Last night, our Chicago Bulls actually beat a bad team, for the first time all week!
It’s hard to get too excited about a game where the Bulls once again let a massive double-digit second half lead (25 points) evaporate to five points around the four-minute mark of the game’s fourth quarter. But, unlike some miserable contests against the Indiana Pacers (who, at a 1-9 record without All-Star point guard Tyrese Haliburton, sure qualify as bad to me) and Charlotte Hornets, Chicago actually held on in this game and fought back, building their lead back to defeat a young and athletic Orlando Magic team, in Orlando, 128-109.
Four Bulls starters — DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine, Nikola Vucevic and Patrick Williams — accounted for 106 of Chicago’s 128 points, in yet another testament to the Chicago front office’s apparent inability to add reliable scoring depth.
Things looked relatively rosy through the game’s first half, as Chicago leaned on a pass-happy offense to drum up a fairly impressive 60-47 edge at the break. The Bulls’ ‘Big Three’ priciest players led the way, as one might expect.
Coming off a pair of absolutely brutal games, Zach LaVine looked much better, both inside and out (but especially in):
Flight 8 ✈ pic.twitter.com/UqRKHU5nBc— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) January 29, 2023
You know who else had a terrific game? Patrick Williams, employing all the tantalizing two-way promise he’s shown, very fleetingly, off and on for parts of the last three seasons:
Everything you've ever wanted from Patrick Williams in a play pic.twitter.com/0TxC5SkLky— Will Gottlieb (@Will_Gottlieb) January 29, 2023
Vucevic, meanwhile, showed off his excellent-for-a-big handle throughout the night, perhaps most notably during this pass to Alex Caruso on a cutting drive:
18 assists on 31 FGM tonight pic.twitter.com/Y2Wa8QUwh0— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) January 29, 2023
Chicago led by as much as 25 points in the frame, but given what happened in the Bulls’ last two second-half advantages over lottery-bound teams, that edge felt much more tenuous than it should have. Appropriately enough, it was. The Magic went on a 17-6 run to close out the quarter, cutting Chicago’s lead to within 14, 95-81 heading into the game’s final frame. Deja vu much?
In just 98 seconds at the start of the fourth, the Magic closed the gap even further, shrinking the Bulls’ edge to 98-90 on a 9-3 run to open the period (and a 26-9 run overall), sparked by defense and a dynamite night from reserve Orlando center Moe Wagner. Here’s a bit of that defense, capitalizing on some sloppy Chicago passing:
ppl forget it's a cole world @The_ColeAnthony pic.twitter.com/YqLyzfalMj— Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) January 29, 2023
If we didn’t already know how mid this Bulls team was, it’d be a bit disconcerting to see Billy Donovan leaning so heavily on the playmaking of a 36-year-old Goran Dragic for major fourth quarter minutes. But Chicago has been absolutely desperate for passing help, which the Dragon readily supplied.
Wagner and Cole Anthony were a big part of Orlando’s late-game rally, with their scoring efforts at one point cutting the Bulls’ lead to within five around the four-minute mark.
What in the...Cole Anthony with a transition windmill pic.twitter.com/8fwybjw3LL— Will Gottlieb (@Will_Gottlieb) January 29, 2023
It was at this juncture that I started prepping a draft of this recap that was going to mostly be an angry rant about how the Bulls might be way worse than merely mid.
Instead, Patrick Williams (!), Zach LaVine, and of course DeMar DeRozan proved especially critical for the Bulls down the home stretch for once. Paw had a wonderfully active final frame, scoring eight of his 16 total points in the period off a combination of drives and triples.
Pat is delivering in crunchtime.@PatrickLW4 | @NBCSChicago pic.twitter.com/G92cZiqWQ6— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) January 29, 2023
Donovan closed with a lineup of that trio, plus Vucevic and Caruso, who chipped in more as passers than as scorers late.
So, fine, we’re back to semi-mid. I think there’s a 50/50 chance we still miss the Eastern Conference play-in tournament entirely if, as expected, the Bulls punt on their second straight trade deadline and refuse to either accrue assets for the future of a team going nowhere fast, or at least help surround the team’s best players with better bench help.
Speaking of the Bulls bench, there’s a reason Derrick Jones Jr. (who left the game after knocking knees with Paolo Banchero in the third quarter, before returning in the fourth) and Javonte Green (out indefinitely after a knee scope) keep getting hurt, you know: they’re shooting guards playing most of their minutes in the Bulls’ frontcourt spots! It was cute to see them emerge as useful small-ball options for Donovan in this department last year, but the charm has worn off now that they’re the go-to choices (when healthy) at reserve power forward and center, respectively.
DeRozan had a... perfect night from deep, going 5-of-5 from beyond the arc. He finished with 32 points on 11-of-14 shooting from the floor and 5-of-6 shooting from the charity stripe, eight assists, two boards and a block. LaVine also notched 32 points, on 11-of-18 shooting (3-of-7 from deep) from the floor and 7-of-7 shooting from the free throw line. Vucevic finished with 26 points on 11-of-18 shooting from the field, 13 rebounds, six assists and two blocks. As a team, the Bulls shot stunningly well from three-point land, going 16-of-35 from deep (45.7%).
The victory improves Chicago’s record to a 23-26 mark on the season. The team will get a bit of a schedule reprieve before its next battle, Tuesday against an ascendant LA Clippers club that has now won four straight.