St. Patrick’s Day and March Madness: Two national holidays on the same Thursday!?
Pour me a green beer, grab me some sweatpants, and let’s DANCE!!
Also, shoutout to the Bulls’ creative crew because that photoshop is FIRE.
• You know what wasn’t fire? The second half of last night’s game. Unlike what we saw on Monday night in Sacramento, the Chicago Bulls were the ones clobbered over the final two frames. Donovan Mitchell was the main reason why, as he completely scorched the earth with 25 points in the 3rd quarter behind an absurd SEVEN 3-pointers. While I wish I could scream and shout about the Bulls’ defense, I can’t hate on them too much for Mitchell’s scoring outburst. Sure, there were some missed assignments and they could’ve closed out a bit cleaner, but that was just a superstar player doing what a superstar player does.
• LaVine also fell into that category for much of the night, looking easily the best he has since the All-Star break with 33 points behind an 11-20 performance from the field. He played with the same downhill intensity we watched during his third quarter in Sacramento for a full 33 minutes, and he also managed to dish 5 assists, grab 3 steals, and only turn the ball over once. It was the kind of well-rounded effort that perfectly backed up the words he spoke earlier this week. It was also the kind of well-rounded effort that should give us all a little more hope heading toward the postseason. While I know the team is making us question quite a lot right now, seeing LaVine individually put on the show he did eases some of my nerves about his ongoing knee issue.
• Still, as hard as LaVine tried, it wasn’t enough. And that’s become the moral of the story over these past couple of weeks. The Bulls continue to look like the less experience and less polished group against most of the teams that sit ahead of them in the standings. The effort wasn’t the problem last night, but execution most certainly was. As the game went on and the Jazz settled into what they do best, the Bulls were not able to adjust. They were late on close-outs on key 3-pointers, and their rotations got muddled in the middle a number of times. Every possession matters against the best of the best, and the Bulls have yet to demonstrate they can win the ones that matter most.
• Dribble penetration was also a major issue, and Billy Donovan made sure to mention it after the game. Mike Conley was able to force his way inside to collapse the Bulls’ defense, leading to a number of easy feeds to either a rolling Gobert or a looming perimeter presence. Meanwhile, Jordan Clarkson absolutely carved up the Bulls bench defense, scoring a back-breaking 26 points. Clarkson went 10-12 on his shots inside 13ft of the basket. I give Clarkson a ton of credit for his crafty ball-handling inside, but the Bulls also failed to play him physically from the jump. Would having Lonzo Ball back help close-off some of this penetration? Absolutely, but the Bulls simply need to be better as a whole.
• Even Alex Caruso looked like he was a step slow at times last night, especially as he picked up three early fouls. Then, things only got more frustrating as he grabbed at his surgically-repaired wrist a number of times in the second half. I’ve noticed since he came back on the floor that he will periodically mess with that wrist mid-game, and while that isn’t particularly shocking, it also isn’t comforting. For what it’s worth, though, Caruso and Donovan didn’t seem very concerned after the game. Both admitted that Caruso was expected to experience soreness as he regains strength, so it seems we have no reason to believe this will again become a substantial issue moving forward.
Alex Caruso said his right wrist is sore but there's "nothing wrong with it. It just gets banged up."
— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) March 17, 2022
• Still, Caruso was notably frustrated with his performance. He may have had some key defensive possessions (the block he had on Mitchell will be on his end-of-season highlight reel), but I can only imagine how annoying it is to have to get caught back up speed this late in the season.
“I’m not 100 percent. I’m not going to lie to you,” Caruso told reporters. “I’m really just trying to get in the rhythm of the game. I’m trying not to make excuses, but that seven weeks, or six and a half weeks, it’s tough. I didn’t get any practices or anything, just right back into the game. I got high standards for how I want to play and how I want this team to play, and I don’t think I’m doing my part as well as I can right now, which is frustrating.”
• In other good Bulls news …
— Bleacher Nation Bulls (@BN_Bulls) March 16, 2022
• What are you going to do with it, though?
— Bleacher Nation Bears (@BN_Bears) March 17, 2022