Alex Caruso's Immediate and Awesome Impact (and Other Bulls Bullets)

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Alex Caruso’s Immediate and Awesome Impact (and Other Bulls Bullets)

Chicago Bulls

Sometimes, the stars align.

It hasn’t happened a lot this season for the banged-up Chicago Bulls, but it did last night at the Madhouse on Madison. The Cleveland Cavaliers took the court less than 24 hours after stepping off the floor in Miami. They got their butt-kicked by the East’s No. 1 seed, and they proceeded to experience the same outcome on tired legs.

After a tightly contested first quarter of action, the Bulls gained a comfortable lead on the Cavs that was never relinquished. The back-end of a back-to-back likely had something to do with that. As did the absences of All-Star center Jarrett Allen, downtown threat Lauri Markkanen (#OldFriend), and sparkplug scorer Caris LeVert. But it all made for a much-needed and stellar return for defensive-stopper Alex Caruso.

For 48 minutes of action, many of the concerns that boiled over during a recent five-game losing streak were rolled up into a napkin and dunked into a trash can. The Bulls looked back to their old self, and it felt like the kind of performance we all needed to see with less than a month to go in the regular season.

•   If the Bulls can look that comfortable on the defensive end with just one of their missing pieces back in the lineup, what will happen when Lonzo Ball and Patrick Williams are added to the mix? Look, I know this isn’t going to be a flawless team at full strength – we still need to see them beat some of their fellow top seeds – but I think Saturday night was a good reminder that sometimes things are this simple. Players like Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso do make this significant of a difference. Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley built the team around rock-solid perimeter defense. Remove most of that from the equation (especially midseason), and the kind of lopsided basketball we’ve seen in recent weeks ensues.

•   I mean, seriously, is it a coincidence the Bulls held an opponent under 100 points for the first time since Alex Caruso last played on January 21st? No. It may not be entirely his accomplishment, but doing something like that becomes that much easier for everyone when he’s on the floor. Caruso provides the kind of POA defense, passing lane disruption, and active hands that force extra stops and extra transition opportunities for arguably the best transition team in the NBA (the Bulls had their most fastbreak points since Feb. 7th). And just as important as this physical impact on the game is Caruso’s cerebral impact. Watch closely during any Caruso minutes, and I guarantee you’ll see him bark out orders on both ends of the floor. He tells people where to be, when to switch, and how to course-correct. Having that IQ on the sidelines is one thing, but having it on the battlefield is entirely another.

•   One simple example of this came after the Cavs knocked down a bucket in the first half. As the Bulls hit the hardwood, I believe it was Javonte Green who took a rather lackadaisical approach to inbounding the ball. Caruso clapped his hands and yelled something, telling him to speed it up so the team could get down the court and into their offense. It was one painfully normal possession at a non-consequential time in the game. But, that’s the thing, every possession is consequential to Caruso. I realized at that moment how much the team missed his untiring sense of urgency.

•   How did Caruso feel in his first game in over six weeks?

“Felt pretty good,” Caruso told reporters after 11 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 steals. “I think there was only one time it was a little sore after, and it was right before I shot those free throws in the second half. But I stepped up and made those free throws, so it wasn’t that bad. Overall, I thought it held up pretty well.”

•   In addition to his brief soreness, Caruso said he felt a little fatigued near the end of the game. Head coach Billy Donovan noticed just that, taking him out with 1:39 to go. Caruso was noticeably frustrated by the decision, and he told the media afterward that Donovan said he could re-enter the game when he felt ready. So what did Caruso do? He re-entered 23 seconds later. What. A. Stud.

•   Not only did Javonte Green sport a solidarity headband at the start of last night’s game, but Patrick Williams plopped himself onto the bench in an Alex Caruso jersey. As Coby White would say: THAT’S SO LOVE BRO!!!!

•   Caruso commented on both gestures after the game, pointing toward that team chemistry he compared to the Championship Lakers earlier this season:

“We have great chemistry. I think everybody on the team is pulling through whoever at the time kind of needs it. Tonight, it was me.” Caruso said. “I think that’s just a product of how much I pour into our teammates and how much they pour into me. When you have that kind of unselfishness and selflessness it goes a long way. It picks you up in tough moments of the game. In an 82 game season, you need a little carrot in front of you every now and then to get the energy up, get the motor going. 

•   So I guess Darius Garland was also pretty happy to see Caruso back?

•   I could keep talking about Caruso all day, but I got to tip my hat to another talented guard. While Coby White may have only scored 9 points in last night’s win, he had one of his most well-rounded performances of the season. He was on triple-double watch all night long as he grabbed 7 rebounds and 7 assists. Even better, he limited himself to just 2 turnovers and forced 2 of his own. His defense continues to take a significant step in the right direction this season. No, he’s still not nearly as consistent as he needs to be, but his footwork and ability to stay vertical have taken real strides. I’ve loved watching him grow on this side of the ball, and I look forward to seeing what else he adds to his game (Remember: he’s only 22!).

•   Two things Dosunmu needs to do to become an even greater offensive threat: Speed up his 3-point shot and add a side-step 3. I’ve noticed he’s started to do the former in recent weeks.

https://twitter.com/HoopInformatics/status/1502823106439745545?s=20&t=QGReeMe9IAUKikhHhNzQEA

•   I lol’d

•   I know Kris Dunn had a rocky road in Chicago, but I’m happy to see him get another shot after a lot of unlucky injury trouble. Let’s hope he can find a new home.

•   Speaking of old friends …

•   Roquan is special.



Author: Elias Schuster

Elias Schuster is the Lead Bulls Writer at Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @Schuster_Elias.