Anatomy of a comeback: Bulls use defense, new lineup to rally vs. Cavaliers


The Bulls are in no position to judge victories, but Zach LaVine, as usual, nailed it with his assessment of Saturday’s 118-116 comeback victory over the Cavaliers.

“Ugly win,” LaVine said.

The Bulls allowed an opponent season-high 73 points in a sluggish first half, trailed by 19 in the third and by 15 to open the final period.

So what happened?

Defense, and another sublime offensive night from LaVine, happened.

But it seemed fitting on a night where LaVine scored 21 of his 42 points in the fourth that he also set his career-high with five steals. The 40-point, five-steal night put LaVine in select franchise company alongside Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.

The Bulls scored 16 points off 10 Cavaliers’ turnovers in the final period, limiting them to 14 points on 26.7 percent shooting. And they accomplished all this with a lineup they hadn’t used all season. It featured Kris Dunn at point guard, LaVine at shooting guard, Tomas Satoransky at small forward, Chandler Hutchison at power forward and Lauri Markkanen at center.

“KD, we joke about a guy being a cephalopod, an extremely fast and agile being,” coach Jim Boylen said. “I thought he was all over the place. We had six turnovers in the first seven possessions of the fourth. You gotta give our guys some credit. They found some juice. We were able to get a lineup there that could work. I thought Lauri got some pop back.”

He also got some minutes back.

Boylen called the first play of the game for Markkanen, utilized him in the post once and played him two seconds shy of 33 minutes, including the entire fourth quarter. Markkanen joked about turning the ball over on that first play call, but his 17 points on 14 shots and heavy minutes in crunch time were signs of progress.

“I had no problems with that,” Markkanen said of playing the entire fourth. “It was fun to be out there.”

LaVine and Hutchison each had three steals in the fourth as the Bulls tied their season-high of 17 steals. They also added to their league-leading totals of forcing turnovers and scoring off them by registering 33 points off 26 Cavaliers’ miscues.

“I was trying to rebound, get my hands on passes, just be active. We needed more energy,” Hutchison said of his surprising star turn. “Lauri was talking to me, going, ‘You’re going to be on the ball screen this time.’ And then we kind of switched it out. We could feel them deflating.”

Dunn rallied from Collin Sexton blowing by him a couple early possessions, which led to Boylen even trying Shaq Harrison on Sexton in the third. Dunn helped hold him scoreless in the fourth.

“I love his game. He plays with passion,” Dunn said. “He was trying to bring it to me. He made a couple big-time shots in the first half. I just had to keep doing what I do. When that fourth quarter came, I got the stops I needed.”

All the Bulls did. Ugly victory or not, it counts. Boylen may not use that lineup again, but that defensive mindset can carry.

“We switched a little bit, changed it up on them,” Dunn said. “I love what the coaches did, gave them a different look. We were just locked in. You could see it in each guy’s face.”

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