After enduring a four game losing streak, which included a couple of blowouts, the Chicago Bulls got back into the win column after beating the Cleveland Cavaliers 117-104 in a hard fought game. It was a much needed victory as they were missing numerous key guys as Zach LaVine and Lonzo Ball continue to miss time due to injury. Things got testy in the fourth quarter when Cleveland cut down a double digit lead to come within one. But learning from their mistakes against Boston, Chicago finished the game on a 14-2 run to close it out.
After a couple of inefficient games, DeMar DeRozan was back to his usual self on offense as he led the Bulls with 30 points. He went 14 of 24 from the field and added seven assists as well. Nikola Vucevic struggled shooting from outside the paint in this one but still notched a double double of 24 points and 12 rebounds. Ayo Dosunmu and Coby White were brilliant as starters, combining for 34 points on 12 of 19 shooting. The rookie also added eight dimes and was three of four from downtown. White was active defensively with four steals. This game also marked the return of Alex Caruso and his presence was a big one in the win. He was a team high +18 with nine points, three points, and two assists. It looked like he hadn’t missed a beat defensively as well, including this sweet block on Darius Garland.
Alex Caruso is back and he wants BLOOD pic.twitter.com/IgFlQnMA1Y— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) January 20, 2022
As a team, Chicago shot 54.7 percent from the field and 45.5 percent from downtown. They did a great job of limiting turnovers/offensive mistakes with just nine. On the other hand, the Bulls forced the Cavaliers to commit 15 of them, leading to 24 points.
Cleveland race to a lead in the first quarter as Chicago struggled to deal with the length of the Cavs starters. With three big men on the floor, there were going to be some defensive mismatches the Bulls that they were going to have to deal with. For example, we saw multiple cases of Evan Moby being guarded by DeMar DeRozan and even smaller players. Chicago threw double teams at times throughout the game, forcing the Cavs to swing the ball and find open shooters. White was the one who got the Bulls kickstarted on offense in the first. He had 10 points including a couple of plays where he patiently waited for a lane to open up and then attacked it for a layup. Despite looking a bit sluggish to start the game, the Bulls were down just five at the end of one.
In the second it was all DeRozan. He scored 16 points in the quarter with the type of isolation plays all Bulls fans have been accustomed to seeing. There was even a stretch of play where he scored eight straight for Chicago. DeRozan’s scoring outburst helped the Bulls not only keep the gap between them and Cleveland close but woke up the whole team too. For much of the second, Chicago kept trying to grab the lead, only to see the Cavaliers hit a shot to steady themselves. However, that changed when Vucevic hit a shot in the paint to make it a 50-49 advantage for the home team. That layup turned out to be the catalyst to a half ending 10-3 run for the Bulls. Caruso made a pair of free throws, White hit another layup, then Dosunmu had a dunk in the open court. The cherry on top was when DeRozan hit a shot with 30 seconds left to give Chicago a nine point lead at the intermission.
The Bulls kept their foot on the gas and quickly made it a double digit lead in the third. They also made a lineup change as well, starting Troy Brown Jr. over Alfonzo McKinnie to begin the second half. But the Cavaliers would not go away, responding with an 11-2 run to make it a one point game. Cleveland was being aggressive and getting the Bulls to commit contact on defense. The Cavaliers got into the bonus midway through the quarter and it helped them keep the Bulls lead from getting out of hand. Chicago finished the third strong as despite the Cavs looking like they were going to retake the lead, they held firm. Caruso produced five quick points by himself and then DeRozan capped things off by beating the buzzer with a shot near the baseline. It gave Chicago a nine point lead going into the fourth.
Things got testy in the fourth as despite the Bulls having a double digit lead at multiple points, the Cavs were still within striking distance. Chicago’s defense started making mistakes and their opponents took advantage. Cleveland went on a 13-4 and got it back to a one point game with 4:18 left. It looked like another crunch time finish was in store at the United Center. But right after Isaac Okoro free throw to make it 103-102, the Bulls took control of the game and never let it go. It started with a huge three from Dosunmu who was spectacular in the fourth quarter. After two wide open misses at the rim by Cleveland, Chicago got a layup from DeRozan. Then it was DeMar’s time to be the facilitator as he found Vucevic in the corner. He loaded up and splashed a three to prompt a timeout from Cleveland as Chicago landed a strong counterpunch late in the game. Vucevic then made another layup to put the Cavaliers on the ropes. The dagger actually came on the defense end when Dosunmu stole a pass and then drew a clear path foul from Lauri Markkanen. Cleveland withdrew their starters shortly after, essentially ending the game.
As for the other players, Matt Thomas hit his two three-point attempts along with two assists. Tony Bradley had four points and six rebounds in just 11 minutes of action. Brown Jr. got the start in the second half and finished with six points and six rebounds. Malcolm Hill, who just recently got his 10-day contract converted into a two-way, played just two minutes which came in the fourth quarter. McKinnie played just five minutes in this one, scoring just two points. He didn’t return after subbing out in the first quarter.
Cleveland was led by Markkanen who scored 28 points in his return to the United Center. Garland had a double double of 20 points and 12 assists while Evan Mobley had 18. Kevin Love was a spark off the bench with 13 points on 50 percent shooting from the field.
This was a solid win for the Bulls. Cleveland has proven to be one of the tougher teams in the East and being short handed didn’t help Chicago at all. They were able to grind out this victory with two of their starters and got big performances from their young guys. It was a great sign to see the Bulls close out the win with a fantastic fourth quarter as the run sealed the win. Chicago is still at the top of the Eastern Conference, tied with the Miami Heat for first. Next comes a three game road trip beginning on Friday when they travel to play the Milwaukee Bucks on National TV.