Bulls survive Thunder's late rally, escape with 111-110 win
Zach LaVine and Javonte Green returned to action as Oklahoma City made a furious fourth-quarter run to push Chicago.
Remind Me Later •
Talk about your game winners, and the Bulls have had plenty to talk about this season; well, at least DeMar DeRozan has. But Bulls rookie guard Ayo Dosunmu Monday may have topped them all with a walk off 50-foot buzzer beater that banked in.
OK. OK, it was at the end of the third quarter. But it was a 111-110 Bulls victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder, and without that shot...
"Watching DeMar, watching his preparation, how he gets to his spots and his pace, I definitely took a page from his book," Dosumnu said in also setting a career-high with 24 points.
Dosunmu actually was talking about attempting more midrange shots. But this wasn't a night to sweat the details after the Bulls gave up a 28-point third quarter lead to the rebuilding and now 14-33 Thunder, and were nervously watching Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stepping back for a three to tie the game with 2.3 seconds left.
Hold your breath...
It looked good, but perhaps those breaths blew it off slightly to the left as it bounced off to Javonte Green for the rebound and foul. Green, returning from injury along with Zach LaVine to support the Bulls depleted corps, made one of two free throws for the so called two possession margin before Mike Muscala made a game-ending wagering margin changing three for the final one-point deficit.
"We wanted to get back in the win column," said Dosunmu, who was coming off two of his poorer shooting games in the losses to the Bucks and Magic.
And then made his first nine shots to set a Bulls rookie record held previously by Orlando Woolridge.
"I knew I didn't miss a shot (to start)," Dosunmu acknowledged.
The Bulls, now 29-17 after having lost six of seven with DeRozan sitting out for rest on the back to back Monday, needed the shot in the arm and the boost from the rookie.
"To get this win is big to get back in the right direction," said Dosunmu. "Anytime you get a win when you've been losing close games, that always goes well. To get Zach back and Javonte back, that is a sign in the right direction and hopefully we continue this momentum and get back to our winning ways."
Though it sees like it's going to be a game to game adventure for now with Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso both having surgeries this week and perhaps out two months each. Derrick Jones Jr. remained out and, of course, Patrick Williams.
So LaVine had seen enough after missing five games with a tender knee. He tweaked it in three minutes against the Warriors Jan. 14, and the Bulls lost four of their next five with him out. LaVine had been dealing quietly with some knee swelling for about a month, and was tentatively scheduled to return this week at home against Toronto Wednesday or in San Antonio Friday.
"I just didn't want to wait any longer," said LaVine. "About as healthy as my knee is going to get; obviously, nothing structurally wrong. I got tired of watching the games. I decided I'm going to come out here and do what I can to help us win. Sucks sitting at home not being able to help and tried to come back as quick as I could. I try to play through a lot. Playing through it because it's a big time season for all of us."
Zach was back none too soon as he had 23 points, seven assists and seven rebounds as he and Dosunmu supported a big bounce back game from Nikola Vucevic with 26 points, 15 rebounds, four of seven threes with four assists and three blocks.
It proved just enough margin to avoid yet another Bulls collapse in Oklahoma City where against the good and bad Thunder teams—in each of the last two seasons—the Bulls surrendered 20-plus points leads and lost. It would have been a disaster this time with a much better Bulls team. Even without the injured guards and DeRozan, the latter getting a game rest with the recent minutes overload, against a Thunder team that often looks like it's playing for the draft pick.
They lost a game this season by 73 points; last season they didn't lose any games by more than 57. They score the fewest points per game in the league and are last in the Western Conference. Though with a better record than the Orlando team the Bulls lost to Sunday night. So there was no taking anyone for granted these days for these Bulls.
And this time they came out seriously, leading 35-27 after the first quarter with a dozen for Dosunmu. And getting the ball inside, 16 first-quarter paint points after being outscored inside 60-34 by the Magic. The Bulls also moved the ball for 31 assists and rediscovered some pace with 14 transition points.
Orlando had taken advantage of the Bulls Sunday with their youth, quickness, speed and pressure, which fortunately didn't occur to the Thunder until late in the game.
So after leading 58-48 at halftime with Dosunmu scoring 18 points and making all eight of his shots, the Bulls seemed like the tornado that the Oklahomans tend to be familiar with. Talk about being blown away.
With Vucevic taking advantage of the smaller Thunder front court players, the Bulls sounding like a freight train went ahead 84-56 midway through the third quarter. Green up to his familiar tricks launched himself for a slam dunk after a turnover. Mostly the Thunder kids searched out threes, though Gilgeous-Alexander continued to prove their diamond with 31 points and ten assists weaving through defenders to the basket.
LaVine did take a shot in the eye on a drive that forced him to the locker room for a bit, and Tyler Cook back off the bench didn't return after he was hit in the eye with an inadvertent elbow. Troy Brown Jr. started this time in musical starters. But the Bulls still seemed in control leading 92-78 following Dosunmu's half court heave.
Still leading 105-88 midway through the fourth quarter after a run of 10 Vucevic points in the quarter, the Thunder began to rumble. They went smaller and quicker and pressured and trapped, and the Bulls collapsed.
Dosunmu was scoreless in six fourth quarter minutes with a pair of turnovers—the Bulls with seven in the quarter—and fouled out on an out f control drive while Coby White missed five of six shots and committed a turnover, the substitute kid backcourt getting the learning experience you hate to hear coaches talk about. Other than after wins, which fortunately the Bulls hung onto this time.
It became a five-minute layup and dunk drill for the Thunder with the Bulls having just enough thanks to a White three with 2:30 left, and a pair of LaVine free throws with 9.9 seconds.
"This was a great game for both of them (Dosunmu and White) because they got rushed, they got sped up," said Donovan, ever the teacher. "We were not able to handle their pressure. This is where I think there are opportunities to help these guys grow and develop in those situations. The fact two of our primary ballhandlers in Lonzo and Alex are not here, and you get into the situations in the fourth quarter with defensive pressure and picking up full court, you've got to be able to handle the basketball. You've got to get it across. We couldn't get into offense. It wasn't a matter of what we were running was bad; we couldn't even get into anything.
"Obviously, I'm happy we won," said Donovan. "We had a situation here last year we turned the ball over late and some of the same things happened. This hopefully will be a good learning experience for our guards of how to manage the game and handle pressure and draw fouls."
And get a win.
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