Bulls beat Cavs 117-104 to end losing streak
DeMar DeRozan led the Bulls with 30 points as the Bulls improve their record to 28-15.
Remind Me Later •
There were some biblical overtones to the Bulls righteous—at least for them—117-104 victory Wednesday over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
With a three-game road trip coming up starting in Milwaukee Friday without injured starters Zach LaVine and Lonzo Ball and coming off four consecutive losses, several perhaps testing the team's beliefs, this midweek, midwinter conclave was somewhat vital for the Bulls.
"It (the win) was something we definitely needed," admitted DeMar DeRozan, who led the Bulls with 30 points, seven assists and two blocks. "Last couple of games getting our butts whooped, kind of giving up a tough one in Boston we knew coming back on our home floor we had to make up for it.
"We were a different type of team tonight," DeRozan reminded. "The wings feed off AC (Alex Caruso back after a month out with a game high plus-18 floor game, a chase down block and in the middle of the 24 Bulls points off turnovers to eight for Cleveland). What he generated on defense gives us opportunities to get out in transition, and that's what you saw tonight. I feel like when we are able to do that, that's when we're at our best."
It was so for the Bulls, who got 24 points and 12 rebounds from Nikola Vucevic and a baptism from the substitute backcourt with 18 points and a team most eight assists from Ayo Dosunmu and 16 points from Coby White.
"The pairing of those guys have been good," agreed Bulls coach Billy Donovan. "Both are unselfish, both can get downhill and Coby's been able to score at a high level. I thought Ayo did a really good job, especially in the second half making plays, and I thought those two guys worked really hard defensively. Ayo made some big shots to break momentum and a couple of big threes in the fourth quarter (when he led the team with nine points)."
Dosunmu starting his third consecutive game has looked every bit the veteran, averaging 18 points and eight assists, 77 percent overall shooting and 70 percent on threes.
"His maturity," DeRozan said when asked about Dosunmu's prominent feature. "Amazing for him to be on a great team, a rookie the presence he brings you wouldn't think he's a rookie. You've got to be special to carry yourself in that type of way. It's not an arrogant way, always holding himself accountable. That's big for a young guy to do that. The confidence he has is amazing. You see he's just always ready for the big moments."
DeRozan said being older, three years in college which is a major reason scouts lowered his value, shows: "He went to college and had the ups and downs; it wasn't a cakewalk for him. He battled through college and with that you build up a certain type of resiliency. He's a tough kid in general and has that mentality, and so when tough times hit him he learns from it and grows and you see it translating over to the NBA."
Though it was DeRozan who took over responsibility with four minutes left in the game when the surprising Cavaliers cut a 10-point Bulls fourth quarter lead to 103-102.
DeRozan basically made every big play the rest of the game in assuming the playmaking as well. He first dribbled up and passed to Dosunmu for a three. Then after a pair of Cavs misses, DeRozan drove for a score and was fouled, but missed the free throw. Still, that made it 108—102 Bulls with three minutes left. White then picked off a cross court pass from Cavs star guard Darius Garland, and as the ball moved around on the Bulls end DeRozan picked out Vucevic for a three for a 111-102 Bulls lead with 2:28 left.
"Six years ago I probably would have tried to shoot 40 times and thought that what was needed to get a win," DeRozan admitted. "My mentality is different, understanding I need every one of those guys out there. I lean on them just as much as they lean on me; that's the only way you can be successful in this league and win big is trusting your teammates. I find great pleasure in doing that; my teammates come up big for me."
Vucevic basically wrapped it up a few plays later with a finish on a Dosunmu drive and pass.
And now yet another of those measuring sticks with the first game of the season against defending NBA champion Milwaukee for the championship of the West Side of Lake Michigan.
"Defending champs. I'm looking forward to it. Those games you look forward to," said DeRozan. "Playing against one of the best players in the league. Just everything that comes with it. You've got to respect them, but at the same time you've got to take on that challenge and see where you stand."
The Bulls now go into Friday 28-15 tied for first in the Eastern Conference, two games ahead of fourth place Milwaukee.
Yet, the game Wednesday was going to be challenging as well. Not just because Donovan said before the game LaVine with his knee problem and Ball with his now bone bruise would not be healthy enough to join the team on the upcoming road trip. And with Javonte Green still out, that's three of five starters, requiring White and Dosunmu in the backcourt and Alfonzo McKinnie starting at power forward.
Against a Cavaliers team that not only had won five straight. But at 27-18 coming in was perhaps the surprise story of the NBA with the most unique lineup featuring three seven footers up front with former Bull Lauri Markkanen as the "small" forward. Markkanen would lead the Cavaliers with a season high 28 points.
So facing these titans, in dimension if not league stature, Donovan apparently decided to lean on the parable of David and Goliath.
Somewhere in Hawaii Don Nelson was getting high on this game instead of his usual brew. Small ball, baby!
The game began with 6-6 DeRozan defending top rookie seven footer Evan Mobley. And then Donovan's first three substitutes in the first quarter were guards. The Bulls trailed 29-24 after one quarter. Then leaning on Caruso's annoyances on defense and 16 second quarter points from DeRozan, the Bulls took a 58-49 halftime lead.
It helped that the Cavaliers aren't the smartest team. Despite their massive size advantage, they closed the second quarter attempting threes on five of their last six field goal attempts; they missed all five as the Bulls closed the half with a 10-0 run. Somehow despite being smaller at just about every position, the Bulls had a 58-46 edge in inside points. And in the third quarter when the Bulls went into the penalty with seven minutes to go, the Cavaliers didn't attempt a free throw the rest of the quarter. Paint allergy?
So perhaps Donovan figured.
He opened the second half even downsizing more, starting guard Troy Brown Jr for power forward McKinnie.
No one carried a slingshot, but the Bulls hit the Cavaliers squarely with 55 percent overall shooting and 46 percent on threes, leading 87-78 after three quarters and then after that last Cavs wayward gasp resurrecting the month with DeRozan's finishing sleight of hand.
So, Billy, what's the deal? It's not the size of the man as much as the size of the heart, courage and commitment?
"The first three subs were guards?" Donovan answered rhetorically. "Who else are we going to put in? We've got no other big guys; Tony Bradley is the only big guy. That's the challenge. There's not really any size on the bench to put in there. Someone like Alfonzo and Malcolm (Hill with a new two-way contract) are new and trying to catch up; I thought Troy was playing really well. The reality is outside of Tony Bradley and Vooch, the rest of our team is guards. So whether a guy is 6-4 or 6-2. that's what we have right now. The reality is that is our roster."
And remember little David eventually became the king.
Got a question for Sam?
Submit your question to Sam at firstname.lastname@example.org
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.