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Bulls vs. Thunder recap: Chicago grinds out 106-101 victory

no LaVine, but DeRozan and Vucevic turn supernova

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Chicago Bulls Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

The hits kept coming for your Chicago Bulls. Ahead of last night’s eventual 106-101 home win against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Chicago announced that starters Zach LaVine and Javonte Green would miss the contest, though neither has a long-term injury (in some relatively ‘happy’ injury news). LaVine and Green joined Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso, and Patrick Williams in the Bulls’ lengthening injury report.

Billy Donovan opted to start Coby White and Troy Brown Jr. in their stead, with a returning Derrick Jones Jr. coming off the bench.

But it didn’t matter. With LaVine absent, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic stepped up in the scoring department to eke out the win on Neil Funk Night. DeRozan turned in his fifth straight 35+ point performance and sixth straight 30+ point game, scoring 38 points on 12-of-24 shooting from the field and 14-of-16 shooting from the charity stripe, plus six rebounds, five assists, and a steal in nearly 40 minutes.

Vucevic, who has quietly started to look like himself for the last month or so, poured in 31 points, pulled down 15 boards, and notched a pair of steals and a pair of blocks to boot. He submitted one of his best all-around games on both sides of the ball this season. Sure, it came against one of the league’s junior varsity teams missing its best player, but these are exactly the types of nights where Vucevic needs to feast.

The win came at a potential cost. DeRozan, Vucevic, White and Dosunmu all played 36 minutes or more.

After a terrific offensive performance last night in a 134-122 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, Chicago won their second contest in two nights and third straight. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t a blowout, and it exerted a heavy minutes tax on Chicago’s few remaining good healthy players. But hey, it was a W. The Bulls moved to a 36-21 record on the season and the second seed in the crowded East, with just two very winnable games left on their schedule before a much-needed reprieve for the All-Star break.

Despite the Thunder missing leading scorer Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and also playing on the second night of their own back-to-back, the youth-heavy club managed to keep the game closer than it should have been, with a back-and-forth affair featuring nine lead changes. Standout wing Lu Dort, third-year forward Darius Bazley and promising 2021 lottery selection Josh Giddey were Oklahoma City’s top performers, with Dort scoring 31 points and Giddey notching a triple-double.

As Adam Amin even noted on the NBC Sports Chicago broadcast, Jones looked like he may have returned to game action too soon. Jones suited up in a game for the first time since January 12th. His meager stat line (three points, two rebounds, a steal, an assist, and all six fouls) belied his defensive impact in nearly 23 minutes, as with Green gone it fell to Jones and Brown to make up for Javonte’s missing moxie. Jones’s injured right index finger was in a splint, and it clearly bothered him on several plays, most notable this otherwise-cool double-pump dunk off a nice Coby find (you can see him grabbing his hand in the clip):

At least the dunk looked sick? With so much of the Bulls’ forward rotation ailing, it was great to see DJJ gutting it out tonight.

Tonight’s Chicago starting back court of Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu also looked excellent once again. Coby had a lackluster first half but was firing on all cylinders in the second (he had 16 points, including 4-of-6 shooting from deep, nine rebounds and five assists), and Ayo nearly had a triple-double with a solid 12-point, nine-assist, eight-rebound night.

A fun element of the rookie from U of I getting so much run has been the chemistry he appears to be developing as a facilitator for Vucevic in the paint specifically. It’s been great to see the big man prioritized so prominently inside. Check out Ayo’s bounce-pass feed to Vucevic for the easy flush here:

Next up, the Bulls will face off against the finally-actually-tanking San Antonio Spurs and the revamped-but-still-bad Sacramento Kings. Here’s hoping the Bulls can head into the All-Star break riding high on a five-win streak.

After the last few victories, this much is clear: Chicago could really, really use some new blood from the buyout scrap heap soon, before the wheels fall off for the team’s remaining healthy players.