Your Chicago Bulls’ IR list keeps getting longer, and it’s starting to cost them wins. That proved to be the case tonight, as the shorthanded Bulls lost a close game late against the Philadelphia 76ers, 114-109. The Bulls remain winless against Philly when Joel Embiid plays.
On the second night of a Bulls back-to-back, it was announced that current starting point guard Ayo Dosunmu was ruled out with a thoracic contusion, as was surprisingly-valuable reserve center Andre Drummond, out with a shoulder strain. Dosunmu, of course, had been starting in the stead of Lonzo Ball, out indefinitely as he recovers from his second knee surgery this year.
Defensive behemoth Alex Caruso assumed lead guard duties tonight against the visiting Philadelphia 76ers, themselves coming off a big win against the Toronto Raptors last night.
All-Star Bulls shooting guard Zach LaVine, who sat out last night’s disappointing 129-124 loss to the San Antonio Spurs, was back in the starting lineup against the Sixers.
As has been the case too often for Chicago, an opponent got off to fast start in the first quarter. In this case, Philadelphia opened up a 13-5 lead early. Billy Donovan called a time out and brought in little-used rookie Dalen Terry for a spell... so the Sixers promptly went on a 24-7 run to close the quarter.
Chicago did what it could to try to contain all-world Sixers center Joel Embiid defensively with double teams galore, but in that initial frame, at least, he did whatever he wanted against the Bulls. The rest of the Sixers were on-point as well, connecting on 64% of their first quarter field goals.
The Sixers built their advantage up to as much as 19 points in the middle of the second quarter, but, in a momentum-shifting instant, Joel Embiid was whistled for his third personal foul on DeMar DeRozan and was sent to the bench by Sixers head coach Doc Rivers. This proved to be a watershed moment for Chicago’s offense.
With Philadelphia missing Embiid, who had 12 points on 6-of-9 shooting and four rebounds across just 12 minutes during the half, the Bulls were able to go on an 18-2 run to cut the now-undersized Sixers’ lead (Montrezl Harrell was in at center) to within single digits again, thanks in large part to the efforts of DeMar DeRozan (who scored 11 points in the period and 20 points in the half) and Alex Caruso.
Chicago and Philadelphia exchanged treys for a bit to close out the first half, with the Sixers ultimately leading 64-56 at the break.
Beyond Embiid, a big reason Philly led Chicago at the half was its robust 23-8 advantage in bench points. Sixers reserve point guard De’Anthony Melton (8 points) matched the entire output of Chicago’s thinned-out backup corps! The Bulls also struggled mightily to close out on the Sixers’ long-range snipers, ultimately allowing Philadelphia to connect on a whopping 50% of its triples in the first half.
Thanks in large part to the three-point shooting of Nikola Vucevic and Zach LaVine early in the third quarter, Chicago finally evened up the contest, at 72-72, on an 8-0 run.
Late in the frame, Billy Donovan opted to stagger the minutes of DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine, striving to ensure he had an elite scorer available for Chicago at all times.
Javonte capped off the period with an epic putback dunk, getting Chicago within one possession, 90-87, heading into the game’s final quarter.
Add this Javonte Green putback dunk to the reel pic.twitter.com/jFpkPCBDDW— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) October 30, 2022
By the fourth quarter (and, really, much of the second half), it was clear that the Sixers were determined to freeze DeRozan out of the Bulls’ offense as much as possible, sending double teams his way early and often. Thankfully, Contract Year Vucevic was on hand, and more than ready to put the finishing touches on what had been an excellent all-around night. He would finish up with 23 points (while shooting 8-of-14 from the field and a scintillating 5-of-7 from long range!), 19 rebounds, three assists, and a steal. The one weakness: he didn’t get a free throw opportunity until the 1:10 mark in regulation.
Although Sixers “All-Star” James Harden looked like Playoff Harden for much of the night (he shot just 2-of-13 from the field), he ran what would turn out to be the game-winning play, a pick-and-roll to free up Joel Embiid. The seven-foot All-Star big man iced a critical late-game triple to give Philadelphia a 112-109 lead off a Harden screen with 18.1 seconds remaining. Embiid would finish with 25 points, seven rebounds, four assists, and a steal.
The Bulls called a play for DeRozan late, who drove to the rack and appeared to draw contact from Embiid on a layup attempt. Refs held their whistles and the game clock continued to tick down. P.J. Tucker secured the rebound, and attempted to pass the ball out — only to see it stolen by Alex Caruso, who squared up and attempted to nail a game-tying triple. He missed, Sixers power forward Tobias Harris snagged the rebound, and LaVine had no choice but to foul. Harris iced both his free throws to put Philadelphia up by the final margin, 114-109.
Chicago’s Big Three did their part. LaVine, DeRozan and Vucevic each chipped in at least a 20-piece, combining for 67 points on 23-of-45 shooting. The club was just missing a lot of its depth. Chicago’s other two starters, Caruso and a relatively timid Patrick Williams, took a total of 10 shots. The Bulls’ bench was also roundly outscored, 39-24, by the Sixers’ reserves. With the loss, Chicago falls to a 3-4 record on the year. Next up, Chicago may get a bit of a reprieve on Tuesday, when it will face off against the floundering, defense-free Brooklyn Nets.