10 observations: Ayo Dosunmu buzzer beater stuns Hawks

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For the second time in a row, a game between the Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks was decided by a flip-in at the horn.

But this time, by way of an Ayo Dosunmu buzzer beater, it was the Bulls who had the edge for a 110-108 win that closed a sweep of a road back-to-back and boosted them to 13-18 on the season — 2-0 since the campaign reached its nadir in Sunday's blowout loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Here are 10 observations:

1. Tuesday's bounceback win over the Miami Heat featured a blueprint of balanced scoring and active defense that the Bulls must repeat consistently if they want to turn their season around. On Wednesday, the latter was noticeably present to start. The Bulls set a physical tone from the jump against the Hawks, rotating sharply and holding non-Trae Young players to nine points and 4-for-14 shooting (1-for-7 from 3-point range) in the first quarter.

(The reason the non-Young distinction must be used is because the Hawks' star point guard put up 16 points and shot 4-for-7 from 3-point range in the first quarter to keep his team within shouting distance — a 30-25 deficit — by the end of the frame. But the good news is those 3-pointers were mostly amply deep or heavily-contested pulls. Great players will do that. But his scalding start was not a product of defensive breakdowns by the Bulls.)

2. In turn, the Bulls pulled ahead by as many as 18 points in the second quarter. By halftime, they were shooting 57.5 percent and had forced 10 Hawks turnovers — a recipe for success, and a 61-51 lead. That marked just the Bulls' eighth halftime lead of the season (they entered play 7-0 in such games) and first on the road.

3. But the team also suffered a brutal blow when Alex Caruso exited in the second quarter after taking a hard hit on a collision with De'Andre Hunter. The collision occurred as both players lunged for a loose ball, but Caruso got the worst of the exchange; he remained on the floor for the ensuing Bulls fastbreak until DeMar DeRozan committed an intentional foul to stop play.

Caruso did not return to the contest and was initially diagnosed with a right shoulder sprain. Now, according to Donovan and Bulls PR, he is in concussion protocol.

4. With Caruso sidelined, Young ran wild in the final 2:29 of the second quarter, scoring 13 points by way of two 3-pointers, an and-one layup and four free throws. To begin the third quarter, Ayo Dosunmu joined the first unit and drew the Young assignment.

While Young shot 2-for-10 in the second half, the Hawks' offense was markedly more efficient after Caruso's injury. Although the Bulls eventually prevailed, Atlanta scored 70 points in the final 26:29 of the game (15 more than the Bulls' 55) and shot 48.9 percent with 14 assists in the second half. Regardless of the result, it was a good night for Caruso's on-off differential; he was a +19 in 11 first half minutes.

5. The Hawks, in fact, pulled ahead by as many eight points midway through the fourth quarter, and matters appeared to be unraveling for the Bulls. AJ Griffin, the hero of the Hawks' win at the buzzer earlier this month, hit three 3-pointers in the first four minutes of the fourth, Bogdan Bogdanović heated up from beyond the arc as well (10 points in the fourth), and the Bulls' offense ground to a halt, with DeRozan, LaVine and Vučević taking turns but failing to string scores together.

6. There were two pivotal moments down the stretch in which the Bulls could have let this game slip. But credit Billy Donovan for two decisions that staunched bleeding at respective points.

First, the Bulls' coach made the decision to pull Vučević from the game for two minutes after his starting center had to be restrained by Dosunmu and DeRozan while barking at an official for a perceived foul call. Vučević narrowly avoided a technical, and Donovan replaced him with Andre Drummond for a spell to allow him to cool off. In the roughly two minutes Vučević was off the floor, the Bulls trimmed a 100-92 deficit to 100-98, in part thanks to a putback layup by Drummond on the offensive glass — one of his 11 rebounds in just 15 minutes as he reclaimed his rotation spot with Derrick Jones Jr. sidelined.

Then, with the Hawks ahead by two, Donovan wisely used his coach's challenge to negate a 3-shot foul by DeRozan on Young, which also would have fouled DeRozan out of the game. The overturn was an easy one — Young landed cleanly on the shot before his feet got incidentally tied up with DeRozan after the play — but credit to Donovan to hanging on to his challenge for that moment.

7. The Bulls continued to trade buckets with the Hawks, then won the game with a string of timely plays inside the final two minutes. Trailing 104-102, the Bulls mustered a stop on Dejounte Murray in isolation, then LaVine came back the other way and nailed a midrange jumper to take the lead. DeRozan forced Young into a missed stepback jumper on the ensuing possession, then LaVine hit another jumper for a 108-106 advantage with 44 seconds to play.

Young came back the other way and dumped off to Onyeka Okongwu for a bucket, then DeRozan rimmed in a midrange jumper, then Young immediately pushed back for another lob to Okongwu — inexplicably beating the Bulls down the court after a made basket to tie the game with four seconds remaining.

8. That is when Dosunmu, who had been sliding from the rotation with a season-low five minutes on Tuesday but submitted 34 minutes in this one, swooped in for the biggest play of his young NBA career.

As Dosunmu noted in his walkoff interview, the Bulls' last-second play was designed to get DeRozan a shot off. He did just that, but missed badly. And Dosunmu heeded his coaching staff by crashing the glass hard despite operating as the inbounder on the play, corralling DeRozan's miss after it deflected off of John Collins' hands. From there, he put it on the rim at the last second and watched it find bottom:

"I knew before the play I wanted to try and make an impact on the game," Dosunmu said. "I knew DeMar was going to shoot it. Before we left the huddle, the coaching staff said just crash. I wanted to try and make a winning play."

9. In what has felt like all too rare of an occurrence, the Bulls made enough winning plays down the stretch to pull out a close game. The "Big Three" of DeRozan (10 points), LaVine (six) and Vučević (four) combined for 20 of the team's 29 fourth quarter points — and for the third game in a row, all three scored 20-plus for the game. Patrick Williams had a strong putback to spark the Bulls' eight-point comeback midway through the period, and confidently stepped into a midrange jumper with 1:49 to play that kept it a two-point game.

With the result, the Bulls move to 4-11 in "clutch" games this season. And it is made all the more significant by the fact it comes directly on the heels of an embarrassing blowout loss to the Timberwolves on Sunday, and reports of team turmoil swirling ahead of Tuesday's victory over the Heat.

As Donovan has called for all season, the Bulls are showing resolve.

10. With Goran Dragić, Jones Jr. and Javonte Green sidelined due to injury, and Caruso leaving the contest partway through, Dalen Terry saw some non-garbage time tick during the bridge minutes between the end of the third and beginning of the fourth quarter. He did not contribute much — a defensive rebound and shooting foul on Bogdanović. But it was interesting to see him get run, especially given he jetted in from the G League Showcase in Las Vegas early this morning.

Next up for the Bulls: At the New York Knicks on Friday.

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