This part of the column was supposed to be about how great it is to have Alex Caruso back.
AC is the type of player whose contributions have never fit into a box. He’s listed first as a point guard, but shouldn’t be confused with someone who can effectively run offense. He’s typically one of the smaller guys at the floor at 6’5, 186 pounds, yet we’ve seen him overpower and outsmart some of the biggest dudes in the league. He’s come off the bench almost exclusively since he broke into the NBA, yet the Lakers gave him his only playoff start in the title-clinching Game 6 of the 2020 NBA Finals. Oh, and he was a game-high +20 in that game, too.
At his best, Caruso not only personifies every trite sports cliche — he actually gives them tangible value. It’s his heart, his hustle, his leadership. It’s a level of active communication that pays real dividends. This league always has been and always will be about talent, but AC is the type of player who makes you believe an undrafted free agent who has never averaged double-figures in scoring really can go toe-to-toe with everyone from Trae Young to Paul George to Giannis and come out on top, at least for a few possessions.
The Bulls were not the Bulls while he was out, first with a strained hamstring, then a sprained foot, then a bout of Covid. A defense that was No. 7 in the league with him on the floor suddenly sunk to No. 24 in the games he missed. The easy offensive opportunities his defense provides weren’t there, either. There was an apparent lack of energy and at times an even more noticeable lack of organization. My bud Kevin called him the Bulls’ Draymond, and honestly, it’s perfect.
It was a long month with Caruso sidelined, even as the Bulls went 8-5 without him. From the first time he got back on the floor against the Cavs on Wednesday, his impact was evident. I’ll let Rob take this one:
He ignited the United Center with a scrappy four-possession sequence in the third quarter which featured a corner 3 to put the Bulls ahead 83-74, an offensive-foul-draw on Jarrett Allen fighting through a screen, a driving layup to make it 85-74, then a forced travel on Kevin Love pulling the chair out in the post.
He also did this:
The Bulls were far from whole when they took on the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday — still without Lonzo Ball, Zach LaVine, JaVonte Green, Patrick Williams, Derrick Jones Jr., ect — but it finally felt like they were getting back to business with AC on the floor. Even in their diminished state, they were battling against the reigning champs, a Bucks team I thought would be the toughest matchup in the league for them. They shot like shit, and they were still right there.
Then Grayson Allen did what Grayson Allen does, and made a dirty play to slam Caruso to the floor in-air while he was in a totally defenseless position.
Grayson Allen foul on Alex Caruso. Replays included. pic.twitter.com/1ixcve9i0s— Ⓜ️ ▶️ (@_MarcusD3_) January 22, 2022
Caruso stayed in the game, but he missed both free throws. That’s when I was worried. But a few minutes later, he was forcing a jump ball by tying up Giannis in the paint, and it seemed like disaster would be averted.
Afraid not. Caruso fractured his right wrist, and will be out the next 6-8 weeks at least. This comes on the heels of the news that Lonzo will also miss 6-8 weeks with a torn meniscus just a few days earlier. A Bulls team that has been ravaged by injuries and the plague all year just cannot get back to full strength.
For as much of a bummer as the Ball injury is, the Caruso injury feels so much worse. Why? Because it came on a totally unnecessary play. Or as Caruso described it, “kind of bullshit.”
Alex Caruso on Grayson Allen’s Flagrant 2 Foul against him tonight. pic.twitter.com/JW4TII6Jrv— Darnell Mayberry (@DarnellMayberry) January 22, 2022
Credit to Billy Donovan for not mincing his words. Billy D. sounded as upset as he’s ever been, saying Allen could have ended AC’s career, and noting his history of dirty behavior on the court.
This is the type of statement you want to see out of your head coach in a moment like this.
Here is Billy Donovan’s full answer when asked about Grayson Allen’s flagrant-2 foul on Alex Caruso and ejection.— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) January 22, 2022
It should be noted this is very uncharacteristic of Donovan to single out a player like this. pic.twitter.com/70UZFSMi85
I’ll just say, man: I’ve been writing about Grayson Allen for a loooong time. I saw him at the McDonald’s All-American Game in 2014 as a fresh-faced kid from Jacksonville who was committed to Duke, and I just couldn’t shake the thought that everyone was going to hate the guy.
I probably have more Ls than Ws on my track record as a sportswriter, but identifying Allen as someone who would be universally hated while he was still in high school feels like maybe my greatest call ever.
Grayson shouldn’t have to do this shit anymore. He’s 26 years old now. He’s found a perfect situation in Milwaukee playing off Giannis, Khris, and Jrue on an otherwise very likable Bucks team. All he has to do is hit spot-up threes and try not to kill anyone. Thing is, he just can’t help himself.
As has always been the case, Allen gives himself plausible deniability. He did it when he tripped Louisville and Florida State players. He tried to do it when he tripped an Elon player and then had a full scale meltdown on the bench. There are plenty of people arguing Allen didn’t mean to hurt AC on the play. That’s probably true, but it was still bullshit, as Alex said.
