After a tough overtime loss to the Raptors on Thursday, the Chicago Bulls found themselves in another crunch-time situation against an extremely shorthanded Pacers team on Friday night in Indiana. The Bulls were without Zach LaVine (back spasms) and Coby White (adductor strain) in addition to their usual absences, but they got clutch baskets from key contributors in crunch time and held on for the 122-115 victory.
While Nikola Vucevic dominated this game against the small Pacers, it was rookie Ayo Dosunmu who came up with the biggest bucket of the game. With the Bulls up three points in the final minute, Ayo delivered the dagger and one of the very best moments of the season:
This poster dunk came after the Pacers made one last charge into the game after it looked like the Bulls had put them away. Just minutes earlier, an Ayo triple put Chicago up 12 points with just under five minutes to play. However, the Bulls found themselves only ahead by four with less than a minute to go. With their defense struggling, especially when it came to containing Caris LeVert, they needed some good offensive looks down the stretch.
Vucevic came up big with a bucket off a dish from Ayo to make it a six-point game again, but the Bulls suffered another defensive breakdown and gave up a wide-open 3-pointer to Justin Holiday, cutting the deficit down to three. Chicago still needed one more bucket to put the game away, and that’s when Ayo went to work. He looked like he was going to give the ball over to DeMar DeRozan at the top of the arc but instead drove into the lane and proceeded to rise up and slam down the thunderous dunk over two Pacers. It was the perfect exclamation point on a hard-fought road win.
Once again starting at the point guard spot, Dosunmu had a double-double with 15 points and a career-high 14 assists. It was another solid performance from the rookie as he continues to step up when Chicago needs him the most, and this was especially impressive after his crunch-time gaffes in Toronto. Ayo’s improvement in playmaking has really been on display as of late with the increase in assist numbers. It will be great for Chicago moving forward if Ayo can keep getting better offensively while also being a solid perimeter defender on the other end.
Vucevic continues to light it up offensively for Chicago in this recent stretch of games. He put a stat line of 36 points, 17 rebounds and four assists while going 16-of-21 from the field. Against a Pacers team that went small for most of the game, Vucevic was able to get any shot he wanted from the post. Chicago found the mismatch early and kept feeding him the rock. He was also a force inside with three blocks in the span of about a minute in the fourth quarter.
DeMar DeRozan also had another marvelous night offensively, scoring 31 points to go along with seven assists. It was a typical DeRozan game as he got to his spots in the mid-range along with drawing contact to earn free throws. DeRozan shot nine attempts from the charity stripe, more than any other player in the game, and made all of them. He did uncharacteristically struggle with turnovers, committing six of them, but it was DeRozan who got the offense settled down when things got frantic in the fourth quarter as Indiana kept hanging around. He hit some big shots in the fourth, including a wide-open shot from the elbow to put Chicago up six with 2:20 left.
Javonte Green continued his impressive scoring run since coming back from injury. He scored 16 points, making it four games in a row with double figures and five in his last six. Green was also involved in the crunch-time action as he drove into the lane with the shot clock winding down and flipped up a floater that went in with 1:08 left. He also added three rebounds and two assists.
Troy Brown Jr. got the start with LaVine out, and he actually had a solid game with nine points, six rebounds and a game-high plus-17 in the box score.
Billy Donovan went four deep into his bench. Matt Thomas had 10 points in 27 minutes, with two of his makes coming from downtown, though he got up eight attempts from deep and struggled on defense. Malcolm Hill had five points and four rebounds but also struggled with his shot. Chicago’s backup bigs played a combined 11 minutes as Vucevic had the hot hand offensively. Tony Bradley made the most of his time on the floor, making an impact on the glass with six rebounds.
Chicago as a team shot well from the field with a percentage of 54.4% but struggled from 3, shooting just 23.1%. Thanks mostly to Vucevic, the Bulls outscored Indiana 70-54 in the paint. After giving up the ball numerous times against Toronto, the Bulls were better with the basketball, committing just nine turnovers. The rebounding effort was there as well with Chicago giving up just 10 offensive boards as compared to the 22 they let the Raptors have.
Indiana was led by the 42 of LeVert, who had an extremely efficient night. He went 19-of-26 from the field and was hitting all different types of shots. It was all him as the Pacers were missing most of their key rotation players. The Bulls started doubling him in the second half, but he still made a bunch of plays, including in the fourth quarter. Terry Taylor contributed a double-double of 21 points and 14 rebounds to help out LeVert.
It wasn’t pretty and the defense was still troubling, but Chicago was able to pull out the win on the road after the heartbreaking loss in Toronto. They got humongous nights from their two available stars, while their prized rookie continues to impress in ways not many people could have imagined. Even with all of the injuries, the Bulls got it done.
Next comes another back-to-back, and it’s against a very difficult set of opponents. Chicago plays the Philadelphia 76ers at the United Center on Sunday, followed by the Phoenix Suns coming to town on Monday night.