In their final tuneup before the regular season the Chicago Bulls were able to pull away late from the Memphis Grizzlies at the United Center to win 118-105 and complete a prefect 4-0 preseason campaign. It was a 100-99 lead for the visiting team with 5 minutes to go before a reserve lineup led by Alex Caruso went on a 19-5 run to close the game. It wasn’t the most dominant performance we saw from the Bulls this preseason but it was enough to get the victory.
Zach LaVine had an excellent game, leading all scorers with 31 points. He went nine of 18 from the field, nine of 10 from the charity stripe while also pitching in six rebounds and six assists. His only blemish were the five turnovers. He caught fire in the second half, scoring 18 points to help Chicago keep pace offensively. Nikola Vucevic added 23 points and eight rebounds while he also finally hit his first three-point attempt of the preseason.
The Bulls got off to a hot start, going up 16-6 in the early minutes of the game. They took advantage of some Memphis turnovers and the offense was clicking offensively. However, as they would for much of the night, the Grizzlies found holes in the Chicago defense and fought back. With the Billy Donovan experimenting with a lot of different lineups, there were a lot of small-ball centric combinations that were out there on the court for the Bulls. This gave Memphis an advantage as their athletic bigs, particularly Jaren Jackson Jr., feasted inside the paint. This combined with Chicago going cold from the field after their hot start, gave the Grizzlies at 35-28 first quarter lead. The second quarter saw a much better defensive performance as the Bulls only allowed 18 points in the frame. Memphis held the lead for the majority of the second but a LaVine layup with 2:13 to go gave Chicago the lead. DeMar DeRozan then scored the Bulls last four points in 30 seconds to give them a half-time lead of 55-53. Chicago wasn’t particularly playing well yet they still held the advantage on the scoreboard.
The third quarter saw Memphis again battle back offensively as Chicago could only expand their lead to as much as seven. In fact, the Grizzlies took the lead late thanks to a three-pointer by Jackson Jr. to cap off a quick 7-0 run. It seemed like the Bulls perfect preseason record was in jeopardy. Once again, DeRozan hit a shot in the waining seconds to give Chicago the slim lead of 82-81 heading into the final 12 minutes. The first six minutes of the fourth quarter felt like a mirror image of the third. Chicago raced out to another lead, this time 91-84, early and it looked like they were on the verge of going up double digits. But once again Memphis continued to hit shots when needed. They clawed their way back and took the lead on a four point play from Brandon Clarke. By this time, the Bulls had removed their starters and it was a lineup for Caruso, Matt Thomas, Stanley Johnson, Ayo Dosunmu, and Alize Johnson. It was going to be up to them to win this game for Chicago. Right after Memphis took the lead, Caruso responded with one of the plays of the game, running right down the lane for a ferocious slam which brought the crowd to its feet.
It seemed like the dunk gave the Bulls a spark as they then proceeded to play with new found energy and it led to results on both ends of the court. They forced a turnover from Steven Adams, leading to a layup from Alize Johnson. Chicago was flying up and down the court the final few minutes of the game and they completed took over the game. Alize Johnson was crashing the ball, Caruso was directing traffic offensively, and when there was even a chance of the play being turned into a fast break, Donsumu pushed the pace. Chicago finally got back to having a double digit lead thanks to a layup by Alize with 1:28 left and then cruised till the end of the game.
DeRozan was the third Bull to score in double digits as he pitched in 19 points along with four rebounds. The efficiency was a bit of an issue (six of 17 from the field) with him going cold in the first half, at one point missing eight straight shots. However, he finished as a +5 in this one and sent six of six from the line. Lonzo Ball only scored five points but stuffed the stat sheet with seven rebounds and six assists.
In his season debut, Patrick Williams scored just six points which were two three-pointers he made in the first half. It was a tough offensive night for him with only six shot attempts. But it looked like the left ankle wasn’t bothering him and he was still solid defensively. He played the least amount of minutes among the starters as it was his first game action since Summer League. Williams should be good to go for the regular season opener against Detroit. Chicago will need his defensive prowess at the four spot this season.
The Bulls bench scored 34 points as a unit with Tyler Cook, Derrick Jones Jr., and Marko Simonovic being the only players who didn't get any game action. After being out for the first three games with a back injury, Tony Bradley made his season debut as well. He had four points and two rebounds in his nine minutes of action.
Meanwhile Memphis was led by Jackson Jr., who had 29 points while hitting seven shots from downtown. Ja Morant pitched with 17 points while Steven Adams nearly had a double double of 10 points and nine rebounds.
Overall, the Bulls shot 46.2 percent from the field and 40.7 percent from three. They took good care of the ball, committing only 13 turnovers. This wasn’t Chicago’s best game offensively in the first half but they picked up things in the second half. Their bench showed they had enough to give them an extra boost at the end to come out with their four straight win to start the season.
Now is where the wins and losses really begin to count. It’s time for the regular season as Chicago starts their year on the road against the Pistons on Wednesday.