10 observations: DeRozan winner continues Bulls' streak


For the first time this season, the Chicago Bulls have won three games in a row.

In fact, Friday's last-second road victory over the New York Knicks, which came by a score of 118-117, marks the first time the Bulls have rattled off three consecutive wins since February.

So, yes, even if the result only moves the Bulls to 14-18 on the season and a half-game out of the final Eastern Conference play-in spot, there is much to like about where this team is currently trending.

Here are 10 observations:

1. The bottom line of this one is the Bulls' star players — Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vučević — played like it on Friday.

LaVine set the tone from the jump with 12 first-quarter points and maintained his efficiency throughout the evening, finishing with a team-high 33 points on 12-for-22 shooting, 4-for-9 from 3-point range. 

DeRozan added 25 points, handed out 10 assists and played hero in the closing seconds, stroking a midrange jumper through landing-space contact by Quentin Grimes that put the Bulls ahead by one with 0.4 seconds to play.

And Vučević, while quiet down the stretch and party to a handful of Mitchell Robinson offensive rebounds, logged his 15th double-double of the season with 21 points and 12 rebounds, and also notched his fourth consecutive game with multiple 3-pointers by going 3-for-7 from that distance.

This trio's inconsistent on-court synergy and tone-setting ability has been a theme of the Bulls' swoons this season. But all three have coalesced and carried the load during the Bulls' current streak, on Friday combining for 79 of the team's 118 points (and marking the only Bulls players to score in double-figures).

2. The Bulls' woeful record in "clutch" games — 4-11 entering play — has also been a defining statistic of the team's underperformance to this point in the season. But with Wednesday's Ayo Dosunmu buzzer beater in Atlanta, and Friday's DeRozan game-winner, the Bulls are beginning to flip the script on some of their most gut-wrenching losses.

The catharsis of Wednesday's win was obvious. Dosunmu's flip-in to beat the fourth-quarter horn so resembled AJ Griffin's buzzer-beater against the Bulls — also in Atlanta — on Dec. 11 that it was impossible to not think of the former result as comeuppance.

But remember, too, the game the Bulls dropped to the Magic at the United Center on Nov. 18? When, in a game Billy Donovan benched LaVine down the stretch, two missed free throws by Vučević directly led to an unlikely Jalen Suggs game-winning 3-pointer?

In this one, it was the Knicks who let a winnable game slip away at the charity stripe. A nearly 80-percent free throw shooting team entering play, New York went 15-for-26 (57.7 percent) from the line on Friday and 9-for-15 (60 percent) in the fourth quarter. In the final 66 seconds, Grimes and Jalen Brunson combined to miss four consecutive freebies, which opened the door for DeRozan.

3. But that does not mean the Bulls did not earn this win. In addition to timely shotmaking, it was the defense keyed the stretch run.

Between a Julius Randle 3-pointer at the 6:05 mark of the fourth quarter (which put the Knicks ahead 108-102) and a Randle layup at 1:45, the Bulls did not allow a made field goal, closing a six-point gap to tie the game 112-112. That stretch featured Patrick Williams blocking a Randle floater, Ayo Dosunmu tipping a steal away from RJ Barrett and turning it into a fastbreak layup, and DeRozan drawing a key charge on Barrett while the Knicks forward foul-hunted on a jump shot attempt.

4. The Knicks' struggles from the charity stripe were ironic, because they once again torched the Bulls from 3-point land. They shot 16-for-35 from deep in this one, moving their season-long mark against the Bulls to 51-for-113 (45.1 percent) across three matchups — nearly 13 percentage points higher than their 3-point percentage against all other opponents (32.5).

Some responsibility for that scalding shooting falls on the Bulls' defense, which is predicated on heavy-help principles on the interior and entered play 28th in the NBA in opponent 3-point percentage (37.7). But the Knicks also made a good deal of contested back-breakers across these teams' games against one another.

5. Once again, the Knicks enjoyed a sizable advantage on the offensive glass, pulling down 12 offensive rebounds and converting them into 20 second-chance points (against 11 for Chicago). They pulled down 15 offensive rebounds apiece in each of these teams' first two meetups.

6. However, Donovan did make a rotational tweak to attempt to mitigate the Knicks' size advantage. For the first time this season, the Bulls' coach played Vučević and Andre Drummond on the court together for two stints — bridging the first and second, then third and fourth quarters.

The big picture of those minutes was a -2 point differential. But it was certainly a worthy adjustment, especially with Javonte Green and Derrick Jones Jr. sidelined and nursing injuries.

On the positive side, while the Knicks won the glass for the game, they did not dominate the offensive boards in the early second quarter or early fourth quarter — when Tom Thibodeau typically plays 7-footers Isaiah Hartenstein and Jericho Sims together. And the Bulls even generated some second chance opportunities of their own in their double-big minutes; by game's end, they had 11 offensive rebounds, nearly offsetting the Knicks' 12, with Drummond pulling down five offensive boards (two in the fourth) on his own.

On the negative side, despite added size, the Bulls' defense was a bit lumbering with two bigs on the floor. That dynamic also made the Bulls less flexible in pick-and-roll coverage; with two drop bigs to attack, the Knicks' slashing and shooting led to a scoring spurt early in the second. Donovan ran some zone with that group in the second half.

But overall, the move made sense given this specific matchup and the Bulls' personnel.

7. In addition to Drummond's impact (six points, eight rebounds), the Bulls received timely bench contributions from Goran Dragić and Coby White. Dragić scored nine points in the first half to keep the Bulls afloat during the Knicks' second quarter run, while White drilled two 3-pointers in the opening minutes of the fourth to again keep the contest competitive after New York pulled ahead by as many as seven.

With Green, Jones and Alex Caruso (shoulder sprain, concussion protocol) all sidelined, such performances were needed.

8. Those absences, however, did show up in the wing defense department. With Williams assigned to Randle (29 points, 10 rebounds), DeRozan and LaVine were left to handle primary responsibilities on Barrett, who went off for a season-high 44 points (two shy of his career-high of 46) while shooting 14-for-20, 6-for-6 from 3-point range and earning 13 trips to the free throw line.

While DeRozan and LaVine, as mentioned, each had their moments defensively, Barrett's hot shooting and physical drive game was a thorn in the Bulls' side all night. Fortunately, they did enough to spoil the performance.

9. The Bulls shot 48.4 percent from the field, 14-for-31 (45.2 percent) from 3-point range and handed out 24 assists while committing just four turnovers in this one. That is a recipe for success, particularly in the ball security department.

10. The Bulls are now 3-0 since the season reached its low point in Minnesota, where the team allowed 150 points in a loss to the Timberwolves that sparked plenty of strong exchanges in the locker room.

LaVine, who was the subject of multiple teammates' ire, is averaging 25.3 points, five assists, five rebounds, shooting 52.9/42.1/87.5 percent in those games, and has mostly played within the flow of the offense and supplied active defense all the while.

And, playing shorthanded, the Bulls notched a road win over not only one of the hottest teams in the association, but a group that beat them twice in a row at the United Center last week. In fact, each of the Bulls' three wins in the streak have been of the road variety, with the first two coming as part of a Miami-Atlanta back-to-back.

Could the Bulls' season truly be turning around? Time will tell. But the early returns are strong.

Next up: Back home for the Houston Rockets on Monday, the day after Christmas.

Click here to follow the Bulls Talk Podcast.

Contact Us