I thought my guy Kris from the great Bulls 101 podcast put it well on this thread:
The Grayson Allen foul on Caruso was not just a good hard foul. There were 3 separate actions Allen took:— Kris (@klahoops) January 22, 2022
1st: Allen’s left hand makes contact with Caruso’s right arm, a legitimate play on the ball and a “good hard foul.” The arm is outstretched and parallel to Caruso’s. pic.twitter.com/saacWRTdwW
2nd: Watch Allen’s left hand after he makes contact with Caruso’s right arm. He grabs the crook of Caruso’s right arm and pulls down as Caruso is already in the air. There’s no play on the ball here and it’s not a natural motion—it’s an intentional grab and pull. pic.twitter.com/Dg5v8B8xEC— Kris (@klahoops) January 22, 2022
3rd: Allen’s right arm swings across his body towards Caruso’s left arm and head, making contact with both. It’s possible Allen thought he was making a play on the ball, but the follow-through after the fact is unnecessary and dangerous upon review. pic.twitter.com/dwM89Sk17g— Kris (@klahoops) January 22, 2022
AC said Grayson never came over to check on him. Of course he didn’t, because Grayson Allen has always shown us who he is.
And that smug little smirk while AC was on the ground in pain. Seriously, dude?
I could keep going, but I’ll let one of the great artists of our generation — and a diehard Bulls fan — take the final word:
Fuck grayson Allen.— Big (@FreddieGibbs) January 23, 2022
To be without AC for so long, to lose Lonzo days earlier, to see how impactful he was in his return against the Cavs, and then to have this happen .... man. What an incredible bummer all this is.
Caruso and Lonzo should both be back with about three weeks left in the regular season. It sounds like Zach will be back this upcoming week, and JaVonte will be back before long, too. The season isn’t over, but this is a big, big injury. Caruso’s defense and energy really set the tone for everything the Bulls want to do.
This sucks. See you in hell, Grayson Allen.
Cool Ayo stuff
Will Gottlieb wrote a great piece on Ayo this week, so I’ll direct you over to his Substack. It’s worth your time.
Ayo is on quite the run. How incredible is it that these two performances both came in the last week?
Ayo Dosunmu is the first rookie in NBA history to have 20 points, 10 assists and 90% FG in a single game. pic.twitter.com/OPgOm1FtrD— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) January 16, 2022
Ayo Dosunmu: first #Bulls player with 10 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists & 5 steals in a game since Luol Deng 11/8/2013.— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) January 17, 2022
First to do it with multiple blocks since Scottie Pippen 2/3/1995.
And it's Ayo's birthday too!#Bulls
It’s a good thing Ayo and Coby have been so great (save for that Bucks game) lately, because the Bulls are going to really need them right now. What a luxury it is to have two very likable, talented players like them to fill in holes while everything else crumbles.
Let’s go, young guns. Need y’all.
The Beginning is the End is the Beginning
Yeah, I’m using this great Mark tweet as an excuse to quote the “Batman and Robin” soundtrack.
DeMar Appreciation Corner
This entire column could really be called the DeMar Appreciation Corner. Hell, this entire season could be called the DeMar Appreciation Corner.
DeMar was completely awesome in the win against the Cavs, finishing with 30 points, seven assists, and the type of excellence in the clutch we’ve come to expect from him.
Man, I love that meme so much.
How about this delightful quote after the Cavs win?
“Me six years ago, I probably would’ve tried to shoot 40 times and feel like that was needed to get a win,” DeRozan said of his mentality with so many key players still out. “My mentality is just different, understanding I need every one of those guys out there. I lean on them just as much as they lean on me.”
All DeMar did against the Bucks was go 17-for-18 from the foul line on a night when the Bulls shot 18 percent from three.
DeMar hits the spin move and knocks down the jumper on ESPN pic.twitter.com/qHWXNczDT4— NBA (@NBA) January 22, 2022
My only complaint is the foot-on-the-line threes that turn into twos. He had a pair of them against the Bucks. But whatever, DeMar is life.
A rat is a rat
I honestly love this AC quote so much.
Alex Caruso was asked about Grayson Allen's history of dirty plays dating back to his Duke days.— Cody Westerlund (@CodyWesterlund) January 22, 2022
"To be honest, I don't watch much Duke basketball," Caruso says.
Caruso is a mad man
Dog .... how did he battle like this on a broken wrist?
It is wild to me that Caruso was deflecting passes WITH his fractured wrist (!), guarding and blocking Giannis, and playing lockdown defense even after suffering his injury.— Steph Noh (@StephNoh) January 22, 2022
These plays all happened after Grayson Allen's flagrant-2 foul. This guy is tough as nails. pic.twitter.com/eINqdWDjxU
Hey, at least AC is under contract for the next three years.
Another perfect DeMar quote
DeMar DeRozan on Alex Caruso's communication: "AC is like that one college professor who's always preaching a thesis or something."— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) January 20, 2022
This really isn’t helping me feel any better, hmmm.
I’m happy for Bobby Portis, man
May we all find our Giannis in life.
Shout-out, Tyler Cook
Bulls might have found something here.
Tyler Cook has been great so far— Will Gottlieb (@wontgottlieb) January 22, 2022
—Had a nice defensive play in transition on Giannis but got called for a tough foul
—Drew an offensive foul on Giannis
—Great rotations pic.twitter.com/aOdJPSpJz6
They needed another Giannis stopper now that Ryan Arcidiacono is gone.
Cook hadn’t played since Jan. 1, and he honestly held up as well as humanly possible against Giannis. I was super impressed. Can’t wait to see if he can hold up against Giannis next time these two teams play.
(No, I didn’t forget about the Bucks’ tweet. But I also can’t get too mad at a social media manager, I guess. Still super weird.)
The Booz News
Can’t stop staring at Carlos Boozer’s scarf pic.twitter.com/sOCHzHqbhS— Tate Frazier (@tatefrazier) January 16, 2022
This has been The Booz News.