No one expected the Chicago Bulls to even be in the game against the Golden State Warriors late, let alone win it. But Friday night at Chase Center, the Warriors went ice cold down the stretch, and a spirited charge from Zach LaVine, Nikola Vucevic, Goran Dragic and new starting forward Javonte Green shaved what had been an 18-point Dubs lead at the start of the fourth quarter down to a single point, 110-109, with 2:27 left in regulation.
Of course, Golden State would subsequently right the ship, finishing the game on a 9-2 run, thanks to some gang rebounding, a Draymond Green triple (!), and some critical Klay Thompson free throws. With the 119-111 defeat, the Bulls slumped to a 9-13 record on the season, while the Warriors saw their standing improve to 12-11.
Let’s take a look at some of the big elements of the loss, one of the Bulls’ less embarrassing of their 11 straight defeats to Golden State, dating back to the Jimmy Butler era.
Billy Donovan finally made a change to his starting five — two changes, in fact!
Well, it happened. It did seem that, following the team’s miserable Phoenix Suns blowout loss on Wednesday, Billy Donovan would be permitted to make some tweaks to the Bulls’ starting lineup. Considering how much Donovan chewed out Ayo Dosunmu for a blown defensive rotation, it seemed possible that the team’s best healthy defender, Alex Caruso, would be joining the starters somehow. This writer had his money on perennial disappointment Patrick Williams being shifted to the bench, with Caruso starting at the point, Dosunmu at shooting guard, Zach LaVine at small forward, DeMar DeRozan at power forward, and Nikola Vucevic at center. I genuinely didn’t think Donovan had it in him to make the change we all wanted implemented — benching both Dosunmu and Williams in favor of Caruso and Javonte Green, two significantly more consistent defenders.
But he went for it!
The results were promising, and not just on defense. Caruso was responsible for dishing out passes that yielded 10 of the Bulls’ first 12 points of the night, while Green’s hustle inside yielded four free-throw attempts in the game’s first six minutes. The gruesome twosome also connected for this nice early action to get Green his first field goal of the night (note how Caruso also gives LaVine space to make an eventual hockey pass to him with a strong pick at the top of the key):
For the night, Green played 22:44. He went 5-of-7 from the field and 3-of-6 from the charity stripe for 13 points. He also chipped in four boards, an assist, a steal, and a block while posting a team-best +11.
The block and the assist both came about in one absolutely critical late-game sequence:
This might be my favourite sequence of Bulls basketball all season.— Mark K (@mkhoops) December 3, 2022
Three straight possessions of great rotations, hustle, and pushing tempo in transition.
Naturally, Javonte is influential in each possession.
• Blocks Poole
• An assist to LaVine
• Great finish on the break pic.twitter.com/P0MpCdIQas
Caruso didn’t shoot much, making just one of his four field goals for a measly two points, but his court sense on both ends led to him become the Bulls’ second-leading distributor (behind DeRozan), as he chipped in six assists and swiped one steal. If Donovan can keep managing AC’s minutes (which seemed to be a major reason he was reticent to start him in the first place), it does seem like he’s the better fit at point guard while Lonzo Ball recuperates:
Caruso’s hustle plays certainly impressed Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, who put on a bit of a recruiting pitch postgame:
"I'd love to have you, man"— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) December 3, 2022
Steve Kerr to Alex Caruso after last night's game pic.twitter.com/Ueb8uS2gJJ
Dosunmu looked pretty great in a reserve role, scoring nine points on 4-of-4 shooting from the field, grabbing five rebounds and dishing out three dimes. Williams had another Bad Pat game, looking tentative a lot of the night and finishing with seven points on 3-of-9 shooting.
Nikola Vucevic and Zach LaVine were the Bulls’ offensive MVPs
Vucevic and LaVine were looking for their shots early and often last night, and the Bulls did a good job of keeping two of the team’s better floor spacers active and engaged.
Here’s LaVine’s clutch late triple that got the Bulls within a single point late in the fourth period, coming off a Vucevic screen on Andrew Wiggins:
Vucevic and LaVine were the only Bulls players to score 20+ points. Vucevic had 23 points on 9-of-17 shooting (2-of-7 from deep), 11 rebounds, three steals and one assist. Zach scored 21 points on 8-of-18 shooting (3-of-7 from deep), grabbed seven rebounds, dished out three dimes and had a steal.
Even beyond the mediocre 3-point shooting, Vucevic was hardly perfect despite his strong overall stat line. His lackluster efforts on defense, especially around the basket, let the Warriors frequently finish with ease:
Goran Dragic was the unsung hero of the Bulls’ comeback attempt
Did Billy Donovan start the wrong “point guard” last night? Caruso is more of a utilitarian Swiss Army Knife than a pure traditional point guard, though he did operate as a setup man for a lot of the evening.
But Goran Dragic, Chicago’s surprisingly good veteran’s minimum pickup this summer, may be the team’s best available point guard when it comes to running the team’s offense. Playing in even more limited minutes than Caruso because he’s 36, the Dragon led a variety of feisty fast breaks, nailed some treys, and had some crafty passes.
In just 23:18, Dragic had 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting (including 2-of-2 from deep), five assists, and four rebounds. 10 of those points (on 4-of-7 shooting) came in the Bulls’ critical fourth-quarter comeback attempt, while playing for every single second of the frame.
He was one of just three players to register a positive plus-minus (he was +5) on the night.
3-point shooting was Chicago’s Achilles’ heel (broken record alert)
At the end of the day, it’s just hard to stop a team with 3-point shooters so good they’re nailing circus shots.
Jordan Poole knocks down his seventh triple of the night from THE LOGO pic.twitter.com/zQGVddPJT8— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) December 3, 2022
The Warriors shot almost twice as many triples (50) as the Bulls (27), and connected at a significantly more successful rate (40% vs. 33.3%). Only LaVine, Vucevic and Dragic had multiple made threes, compared to five Warriors.
Jordan Poole and Draymond Green were the stars of the show for the Warriors. Poole had 30 points on 11-of-18 shooting, including 7-of-13 shooting from long range. Green was a rebound away from a triple double, notching 13 points (which included shooting 2-of-3 from long range), 10 assists and nine boards, plus two blocks. He looked very much like 2017 Draymond.
Stephen Curry shot 4-of-8 from beyond the arc in a rather quiet performance for him (19 points), and Klay Thompson was at least an enthusiastic, if inefficient, shooter from 3-point land (he went 3-of-13).