I’ve tweeted it, wrote it, screamed it, and tattooed it on my lower back (this statement could not be confirmed), and each game that passes by continues to confirm it: The Chicago Bulls are back.
No, last night’s victory over a Nikola-Jokic-less Nuggets team isn’t particularly anything to rave about, but the atmosphere the Bulls brought to Denver was. While their on-court execution has been the most important indication that this team is “back,” the reception they received nearly 1,000 miles away also spoke volumes. Bulls fans flooded Ball Arena, so much so that Nuggets head coach Mike Malone had to question what building his team played in after the game.
Malone: "I wasn't sure if we were at United Center or Ball Arena."
— Mike Singer (@msinger) November 20, 2021
Is it just me or does that feel pretty damn significant? Again, what this team accomplishes on the floor is more important than how it’s being perceived, but I think last night was a reminder of just how robust Bulls Nation can be. This organization is one of the most recognizable and beloved entities in sports. The fanbase spreads as far and wide as any team in the league, and bringing that fanbase out of hiding tells us just how fresh this new era feels.
• Seriously, listen to this clip The Athletic’s Darnell Mayberry shared in the 3rd quarter. Close your eyes, and you might as well be at the Madhouse on Madison.
A second “Let’s go Bulls” chant here in Denver. This time the PA system had to drown out Bulls fans. pic.twitter.com/B5M4DW98VJ
— Darnell Mayberry (@DarnellMayberry) November 20, 2021
• Malone was not the only one shocked by the crowd’s enthusiasm for the away team. Several of the players took to Twitter after the game to shout out the rowdy Bulls’ fans.
I had to be at the United center yesterday! Fans were crazy!
— Alize Johnson (@AlizeJohnson) November 20, 2021
• Most importantly, however, was Zach LaVine’s commentary after the game. In a contract year where proving this franchise can return to relevancy is of the utmost importance, a little moment like this feels that much more important.
“I’ve never heard that before, so that was really cool,” LaVine said with a smile. “I think the Bulls have obviously one of the best fan bases in sports, so when we come back around and we get the support from them I think it’s incredible, especially on the road like that in a place like this
It was great because, obviously, I haven’t heard that in my tenure here, so just hearing the fans and having them travel and be supportive on the road is incredible. “
• You know what else is incredible, Zach? You. The Nuggets played about as well as they could without the MVP on the floor, repeatedly making difficult crunch-time shots in the 4th quarter to keep the Bulls within arm’s length. However, for every bucket Aaron Gordon of Will Barton hit, LaVine had an answer. In true Thanos fashion, the All-Star put on the Infinity Gauntlet for a three-minute stretch in the middle of the 4th and said, “fine, I’ll do it myself.” He rattled off the Bulls’ next 12 points despite Denver defenders draped all over him.
Zach LaVine was ON FIRE in Denver.
36 points | 14-24 FG | 5 reb | 4 ast pic.twitter.com/sMZBk5DyKw
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) November 20, 2021
• There is no denying it, what LaVine did in the 4th is exactly what superstars do. The Nuggets refused to go away, so he made sure they did with backbreaking play after backbreaking play. And, to be sure, that included smart decision-making to let fellow elite bucket-getter DeMar DeRozan mix things up. The duo turned to their two-man game in the final few possessions to ensure the Nuggets were put to bed.
“It was good. I made some big shots, did what I did. Then, at the end played some two-man game with him. He got to the line. It closed the door, and we ended with some stops,” LaVine said. “They got to be between me or him. Either one of us is going to get a good look or create a play for somebody.”
• The LaVine-DeRozan combination only continues to look better and better. And the fact they already have the wherewithal to pick and choose when to play off each other and when to leave each other alone is damn impressive. We are truly looking at one of the best scoring duos in the league, and we have all kinds of stats to back that up. Right, ESPN?
Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan both have 10+ 25-point games this season, in only the Bulls' 16th game.
They are the fastest duo to hit 10, 25-point games each since Elgin Baylor and Jerry West in 1962-63 (11th game).
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 20, 2021
• LaVine and DeRozan continue to be the only two teammates who rank top-10 in scoring. In fact, both currently rank in the TOP-5! What’s even more fun is that when push comes to shove, these two thrive the most, as DeRozan and LaVine rank 1st and 2nd, respectively, in total 4th quarter points this season. BuT hOw aRe tHeY gOiNg tO fIt (sorry, I had to do it).
• I wouldn’t be a good Bulls Blogger if I didn’t give a little extra love to Derrick Jones Jr. and Javonte Green. Both reserves have been an absolute revelation for a team that many feared was not deep enough. Green and Jones have each clocked extended frontcourt minutes despite being vastly undersized, and both have used their athleticism and relentless off-ball movement to wreak havoc on each end of the floor. Green finished with a game-high +20 against Denver despite scoring just 5 points. He hauled in 9 rebounds, 6 of which were offensive. Meanwhile, Jones continued to thrive as an ultra-small-ball five, grabbing 8 of his own rebound with a 7-10 shooting performance from the field. Jones’ length and quick-twitch athleticism have made him a legitimate threat in PnR action.
Despite being 6-foot-4, Javonte is closing this game at center and completely saving empty possessions.
Did it before at the end of the third, and does it again here.
Another sequence with multiple saves, ultimately ending in a LaVine three. pic.twitter.com/o0BR234Eek
— Mark K (@mkhoops) November 20, 2021
• Of course, the best thing we saw from Jones last night was this dunk-contest-caliber slam. I will never do anything that cool in my entire life.
• YOU CLAP BACK AT THOSE HATERS, DEMAR!
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• AND YOU CLAMP THOSE BALLHANDLERS, ALEX!
• I can’t do anything but respect this.
This is an actual television chyron that ran tonight in Boston after former Lakers guard Dennis Schroder had 21 pts, 6 reb and 6 ast and was a +12 in a win while Russell Westbrook had 12 pts, 6 ast, 4 reb and was -12 in a loss pic.twitter.com/4lIzF3J972
— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) November 20, 2021