Two nights after being run off the Chase Center floor by the Golden State Warriors, the Chicago Bulls bounced back with a 100-90 win at the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday.
"Good teams always respond," said DeMar DeRozan. "It was great to respond against a team that's playing really well. Proud of the guys."
The result snapped a seven-game winning streak for the Clippers, and moved the Bulls to 9-4 on the season.
Here are 10 observations:
1. Billy Donovan went with a fresh look out of the gate in the Bulls’ second game without starting center Nikola Vučević. Tony Bradley again started at the five, while Alex Caruso slid into Javonte Green’s place in the first unit, drawing primary defensive responsibilities on Paul George.
That five-man lineup hadn’t played a minute together before Sunday, but sprinted out to an 18-10 start in this game’s opening seven minutes.
"I thought from a spacing standpoint (Caruso fit with the starters)," Donovan said postgame, "and maybe using Javonte and Derrick (Jones Jr.)'s energy out there (off the benc), athletically, where we can switch and try to trap some and be disruptive and try to get them a little bit more active. It's a little bit unconventional, but I felt like it played to those guys' strengths."
2. In another rotation wrinkle, Derrick Jones Jr. manned the backup center spot over Alize Johnson, offering the Bulls increased switchability with the second unit (which featured Troy Brown Jr. as its ninth man). In a promising development, the Bulls’ reserve-heavy lineups anchored by DeRozan didn’t let up at the end of the first quarter, expanding their mid-period advantage to 30-17 entering the second.
The formula for that group went exactly according to plan. With the help of Caruso, Ayo Dosunmu, Green and Jones Jr.’s defensive disruptiveness, the Bulls forced 10 Clippers turnovers in the opening frame (scoring 14 points off them), while DeRozan led the way offensively with 12 points. Those were largely accrued by way of splendid shot-making from the midrange, which is exactly what the Bulls need from him while surrounded by such limited spacing.
3. By halftime, DeRozan had 21 points on 8-for-10 shooting, 1-for-1 from 3-point range and 4-for-4 from the free-throw line. Playing roughly 30 minutes from his hometown of Compton, Calif., he looked at ease getting to his spots coming off two down offensive games in a row — by his lofty standards — against the Mavericks and Warriors.
By night’s end, DeRozan had 35 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists on an efficient 12-for-16 shooting line that featured some big buckets down the stretch. It’s DeRozan’s fourth 30-point outing in a Bulls uniform, and fifth game with more than 10 free-throw attempts.
In addition to the typical sentimentality that comes with playing close to home, DeRozan noted postgame it was his first time playing in Los Angeles since his father passed away.
"He was at every game," DeRozan said. "Tonight was kind of one of those games that, I wish he was here."
4. The Bulls led 54-45 at the halftime break, but that advantage could have been gaudier. They shot 50 percent from the field and 6-for-13 from 3 in the opening two quarters to the Clippers’ 36.1 percent field-goal shooting, 4-for-15 from behind the arc. But 13 charity-strip trips — all makes — kept Los Angeles within striking distance.
Donovan spoke at length after the Mavericks game about the Bulls needing to prioritize fouling less at the defensive end. Los Angeles was plus-eight from the foul line for the game, making all 21 of their free-throw attempts as the Bulls shot 13-for-14.
5. Zach LaVine came out of the halftime locker room hot, scoring 8 points in the first three minutes of the third quarter on a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer, pull-up triple and alley-oop dunk. He scored 21 of his eventual 29 points in the second half, with 13 coming in the third quarter.
6. That period, though, was a shaky one, overall. The Clippers won the frame 26-23, holding the Bulls to 30 percent shooting and forcing them into five turnovers. Early in the fourth quarter, a high-arcing floater by George put the home side in front for the first time since the 8:17 mark of the first quarter.
7. That stagnant offensive stretch for the Bulls coincided with the Clippers heavily double-teaming DeRozan. He saw at least two defenders on every touch, especially between the late-third and early-fourth quarter, with Los Angeles’ shell resembling a box-and-one at times.
But Donovan turned to LaVine for an early rotation turn — subbing him in after a timeout at the 9:58 mark of the fourth with the Bulls trailing 78-77 — and it opened the floor up. The Bulls sprinted out to a 9-0 run out of that timeout, fueled by two DeRozan jumpers, a driving lay-in by Bradley (assisted by DeRozan) and a corner 3 by LaVine. The Clippers would slice their deficit to four points minutes afterward, but a DeRozan and-one floater and another LaVine 3 helped the visitors keep their distance. The Bulls won the final 10 minutes of the fourth quarter 23-12.
8. Making his first start as a Bull, Caruso continued his impressive start to the season. He played a major role in George’s stilted night at the offensive end, which saw the Clippers star shoot 7-for-25 from the field. He pulled down 9 rebounds and handed out 6 assists. He thunderously swatted Terance Mann in the second quarter and swiped 3 steals otherwise.
That Caruso had such all-encompassing impact while picking up his fourth personal foul early in the third quarter, and shooting a woeful 2-for-11, made the performance all the more impressive. Caruso led the Bulls with 39 minutes played and a +16 plus-minus.
"He is one of the highest-IQ players I've played with," DeRozan said of Caruso. "Just to have someone with that natural IQ on the court, it's just gonna make so many things easier for you, offensively and defensively. He kind of anchored us, especially defensively, taking on the challenge, guarding PG (George). You gotta feed off that."
9. This was the ninth game in 13 tries that DeRozan and LaVine each eclipsed 20 points, combining for 64 of the Bulls’ 100 points in the process. LaVine made six of the Bulls 11 3-pointers, and on nearly 50-percent accuracy.
Lonzo Ball was the only other Bull to crack double-figures, but he scored just 10 points on 4-for-14 shooting, 2-for-8 inside the 3-point arc (Ball is shooting 42.2 percent from 3-point range and 34.7 percent from 2-point range on the season.)
10. The Bulls’ defensive identity returned in the bounceback win. They held a red-hot Clippers team to 35.8 percent shooting, and turned 20 Los Angeles turnovers into 25 points. They also swiped 9 steals, and held the rebound margin to 52-49 (in favor of the Clippers) despite playing at a significant size disadvantage for most of the contest.
In addition to Caruso’s connective contributions, Green had an impactful block and forced turnover late in the third quarter, Bradley and Jones Jr. had a steal and a block apiece, and Ball snagged 3 steals. Though small, Donovan cited the Bulls’ switchability, particularly with the reserves, as a strength.
That's yet another quality win for the Bulls, and a well-timed one at that.
Next up: Back at Staples Center Monday for a matchup with the Lakers.