10 observations: Bulls' bench sparks rout of Hornets


Following a thrilling comeback win at the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday, the Chicago Bulls needed only take care of business at home against the Charlotte Hornets to pull their record back over .500.

And they did just that, winning 106-88 to move to 5-4 on the 2022-23 season.

Here are 10 observations:

1. One of Billy Donovan's primary focuses of late has been limiting poor defensive starts, but it was the offense that sputtered early in this one. After jumping ahead 10-4 in the opening minutes, Charlotte pulled ahead 18-14 at the 3:43 mark of the first quarter, when Donovan called for time following a James Bouknight 3-pointer in transition. At that juncture, the Bulls were shooting 5-for-14 as a team.

2. Yet again, it was the bench that steadied the ship. Thirteen first half points by Javonte Green (3-for-3 from 3-point range) and 10 points and three assists by Goran Dragić, including a nifty off-the-back self-pass for a layup, helped grease the wheels of a Bulls offense that broke out in the second quarter:

After the Hornets trimmed a nine-point halftime deficit to as few as three in the first few minutes of the third quarter, the reserves again stepped up. In the final 4 minutes, 45 seconds of the quarter, a lineup of Dragić, LaVine, Alex Caruso, Green and Jones outscored the Hornets 13-4 to turn a 71-66 lead to 84-70 entering the final frame. Aided by the defensive activity of that group, particularly the relentless Green (two steals and blocks apiece for the game) and Jones tandem, the Bulls forced eight turnovers in that period.

By game's end, the bench amassed 49 points on cumulative 17-for-26 shooting, led by season highs by Green (17 points on 7-for-7 shooting to lead the team) and Dragić (16 points in 15 minutes). And they played their third straight game without Andre Drummond and second without Coby White.

3. After a season-best performance Tuesday night in Brooklyn, Donovan strongly — and publicly — implored Williams to continue building with assertive, two-way play. The third-year forward obliged 24 hours later.

It began with a hard roll for a layup, then a slashing dunk, for the Bulls' first four points of the game. But Williams was not finished there. He made all five of his field goal attempts, pulled down four rebounds and blocked two shots in the first half, exhibiting force around the basket on offense and activity on defense, a productive recipe that culminated in a game-high +17 plus-minus at the break.

In the second half, he added another strong dunk and a 3-pointer to finish with 16 in the scoring column, his fourth double-digit output in five games, to go with five rebounds. And although he finished with just one assist, he uncorked a few live dribble laser passes as well. All signs of a player playing with transformed confidence.

4. DeRozan (2-for-11) and LaVine (4-for-16) both endured off shooting nights on the second leg of a back-to-back that saw DeRozan shoot 8-for-21 and LaVine erupt for 20 fourth-quarter points on the front end. While it is obviously never good for the Bulls' two most prolific scorers to simultaneously struggle, it was encouraging to see them combining to shoot 6-for-27 offset by contributions further down the depth chart.

5. For LaVine, it should be noted, this marked the first time this season he played in both games of a back-to-back set. While that's good sign of his current fitness level, Donovan said pregame the team's medical staff will continue to manage his status on a day-to-day basis. Of LaVine's 12 misses, three came at the rim (1-for-4 shooting), an area of his game he is still re-finding.

6. At halftime, the Bulls had 17 assists on 21 made baskets, were shooting 9-for-16 (56.3 percent) from 3-point range and had placed four scorers in double-figures — Green, Nikola Vučević (12 points), Williams (11) and Dragić. At their best, the ball was pinging and shots were falling:

Although there were arid stretches in the first and third quarters, the Bulls finished with 28 assists and an impressive 14-for-31 (45.2 percent) shooting line from 3-point range, improving on each of those season averages.

7. Ayo Dosunmu was one of the stars of Tuesday's comeback win in Brooklyn, his first back from the thoracic contusion that sidelined him one game. But he struggled against the Hornets, missing his first seven shot attempts (finishing 3-for-10) and coughing up a pair of turnovers in the third quarter created by Charlotte ball pressure.

But as in the cases of DeRozan and LaVine, it was refreshing to see the Bulls notch a blowout victory even on an off night for their starting point guard.

8. A nit to pick in a 18-point win: The Bulls' transition defense still has too many lapses, a point Donovan has belabored early in the season. The Hornets posted 10 fastbreak points in the first quarter and 26 on the game, routinely finding open space behind the 3-point line.

9. While also not the finest shooting effort — 5-for-16 — Vučević posted his fourth double-double of the season, and third consecutive double-digit rebound output, with 14 points and 13 rebounds.

10. With LaMelo Ball and Terry Rozier sidelined, plus Gordon Hayward exiting the game early with a shoulder injury, you knew one random Hornet was going to burn the Bulls in this one. Kelly Oubre Jr. got the honors, scoring 24 points and burying five 3-pointers. His most torrid stretch came in the first 2 minutes, 34 seconds of the third quarter, when he rained three 3-pointers to, for a moment, trim the Bulls' nine-point halftime lead to three.

Next up for the Bulls: At the Boston Celtics Friday.

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