After one of the worst losses of the season, the Chicago Bulls were in desperate need of a bounce back effort. And they were going to have to do it without DeMar DeRozan, who was a pregame scratch due to rest.
Against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Bulls were great for nearly three quarters, building up a lead as much as 28.
However, the fourth quarter was a disaster for Chicago as they were outscored 32-19 and nearly lost the lead late, but hit their free throws when it mattered the most and got baskets at just the right time to escape with a 111-110 victory.
Although Chicago came away with the victory, how they finished the game was certainly a bit worrisome. Especially when it came to how flustered the Bulls were when it came to late game offensive execution and dealing with Oklahoma City’s full court pressure.
Zach LaVine returned to the lineup and had 23 points plus seven rebounds and seven assists. The team leader in scoring was Nikola Vucevic, who played well after a poor showing against Orlando to record a double double of 26 points and 15 rebounds.
And Ayo Dosunmu had the best offensive game of his young career thus far, scoring 24 points on 10 of 14 shooting after hitting his first nine shots. He also added in eight assists and had a half court buzzer beater for good measure.
As an overall offense, Chicago shot 46 percent from the field and 38.5 percent from three. They moved the ball quite well with 31 assists on 41 makes. However, they had 19 turnovers and it led to 19 points for the Thunder.
After scoring just 19 in the first quarter against Orlando, the Bulls offense looked like the unit we have been seeing for most of the year in scoring 35 in tonight’s opening period. Dosunmu was the one who led the Bulls offense as he scored 10 points in the quarter alone. With DeRozan out, Dosunmu (who started alongside LaVine with Coby White coming off the bench) was the one attacking the mid-range, taking and making shots when given the space.
Chicago was able to push their lead to double digits midway through the second quarter and kept it there by halftime, but it felt like a much closer game.
After halftime is when the Bulls decided to ramp up the pressure on the Thunder. Within the first three minutes of the third it was a 17 point lead after Vucevic splashed a shot from beyond the arc. The Bulls started the quarter on a 23-7 run before the Thunder called timeout halfway through the third, and the lead had reached 26. But soon after that, the Bulls went into a scoring lull reminiscent of the prior night in Orlando, they scored just two points in the next five minutes. The defense, which had been solid up until then, started to make mistakes and the Thunder capitalized. Despite the Bulls leading by 14, yhe momentum was all on OKC’s side as we entered the fourth quarter.
In the fourth, it quickly became a single digit lead for Chicago after Darius Bazley knocked down a three. The Bulls responded by building their advantage all the way back to 17 with Vucevic going on a run where he scored eight points in a row. Then everything started to go downhill and fast. Oklahoma City came out of the timeout minutes later with an 11-0 run. The Bulls looked completely lost on both ends of the court: not rotating over, and getting beat off the dribble on defense, then offensively they couldn’t pass out of traps and were being forced into shot clock violations, OKC steals, and even a backcourt violation.
With 2:37 it was suddenly a six point game and it looked like Oklahoma City was on the verge of completing another comeback against Chicago. The Bulls struck back when the ball was swung to White in the corner and he hit a much needed shot to push the lead back to nine. After his struggles from shooting beyond the arc in the past couple of games (he was in a 1-22 slump from three), it was nice to see him knock down such a crucial basket. The Thunder kept up the pressure as the Bulls weren’t able to keep the offensive momentum going. LaVine missed a dunk at the rim and Vucevic took a fadeaway three-pointer with the shot clock winding down. In that span, OKC went on a 6-0 run, cutting the lead down to one thanks to a Josh Giddey layup. It was disarray as Chicago’s late game offense clearly missed DeRozan.
With the Thunder in a clear fouling situation, LaVine stepped up and made both of this free throws. Mark Daigneault chose not to take a timeout, letting Shai Gilgeous-Alexander take the ball up the court. Billy Donovan also elected not to have Chicago foul up three and just play straight up defense. SGA ended up taking a step back jumper and it clanked off the rim with Javonte Green grabbing the rebound. He then split his pair of free throws to ice the game.
Feelings of relief and a bit of frustration come to mind when thinking about this game. While a win is a win, it shouldn’t have been this close near the end of the fourth. Chicago was dominant right after halftime and then suddenly went cold from the field at the worst possible times. The late game execution wasn’t pretty either.
But there are positives in Dosunmu’s performance along with Vucevic having a solid night. The Bulls got more healthier with the return of two more players and DeRozan got some much needed rest. Green, who was also making his return to the lineup, had five points and two rebounds but gave a ton of much needed energy and defense. Troy Brown Jr. ended up starting despite it being reported that White would start. He finished with 10 points and three rebounds. The bench for Chicago combined for 23 points as six different guys logged minutes. White led the way with nine while Tyler Cook, who left the game in the third due to injury, had five points and five rebounds.
Chicago’s next opponent on the schedule is the Toronto Raptors when they come and visit the United Center on Wednesday.