Heading into tonight’s opening matchup, things looked a bit bleak for the Chicago Bulls. There was the sudden news earlier in the day saying Zach LaVine being held out of action for ‘injury management’. However, the team stepped up massively in his absence, outscoring the favored Miami Heat in all but one quarter and ultimately picked up a huge 116-108 road win.
Chicago went down early and looked extremely sluggish. But they fought back and somehow got the game tied heading into halftime. This was a game the Bulls didn’t really have a chance to win at the start but they rallied up an amazing effort to pull it off.
The third quarter is when the tide of the game changed as the Bulls outscored the Heat by 10 and were up double digits for most of it. Despite a late Miami rally, the Bulls were able to hang on thanks to the heroics of DeMar DeRozan.
DeRozan as per usual was Chicago’s catalyst offensively. He led both teams with 37 points on 14 of 22 shooting from the field along with nine assists and six rebounds. He got the line a ton with 11 attempts but uncharacteristically missed three of them. Still, DeRozan put up another classic second half performance, scoring 19 in the third and splashing countless clutch buckets in the fourth. Every time the Bulls needed a basket DeMar was there.
Nikola Vucevic continued on his solid preseason with a good start to the season. In his 33 minutes, he had a double double of 15 points and 17 rebounds along with three blocks. Vucevic also hit the dagger three with 1:04 left, after missing his first 4 attempts from distance, which sealed the victory for Chicago.
Ayo Dosunmu showed why he won the staring point guard job with a big performance. He scored 17 points on 50 percent shooting from the field along with four assists and six rebounds and going 3-6 from three. He was aggressive tonight offensively, consistently looking for his own shot if the defense gave him any space.
Alex Caruso, starting in place of LaVine, had six points but again stuffed the stat sheet with four assists, five rebounds, and two steals. He did have a team high four turnovers, but continued to make the energy plays which makes the Bulls go.
Off the bench the two new veterans in Goran Dragic and Andre Drummond both were solid, scoring 12 and nine points respectively. Drummond came down with five rebounds and had a breakaway steal which lead to an easy dunk. Dragic kept the Bulls afloat in the first half with his shot making and he was their main three-point threat, hitting four of five from downtown. This was a really nice showing from the two offseason additions. Coby White struggled in the first half mightily but rebounded to finish with 10 points and two rebounds. It was a tough outing as he was missing wide open three-pointers (two of seven from deep). For a Bulls team which already struggles to stretch the floor those misses were rough.
One other downside was Patrick Williams, who had a rough opening night. Much was discussed all preseason of his place on the team and whether he’d start at power forward. He took only six shot attempts and scored just four points. The passivity was on display on offense yet to Williams credit he was out there hustling for loose balls and battling on the boards. In this Bulls offense they need Williams to contribute something, either off ball or knocking down three’s. With LaVine out his role grows even more. This wasn’t the best showing from him. In crunch time of both halves, Donovan went with DDR at the 4 instead of Williams or preseason star Javonte Green. Green played 18 minutes off the bench and contributed with three rebounds, a steal, and six points, but also six fouls.
As a team the Bulls shot 44 from the field and more importantly, 36 percent from three on 36 attempts. They had 23 assists on their 41 made baskets but struggled to keep the ball at times with 14 turnovers.
As for Miami, they got 24 points from our old friend Jimmy Butler, who went to the line 16 times. Tyler Herro, now a starter, had 23 points with four three’s while former Bull Max Strus dropped 22 with five makes from three of his own. It was a very sloppy game for Miami as they had 19 turnovers. Bam Adebayo was bizarrely awful, missing a half-dozen shots around the rim. Kyle Lowry looked completely cooked, which may be a danger sign for the Heat this season.
This was a huge victory for the Bulls and a thrilling one at that. They just kept battling off Miami’s wave of points in the fourth quarter thanks to some clutch shot making from who else, DeMar DeRozan. It was just the type of performance you wanted to see from a team missing their second best player.