Although Kris Dunn was scoreless in just under 20 minutes against the Hawks, the defensive unit he led created a 30-point blowout in the fourth quarter.
Kris Dunn Thursday in the Bulls 111-93 victory over the Atlanta Hawks to close the preseason was scoreless in just under 20 minutes. Dunn shot zero for four, missing his multiple three-point tries. Point guard Dunn never got to the free throw line for an attempt and had three assists.
Dunn probably was the game's MVP.
"I thought Kris Dunn's energy off the bench changed the game," said Bulls coach Jim Boylen. "He got us going. His effort, his energy, his focus was great. Some nights we are going to be in mud and be a little sluggish. What he did in that moment to get us going."
That could be the encouragement of a coach who is trying to keep up the spirits of a player who started for two years but now is coming off the bench. Perhaps there's some of that, also. And though rookie Coby White was dynamic with 29 points and six of eight threes in 23 minutes, Dunn virtually dominated the game without scoring.
It's the kind of thing Hall of Famer Jason Kidd was known for, a weak shooter whose defense, energy and spirit would drive his team when he'd rarely score in double figures.
"What I try to bring to the team is keep making winning plays," Dunn said afterward. "I feel I can do multiple things on the floor, but defense is my greatest strength. So I hang my hat on that. Rebound, gets assists and when I need to score, just be aggressive."
This was the scene as the Bulls got off to an erratic start against an Atlanta team playing a second of a back to back on the road and missing a few starters. The Bulls shooting, 15 of 46 threes for the game, went awry as the Hawks were leading by three points when Dunn substituted in midway through the first quarter. He was followed not long after by White, Thaddeus Young and Ryan Arcidiacono with Wendell Carter Jr. joining them a bit later.
That fivesome led by Dunn appears to be the Bulls version of the NFL Chicago Bears front line, the fortress five for this Bulls team. The offense with Zach LaVine and the three-point shooting has been the star of the preseason games. But Thursday it was the guardians who changed the game.
Dunn smothered point guard Trae Young, forcing turnovers and misses, overplaying, blowing up screens, diving for loose balls. The Bulls actively blitzed on pick and roll and recovered, especially with Carter and even Luke Kornet, which they couldn't do as well with Robin Lopez. They willingly rotated and switched with enthusiasm and understanding.
You had to be there.
This was no game to just read the box score.
When that group left the game in the second quarter, the Bulls were leading by double digits on the way to a 51-42 halftime lead and 15 after three quarters. It became a 30-point blowout into the fourth quarter when Kornet and White combined for six threes.
In the first half, the starters were mostly minus on the team plus/minus total during their rotation. Young was plus-14 and Dunn plus-13. Young, by the way, finished the game with two points. For the game, Dunn was plus-27 and Young plus-29. The starters other than Carter, who often worked with the defensive second group, were all plus-three or lower in a game the Bulls won by 18 points.
"Buying in," said Dunn. "I feel I've always been a team player, always about winning. I'm just being into the system. Whatever coach needs to do I'll go out there and try to do to the best of my abilities. At the end of the day, I know we have a talented group and we will do what we can do to win games and hopefully make the playoff push that everybody is talking about."
It's been a difficult last six months for Dunn, who was generally considered the Bulls point guard of the future after he was acquired with LaVine and the rights to Lauri Markkanen in the trade for Jimmy Butler. Injuries thwarted him, and then after the coaching change last season his role diminished and the rumors were he would be traded. The Bulls drafted and traded for two point guards, and Dunn came back as a reserve.
But his defensive pugnacity has been fierce, like the dawg he always liked to say he's been.
Boylen says he's settled for now on a 10-player rotation that has Dunn off the bench with White, Kornet, Young, and Arcidiacono and with Carter replacing Kornet at times to put the team's best defenders together. They were that red octogon to the Hawks.
"That's my game, be aggressive and use my strength and length," said Dunn. "It's not new to me, give up my body. Coach told us this is our best defensive group, to go out and get stops. And when we get stops we can get out running. To do the things we want to do, playoffs, championships, you have to guard. We've got the talent to score, but at the end of the day we have to hang our hats on defense."
Sounds like Jimmy Butler, producing like Jason Kidd. Kris Dunn may be an important part of this after all.