The Chicago Bulls mounted a thrilling comeback Thursday night at the United Center, erasing a 16-point first-half deficit to topple the Clippers 135-130 in overtime.
The result moves the Bulls to 45-32 on the season and, for a night, cements their standing as the Eastern Conference's fifth seed.
Here are 10 observations:
1. Let’s start with the headline: DeMar DeRozan scored a season-high 50 points, and as he has been so many times this season, was at the heart of a spirited Bulls run late in the game.
It wasn’t all positive. DeRozan coughed up what could have been a costly turnover 71 seconds left in regulation and the Bulls trailing 112-109. And with an opportunity to win the game in regulation, clanked a free throw to send the game to overtime — his first miss from the charity stripe in 11 tries.
“After the game he (DeRozan) said, 'Sorry for missing the free throw,’” Billy Donovan said postgame. “We wouldn't have been in OT if it wasn't for the things he did.”
But in that extra period, DeRozan was magnificent, scoring 10 points 3-for-4 shooting (4-for-4 from the foul line). He tallied a whopping 27 points between the fourth quarter and extra time to fuel a frenzied comeback.
2. It’s worth zooming in on the final seven seconds of regulation, because they were so wild a screenwriter couldn’t have concocted the sequence of events.
First, with the Clippers ahead 118-115 and 7.2 seconds to play, Terance Mann committed an away-from-the-ball foul on DeRozan, granting the Bulls a free technical free throw to cut to 118-116. Then, on the ensuing inbounds play, Paul George fouled DeRozan as he hoisted a 3-point attempt, sending the Bulls’ star to the line with a chance to win the game.
“MVP” chants showered him as he made two of three.
3. The 3-point line was nearly a swing statistic in this game. The Clippers shot a relatively scalding 16-for-36 (44.4 percent) from behind the arc, while the Bulls went 10-for-29 (34.5 percent).
For the Bulls, that continued two troubling trends. They entered play Thursday 34.5 percent from 3-point range since the All-Star break — 22nd in the NBA and a far-cry from their second-ranked percentage of 37.6 through 59 games.
It’s one of many areas the team badly misses Lonzo Ball, who has shot a career-best 42.3 percent from long range (on 7.4 attempts per game) in his 35 appearances this season.
4. And at the other end, the Clippers routinely found open looks by resorting to pick-and-roll and attacking the back end of scrambled rotations. For the game, they shot 7-for-12 on corner 3s and 13-for-18 (72.2 percent) at the rim — two primary areas precise passing can burn rotating defenses.
5. With the game on the line, in fact, George attacked Nikola Vučević on switches that derived from screen-and-roll with Ivica Zubac, netting a 3-point play and floater. That prompted Donovan to turn to Javonte Green in Vučević’s place as a defensive substitute with 1:05 to play.
The ensuing possession led to a missed Marcus Morris jump shot, and, even after Robert Covington reeled in an offensive rebound to extend it, didn’t lead to points. The Bulls did not allow the Clippers a made field goal in the final 2:25 of the fourth quarter, though they scored six at the foul line.
6. Morris got off to a scorching offensive start, scoring 14 points on 6-for-7 shooting in the first half, largely by way of isolating smaller Bulls defenders.
So, Donovan turned to Patrick Williams over Alex Caruso to start the second half in search of more perimeter size. And although the second-year forward didn’t attempt a field goal until the fourth quarter, he more than repaid the favor by night’s end.
Williams scored 10 points between the fourth quarter and overtime, pulled down 12 rebounds for the game, and tallied two blocks and a steal to boot to submit his most complete performance of the season. Those 10 points included two corner 3s and cutting dunks apiece at crucial moments, which provide a blueprint for his ideal offensive role.
Plus, he finished with a career-high 37 minutes, playing all but 13 seconds between the fourth and overtime, in his seventh game back from wrist surgery rehabilitation.
7. Caruso has recently popped up on the Bulls' injury report — always listed as "probable" — with a lower back contusion, and in this one, grabbed at his back on multiple occasions. He also continued to sport a wrap on the area in his minutes on the bench.
It's not anything more than something to monitor for the time being, but Donovan noted postgame he has tried to mindful of Caruso's minutes load in light of the ailment.
8. For the second straight game, Vučević got off to a hot start, burying two 3-pointers and a midrange jumper for the Bulls’ first eight points. His involvement waxed and waned a bit throughout, but he came up big with a massive 3-pointer down the stretch and scored 10 points between the fourth quarter and overtime to finish with 22 — his second straight 20-point game.
9. Coby White's cold shooting streak continued with a 1-for-7 line from 3-point range — multiple of which were open looks. He is now 2-for-17 from distance in his last four games.
10. This was an important win for the Bulls. It pulls them three games ahead of the Cavaliers, who inhabit the top play-in spot, and moves the Bulls’ magic number to clinch a playoff berth above that fray to two.
Plus, even with George returned, the Clippers represented the last below-.500 opponent on the Bulls’ schedule. The Heat, Bucks, Celtics, Hornets and Timberwolves await.
Next up: Home for the Heat on Saturday.