10 observations: Bulls capture roadtrip with exciting victory vs. Nuggets

DENVER – Zach LaVine’s focus on getting into Friday’s road game with the Denver Nuggets, who completed a five-game West Coast turn for the Chicago Bulls, was simple.

“We just wanted to end the road trip the right way,” LaVine said.

Mission accomplished. Behind some heady fan engagements and a fourth-quarter finish driven by their stars, the Bulls beat the Nuggets 114-108, moving their record to 11-5 on the junior season (3-2 on the tour).

Here are 10 observations:

1. When Nikola Jokić was ruled out just before the tipoff with a wrist injury, it did not look like the Bulls would play in as big a size disadvantage as they do most nights; Denver started Monte Morris, Austin Rivers, Will Barton, Aaron Gordon and Jeff Green.

But Gordon nonetheless bullied the Bulls in the first quarter, collecting 10 points, four rebounds, two assists and a 10-minute block (on his way to 28 points, nine rebounds and four assists per night). The Nuggets went to him several times on the post after buckets over Javonte Green and LaVine – and when the Bulls brought two defenders to him on another possession, he hit a cutting Green for a layup.

2. Denver jumped out to a 22-12 lead midway through the first due to Gordon’s aggressiveness and some really hard shots, shooting 9-to-13 in the game’s first seven and a half minutes. But despite the hosts shooting 61 percent, the Bulls drew level 30-30 at the end of the frame, led by 10 points from LaVine.

3. At the end of a skewed first half, the Bulls won 53-52, Derrick Jones Jr. was the team’s second leading goal scorer behind LaVine. He looked comfortable again as the stopgap backup center, counting 10 points and seven rebounds (three offensively), burying a few putbacks and flying out on fastbreak for a high dunk. Plus, after collecting five errors each against the Lakers and Trail Blazers, he committed zero in his first 15 minutes. Essential.

Jones Jr. added three dunks in the third quarter but made four fouls between the third and early fourth, finishing with 16 points and eight boards. Billy Donovan said both before and after the game that Jones Jr.’s defensive midfield activity has been a positive revelation in the stretch since Nikola Vučević tested positive for COVID-19. His dynamics as a rolling threat are also remarkable.

“If Vooch is on this tour, Derrick will probably never get that opportunity,” Donovan said of Jones Jr.’s offensive involvement as a roller. “And now it’s something he has some familiarity with.”

4. Almost the entire Bulls support crew brought it with them. Tony Bradley got eight points, five rebounds and two assists two nights after looking lost in Portland. Ayo Dosunmu contributed with 10 points, a total of eight rebounds and two 3-pointers from the forty. Green and Alex Caruso’s result lines do not fully reflect this, but their disturbances, especially at the defensive end, accelerated several points.

– The team is so stuck right now. I think we are really good with our roles, ”said LaVine. “Everyone is really connected on the team right now, so I think we know the mission at hand and we go out there and perform.”

5. The Bulls sprinted out to an 8-0 run to start the third quarter and maintained a six-to-12 point advantage throughout the period, leading 88-78 into the fourth. DeMar DeRozan came alive and scored 10 in the frame after shooting 3-for-10 in the first half, while LaVine (12 points) and Jones Jr. (six) combined for 18 points and five exciting jams.

6. Ball Arena also came alive in that neighborhood and erupted in several ear-splitting “Let’s go Bulls!” chants. The first was catalyzed by a lockdown defensive possession by Caruso on Will Barton (he had another fantastic sequence guarding Monte Morris earlier in the match), with several coming under Gordon free throws and a routine timeout stop.

It was downright jarring for a road arena, but a reminder of this team’s range when shooting at all cylinders.

“I’ve not heard it before, so it was really cool for me,” LaVine said after the game. “I think the Bulls obviously have one of the best fan bases in sports, so when we come back and get support from them, I think it’s incredible, especially on the way to a place like this.”

Added Jones Jr .: “A lot of fun. It’s different when the outside crowd sings” Let’s go Bulls. “I just never had that in my career. I’ve never been to a city, and that city sings for my team.”

And Nuggets coach Michael Malone put the cherry on top: “I was not sure if we were in the United Center or the Ball Arena.”

7. However, this Denver team is not stopping. Aided by a barrage of Bulls turnovers, the hosts opened the fourth quarter on a 6-0 run, and by the 6:15 mark, they were trailing 94-90.

That was when Green and LaVine took over. On one possession, Green received two offensive rebounds, resulting in a LaVine 3-pointer. Two possessions later, after LaVine followed a Facundo Campazzo 3 with another jump to 99-93, Green jumped a passing lane to steal, leading to a LaVine float at the other end to make it 101-93 with 3: 47 left. . Green closed out the final seven minutes of the match as the team’s de facto center.

“I love playing with Woo,” Jones Jr. said. about Green by using his nickname. “I thought I had a ball of energy in me, but he was different.”

8. Still, the Nuggets continued to receive and swapped buckets with the Bulls until the bitter end – even reducing their deficit to 110-108 by less than 20 seconds to play.

But LaVine brought counters to every haymaker they charged. The Bulls’ All-Star guard scored 12 of his 36 points in the fourth, shooting 5-to-7 from the floor and 2-to-2 from 3-point range. He made every conceivable jumper in a superb display of shotmaking, from the fixed catch-and-shoot to the slimmer out of balance.

“It’s remarkable to see him,” Donovan said of LaVine. “I think he’s one of the best tough shooters in the league and he’s comfortable doing that.”

9. DeRozan was also crucial down the stretch, scoring eight points on eight free throws in the fourth – two on possession after Will Barton 3, making it a two-point game late. The Bulls shot 24-for-24 from the foul line for the night, which is crucial to winning such a hard-fought match like this.

And their productive perimeter-scoring duo combined for 20 of the team’s 26 points in the final frame. In the process, they became the fastest team-mate pair, each picking up 10 25-plus-point fights since Jerry West and Elgin Baylor in 1962-63, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

10. Coby White apparently still finds his rhythm after recently returning from the cracked labrum he incurred in the low season. This is the most involved third-year guard has been in his three games back – he got seven shot attempts and three 3-pointers in 11 minutes – but his impact was negative; White missed six of his seven shot attempts (including two open layups) and all of his 3s, making two turnovers in the first two minutes of the fourth quarter on a charge and wild pass operating in pick-and-roll.

Donovan dampened expectations that White would return after five months away – and with limited live-action ramp-up – for a reason. He has been shooting 1-for-11 from the floor since returning, and remains behind Dosunmu in the rotation so far.

And then the Bulls are both 11-5 and outside the schneid after a hard loss in Portland.

“We are a robust team. We are out here to get out here and complete the task, go out here and try to win every single match,” LaVine said. “And if there’s a bump in the road, we respond in the right way.”

Next: Home again to the Knicks on Sunday.

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