A Little More Consistency, Living Up to Caruso’s Standard, the Old Vucevic, and Other Bulls Bullets

The Chicago Bulls almost had too much to drink last night.

After a fun-filled first half that included a couple of casual shots with friends and a few rounds of drinks, the Bulls started to get a little too comfortable on the hardwood dance floor before stumbling twice on their way to the bathroom. Things were teetering between just another goofy night and a quick request for the nearest Uber.

Fortunately, designated driver DeMar DeRozan grabbed some water, ordered some cheese curds, and kept the good times rolling! And it surely wasn’t the first time he saved that day this season.

•   Whether it be a 20-point lead cut to four by the Toronto Raptors, a 20-point lead completely erased by the Portland Trail Blazers, or a 12-point lead chipped-away to a one-possession game by the Jokic-less Denver Nuggets, the Chicago Bulls have had their issues holding onto big leads this season. While it has at least been comforting to see the team squeak out the majority of these wins, we can not avoid the fact that this is a somewhat dangerous game to play. Basketball is a game of runs – and I accept that – but the complete loss of a 20-point lead? I’d say that is the kind of “run” you don’t want to accept.

•   I know, I know, the Bulls won, so why linger on a ghastly 3rd quarter? Well, I think it’s something we are now allowed to do thanks to the success of this Chicago team. In the past, a win was a win. These were so few and far between they were almost always worth celebrating. And while a win at Madison Square Garden that knocked the Knicks into a .500 record is worth a round of applause, good teams learn from all experiences, and a 32-20 3rd quarter served as another example of where this team needs to improve.

•   The Bulls took their foot off the gas once the score reached a comfortable margin. Instead of the same active hands on defense and the same fluid ball movement on offense, we saw a lot of standing around on both ends of the floor. The Knicks deserve credit for ramping up the physicality in the way they did, but the Bulls need to find a way to continue playing their brand of basketball when the momentum shifts. This brand largely includes using quickness and athleticism to get downhill and play at the rim. In the 3rd quarter, the Bulls instead chucked up 10 3-pointers, the most of any quarter of the game, and shot exactly zero free throws. Sure, they shot 40 percent on the looks from downtown, but it still represented the kind of shift in style that helped the Knicks get back in the game.

•   Then, when push came to shove, the Bulls were able to channel what they do best. A fluid yet aggressive offense returned in the 4th quarter thanks, in large part, to Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan. The two combined for a 10-11 performance from the charity stripe to reel the game back in their favor. I’m not sure what it is about this Bulls team that causes them to fall in and out of their gameplan, but I do know the mid-game inconsistencies show up on the stat sheet:

1st Quarter Net Rating: 5th (8.5)
2nd Quarter Net Rating: 12th (2.1)
3rd Quarter Net Rating: 16th (0.3)
4th Quarter Net Rating: 5th (7.9)

•   Look, the fact they are starting and ending strong is most important, but stepping off the gas can be costly, especially come playoff time. It’s something to monitor as the season goes on.

•   If you wanted more proof that Nikola Vucevic is back after his 30-point performance against the Charlotte Hornets, we got it last night. The big man followed up his season-high with his second-highest point total of the season, 27 points. After a 6-6 performance from behind the arc earlier in the week, he shot 5-9 and has now brought his 3-point percentage up to a much-improved 36.1 percent. When the big man is hitting these shots from downtown, it just opens up the offense that much more. The pick-and-pop with either LaVine or DeRozan becomes an even more concerning pick-your-poison situation for the opposing defense, and we saw that on full display with two HUGE 3’s by Vooch in the 4th quarter.

•   Also, when Vooch looks like old Vooch, the Bulls look easily look like the most fun team in the league.

•   I probably don’t need to preach the gospel of Caruso anymore, but I’m not sure I can stop. Every single night I’m left shocked by his defensive impact. While Lonzo Ball makes leaves his own very important mark on that end of the floor, I can’t remember the last time the Bulls have had one player make this significant of a difference on defense (probably Joakim, right?). He currently is the league leader in steals per game and total steals, ranking ahead of well-known top defenders like Marcus Smart, Jimmy Butler, Chris Paul, and Matisse Thybulle. He finished with 4 steals last night, three of which came in the team’s pivotal final frame.

“He’s a dog,” DeRozan said about his teammate after the game. “There are times we look on the stat sheet after the game and he has four or five steals. Just the energy he brings, defensively, it triggers us because we try to live up to the standards that Alex is going to bring out there on the court. It’s big. It’s exciting to see. It’s incredible the things that he does defensively. You can put him out there if Shaq was playing, he’ll go out there and try to figure out how to guard him.”

•   Stacey knows what’s up.

•   You probably saw this by now … but why not watch it again!

•   You know what, I got to respect them for even tweeting the graphic. I would have gone quiet for at least a day or two.

•   Welp, this sure isn’t what we all expected when he signed this offseason.

written by

Elias Schuster is the Lead Chicago Bulls writer at Bleacher Nation. He started with BN full-time in 2019 immediately after graduating from the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign with a degree in Journalism (yes, he started with the Jim Boylen Era). Since joining, Elias has been the driving force behind Bulls and NBA content for both the site and social accounts. You can follow him on Twitter/X @Schuster_Elias.

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