard against Hornets’ ball-handler, forcing him to give up the ball.

There were even possessions where Felicio actively switched onto the ball-handler, largely doing a decent job of containing dribble penetration and challenging shots.

Though unexpected, dusting off Felicio was a nice adjustment by coach Fred Hoiberg, one that helped change the outcome of the game.

So did the inclusion of Hutchison, who had his best game as pro. He provided solid defense and provided an 8-point scoring binge, including this huge dunk.

We’ll see if Felicio and Hutchison remain in the rotation on the road against the Hornets on Friday, but for this game, both were excellent in their cameos.

Game Notes

  • Jabari Parker had himself a nice night off the bench, too: 11 points, nine rebounds, four assists, two steals, and plus-seven in 30 solid minutes of play. With Portis injured late, Parker was on the floor to end the game and it didn’t end in defensive disaster. If Portis is out for an extended period, t would appear Jabari Parker will soon return to the starting lineup.
  • For the first time this season, the Bulls won the rebounding battle and weren’t outscored from the three-point line. They also corrected their turnover issue against the Mavericks, turning over the ball 14 times whilst dishing out 21 assists. If they can compete in these areas, they will win more games.
  • The defense still sucks. Yes, the Bulls pulled out an incredible win, but so long as they continue to give up 110 or more points per game and allow a 115.8 defensive rating, they will need random role players setting career-highs to overcome their deficiencies. Giving up 35 three-point attempts to the Hornets, technically that is an improvement from their league-worst mark of 41 attempts allowed entering this game. Still, it’s far too much. This needs to be cleaned up.
  • The Bulls will meet the Hornets again on Friday, this time on the road in Charlotte. I’m ready for Payne Game vol. II.