Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich
The Chicago Bulls won their second straight game for the first time this season, downing the New Orleans Pelicans 124-118 on Saturday night at the United Center.
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"Now we gotta get back-to-back-to-back wins," DeMar DeRozan said. "These two games should be a blueprint for us."
Here are 10 observations:
---DeRozan returned from missing one game with a sprained left ankle. He played a smart, efficient game overall, finishing with a season-high 10 assists to go with 24 points. And in the fourth, he started to look for his shot more, scoring over Herb Jones in the midrange for a huge basket late.
"(Ankle) felt good," DeRozan said.
---For those wondering if the ball movement that defined the Bulls’ overtime victory over the Bucks would continue with DeRozan return, the answer arrived early. The Bulls assisted on eight of their first 10 baskets and, one game after posting a season-high 32 assists, posted 32 against the Pelicans.
"We're just being unselfish, moving the ball, pushing the pace," DeRozan said. "We're understanding reads, making quick reads, shooting the ball and making plays with confidence."
--Coby White dominated the fourth quarter. White sank back-to-back 3-pointers midway through the fourth to snap a tie. Both were of the heat-check variety. When White followed with a traditional three-point play, “Coby! Coby!” chants started at the United Center when he went to the free-throw line. He then drove and kicked to a wide-open DeRozan for a 3-pointer with 4 minutes, 25 seconds left that pushed the Bulls’ lead to six points. White then threw a perfect alley-oop pass to Patrick Williams for the dagger dunk with 20.1 seconds remaining. White finished with a season-high 31 points, a season-high nine rebounds and six assists.
---But the Bulls’ injury news wasn’t all good. Not only did Zach LaVine miss the first of at least three more games with his sore right foot, Alex Caruso left the game with 2 minutes, 44 seconds left in the second quarter and didn’t return. Caruso re-aggravated the strained left toe that has moved him in and out of the lineup. Caruso started for LaVine and scored eight points in 12 minutes, with two rebounds and two steals. Ayo Dosunmu, who played another strong game, started the second half for Caruso.
---Saturday night marked the first set of back-to-back games the injury-prone Zion Williamson played. Entering the back-to-back set of games, Williamson had averaged 28.4 points on 64.7 percent shooting. He’s a load offensively, placing great pressure on defenses. “He’s as good as I’ve seen following up his shot when he misses it,” coach Billy Donovan said pregame. Patrick Williams started on Williamson and played textbook defense on one possession when Williamson tried to spin and drive baseline. And in general, the Bulls’ defense kept Williamson quiet until the final stages of the first half. Williamson scored seven points in less than 2 minutes after he re-entered with 2:44 left. Williamson finished with 27 points.
---For the second straight game, Donovan played rookie Julian Phillips in the first quarter. Shortly after entering, Phillips stole a Jose Alvarado pass and ran the floor in transition, dunking home a pass from Torrey Craig.
---Speaking to the urgency of the game, Donovan also altered Caruso’s first-half usage. In games Caruso starts, as he did Saturday, Caruso typically exits near the 6-minute mark of the first quarter and sits until roughly the 6-minute mark of the second. Against the Pelicans, Caruso exited at the 6:54 mark of the first quarter but returned 3 minutes later. He scored five points in the first quarter.
---White extended his streak of games with at least three 3-pointers to eight games, the longest such current streak in the NBA. Over his previous seven games, White led the NBA with 31 made 3-pointers. He tied his career high with eight on Saturday.
“It’s something I’ve looked a lot at because he wasn’t shooting the ball well early in the year,” Donovan said. “Him being at the point, it’s a lot of responsibility not only for Coby but for any point guard in this league. And he’s been a scorer. And we need him to do that.
“If you look at his outings where he has scored well, it’s really been off the ball where the ball has found him and he has been able to get catch-and-shoot opportunities and either shot fake or drive it. I’ve talked to him a lot about at times getting off the ball some. Not in terms of him needing to be off the paint. But if he starts the offense with a pass, it gets him off the ball moving a little bit and he can find those creases and cracks inside of our offense where there is ball movement and the ball sprays to him and now he’s playing against closeouts.”
---Patrick Williams scored in double figures for the sixth straight time, finishing with 14 points. Williams teamed with White and Dosunmu to kick-start a strong start to the second half, erasing a 10-point deficit by the 9:14 mark of the third. The Bulls dominated the third 36-21, taking a seven-point lead into the fourth. The quarter output surpassed two recent first-half totals of 33 points each.
---One game after scoring a season-high 29 points, Nikola Vucevic shot just 3-for-12 but hustled to make a huge save that led to White's alley-oop to Williams.
"The ball was right there. I picked it up and saw it was a two-on-one," White said. "I just knew as long as I threw it high enough to where (Jonas) Valanciunas couldn't get it, I knew Pat is so athletic and bouncy and springy that he could go get it."