After two complete blowouts to start the preseason, the Bulls found themselves in a back-and-forth affair in a rematch against the Cavaliers. The starters didn’t play down the stretch, but it was Ayo Dosunmu who took over in crunch time to keep the Bulls undefeated. Ayo became known for his clutch heroics at Illinois, so this was nothing new for him.
The Bulls rookie scored nine points in the fourth quarter, including two big floaters in the final minute to secure a 102-101 victory:
Iso Ayo closed it out strong pic.twitter.com/LxCzBXgtZt— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) October 11, 2021
It was also nice to see Ayo get up a couple of catch-and-shoot 3-pointers with no hesitation, and he buried one of them to end a five-plus-minute drought that saw an 86-77 lead turn into a 92-86 deficit. It was the reserves who were on the court for the majority of that drought after DeMar DeRozan made a 3-pointer to get that game-high nine-point lead with just over 10 minutes to play.
DeRozan actually made two triples out of three attempts as part of a team-high 23-point scoring night. The rest of the team struggled from outside, with the Bulls shooting just 7-of-28 from long distance. The other three offensive stars all struggled from the field, as Zach LaVine, Nikola Vucevic and Lonzo Ball combined to shoot 12-of-38 overall and 3-of-13 from 3-point range. LaVine just never got into much of a groove, and Vucevic missed a bunch of good looks he often cashes.
The Bulls shot under 42% as a team and turned it over 17 times, so it was a much sloppier performance for the road team. The defense also had its share of lapses against a Cavs team playing without its starting backcourt of Collin Sexton and Darius Garland.
Lauri Markkanen bounced back from his awful first game against the Bulls with a much more aggressive effort in this one as the starting small forward (glad we’re done trying this) in the Cavs’ jumbo lineup. Markkanen finished with a team-high 18 points on 8-of-14 shooting and actually stuffed the stat sheet with four rebounds, three assists, three blocks and two steals. Markkanen made DeRozan look real bad on a drive and dunk, but as his custom, he also missed several dunk attempts.
Rookie Evan Mobley also had a really nice showing, going for 15 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, three blocks and two steals. Mobley took advantage of his size against an undersized Bulls team on multiple occasions, and he also threw some nifty passes and hit a 3-pointer. The Cavs have a weird roster right now, but Mobley is a tantalizing prospect.
While the Bulls had their issues defensively, they did once again do a great job using quick hands to rack up deflections and steals. The Bulls had 10 steals, making it all three games they’ve hit double digits in that stat. Ball and Vucevic had three apiece, and Lonzo also had four blocks as he continues to shine on that end of the court.
The road Bulls also got some important performances off the bench, aside from Ayo. Alize Johnson is making a case for more playing time when it matters with his energy. Johnson had 14 points and 11 rebounds in just 18 minutes of play. He did have five fouls and got taken advantage of a few times down low, but he has been impressive overall so far.
Derrick Jones Jr.’s athleticism popped off the screen on several plays, helping him get 10 points in just 16 minutes. And then there’s Alex Caruso, who helped swing the game in the third quarter with his play after the Bulls struggled coming out of the half. Caruso did have four turnovers, but he also had eight points, six rebounds, four assists and a steal in his 26 minutes. He was a team-best plus-10 and is just a wrecking ball out there.
Even though the Bulls didn’t play all that well, it was still nice to see them stay in the game and pull out a win. Yes, it was a Cavs team playing without several key players, but finding ways to win when not playing well will be key to stealing some wins in the regular season and making the playoffs.
There’s now one more preseason game on Friday against the Grizzlies before this thing is for real.