Chicago Bulls

Bulls' defense comes up ‘clutch' when it's needed

Team's defensive rating in last 5 minutes of game within 5 points leads NBA

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Alex Caruso leads the Bulls' NBA-best defensive rating in clutch minutes.

Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich

The Chicago Bulls' defense has shown some signs of slippage lately, allowing a 48-point quarter against the Golden State Warriors, a 39-point quarter in San Antonio and a 40-point quarter in Cleveland.

But when it comes to clutch games, defined as any contest within five points and 5 minutes to play, there's no team better.

Thursday night's victory in Toronto further fueled the Bulls' NBA-best defensive rating in clutch games. And it's no small sample size; the Bulls have logged the most clutch minutes in the league at 101.

Over those minutes, the Bulls own a defensive rating of 96.2, well ahead of the second-place Orlando Magic. Their defensive rating over 79 minutes is 98.8.

The last two seasons have been a study in contrasts for the Bulls in clutch games. In 2021-22, they finished tied for third with 25 clutch victories, losing 16. Last season, they tied for the second-fewest clutch victories with 15, losing 23.

But unlike their 2021-22 success, largely fueled by late-game DeMar DeRozan offensive heroics, this season is featuring stout defense down the stretch. The Raptors scored just seven points following a 103-103 tie with 5 minutes remaining on Thursday.

The Bulls are 13-9 overall in clutch games, tied for the fourth-most victories in the league. Their 22 clutch games ranks tied for fifth.

The Bulls rank second in the league in forced turnovers in clutch minutes at 1.5. Their opponents are shooting 38.4 percent in clutch minutes, third-lowest in the league.

Obviously, offense is needed. And DeRozan, Coby White and Alex Caruso all have hit big late-game baskets this season. So did Nikola Vučević in last Saturday's victory in San Antonio.

But defense is fueling the Bulls' clutch success, which could be the difference between a play-in or playoff berth and being on the outside looking in when the season ends.

Overall, the Bulls rank 15th with a defensive rating of 114.6. So their performance in clutch games takes them to another level.

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