The Bulls returned to action on Sunday night against a similarly shorthanded Lakers team after a COVID-19 hiatus, and it sure was nice to get DeMar DeRozan back. DeRozan put the Bulls on his back, scoring 19 of his game-high 38 points in the fourth quarter of a thrilling 115-110 victory.
This was a back-and-forth affair throughout the fourth quarter, and the Lakers took a one-point lead with just over a minute to play on a Russell Westbrook jumper. LeBron James swatted DeRozan on a drive, but the Bulls were able to secure an offensive rebound to give Lonzo Ball an open 3-point attempt. Ball missed that, but the Bulls got ANOTHER chance, and this time DeRozan cashed a clutch jumper over LeBron:
Westbrook missed a shot on the other end, and then DeRozan missed a hero ball attempt ... only for Lonzo to come up with a clutch tap-out. The Lakers chose to foul DeRozan despite roughly a five-second difference between the game clock and shot clock, and the Bulls star calmly cashed two clutch free throws. Carmelo Anthony and Wayne Ellington then both missed good looks from 3 to tie the game, giving Ball a chance to clinch the game from the foul line. Lonzo did just that, wrapping up a stellar 19/4/4 performance and a Bulls victory.
The Bulls won despite shooting just 43.0% compared to 51.2% for the Lakers. Scoring 29 points off 20 Lakers turnovers certainly played a huge part, as did going 25-of-31 from the charity stripe compared to 14-of-22 for the visitors. DeRozan did the majority of the damage on free throws, taking a season-high 17 freebies and burying 16 of them. He also shot 11-of-24 from the field after a sluggish shooting start, going 7-of-11 in the game-deciding fourth quarter. This was truly a monstrous performance from DeRozan as he put up 38 points in both Lakers wins, and it was even more impressive given he just missed time in COVID protocols.
In addition to DeRozan and Ball, the Bulls got solid efforts from Nikola Vucevic (19 and 13 on 8-of-17 shooting, 3-of-6 from 3) and Alex Caruso (17 and 9 on 6-of-11 shooting, 3-of-5 from 3). Caruso was especially big in the third quarter when it looked like the Bulls were teetering a bit. After a solid first half offensively (61 points), the Bulls labored in the third quarter. But Caruso kept them afloat, scoring 11 of Chicago’s 22 points in the quarter to keep them right in it as LeBron came alive. James scored 12 points in the third quarter and 21 in the second half, finishing with a team-high 31/14/6 with no Anthony Davis due to his knee injury.
The Lakers did crush the Bulls in bench points, 31-13, thanks to 21 points from Carmelo Anthony. Melo hit back-to-back huge triples in the fourth quarter, but the home team was able to bounce back and still get the win. Coby White offered very little off the bench for the Bulls in his return to the lineup from COVID (2-of-7 shooting, 0-of-4 from 3), but he did have this absolutely thunderous dunk with LeBron ready to chase him down:
Javonte Green and Derrick Jones Jr. were the other Bulls to return from the NBA’s protocols in this game. Green’s energy was palpable with nine points and five offensive rebounds, including a huge putback in crunch time. Unfortunately, Jones only played six minutes before leaving with a hamstring injury. This led to Tyler Cook getting a couple of fourth-quarter minutes as the Lakers went small down the stretch. Alfonzo McKinnie also played nearly half the fourth quarter and 17 minutes for the game, the second-most off the bench behind White’s 24.
While the Lakers have their own issues, both in terms of health and their general vibe, this was a massive win for the Bulls to pull off after not playing for a week. Sweeping the Lakers feels great, and Chicago is now 18-10 on the season. Next up is a home game against the Rockets, so it’s time to get some revenge after that ugly loss earlier in the season. It won’t be easy on a back-to-back given the roster woes, but the Bulls need to get it done.