On and Off the Court, the Chicago Bulls' Veterans Have Already Shown Their Value in These Playoffs

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On and Off the Court, the Chicago Bulls’ Veterans Have Already Shown Their Value in These Playoffs

Chicago Bulls

Between Zach LaVine, Patrick Williams, Coby White, and Ayo Dosunmu, the Chicago Bulls have their fair share of playoff newbies in this first-round series against the Milwaukee Bucks. In fact, these playoff babies combined with the collective newness of this roster is a big reason many had question marks about the organization’s potential postseason success. Most teams have to build up those playoff scars before they hit a real stride, and while I expect the Bulls still need to do just that, we may have lost sight of how many scars already exist in the locker room.

Three members of the Bulls’ starting lineup are no stranger to the postseason spotlight. DeMar DeRozan brought with him 58 playoff games when he signed with Chicago this summer. He’s made his way to an Eastern Conference Finals and been a part of huge wins in multiple Game 7s.

Nikola Vučević may not get to claim anything more than a first-round exit, but he’s been to the playoff three times during his career. Not to mention, the last time he cracked the postseason, he put together quite the phenomenal first-round series against the same squad he’s battling now. Vučević averaged 28.0 points per game on 50.5 percent shooting from the field and 40.9 percent shooting from downtown in his five games against Milwaukee back in 2019-20. His massive 35-point performance in Game 1 gave Orlando a shocking 12-point victory over the East’s No. 1 team.

Then, of course, there is NBA champion Alex Caruso. The defensive menace played in 27 playoff games during his time with the Los Angeles Lakers, appearing in 21 one of those contests during the Lakers’ 2019-20 championship campaign. Caruso averaged 24.3 minutes per game for that squad, and he clocked his most minutes (32) in the Lakers’ Game 6 clincher, which also happened to be when he was awarded his first-ever playoff start.

Put all those experiences together, and I guess it becomes a little less surprising that we see a tied first-round series heading back to the United Center. Indeed, the Bulls’ Game 2 victory was an excellent display of precisely how valuable these veterans can be. DeRozan dropped a playoff career-high 41 points and closed things out with a clutch 10 points in the final frame. Caruso dished a playoff career-high 10 assists and finished with a game-high +16 on the night. As for Vučević, he dropped 24 points on 10-18 shooting with 13 rebounds.

Not only did all three play a pivotal role in establishing the Bulls’ early lead, but they were the three to ensure it didn’t evaporate.

“AC said it at halftime. Just be prepared when they do make a run and the crowd does get involved,” DeRozan said. “Just be prepared for it. That’s a good team. They were going to make a run, it was all about how we respond once we get hit. We talked about it before in our huddle, and it was just reiterating the conversation we had at halftime.”

The Bucks went on their run and won the 3rd quarter 31-24 to shrink the Bulls’ lead to 87-80 heading into the final frame. Instead of folding under the boisterous Fiserv Forum crowd, DeRozan, Vučević, and Caruso combined for a 14-6 run to start the 4th quarter and stretch the lead to 101-86.

As teams like the Bucks tend to do, the lead was eaten into yet again, but all three players continued to make contributions to seal the deal. They knew what to expect, and they knew to share that knowledge with the rest of their teammates.

“We’re up by 16 or 18, and they come storming right back and they cut it down to six,” head coach Billy Donovan said. “You have to deal with that, there are going to be these swings. And the communication was great. When they cut it down to I think it was six, in the huddle you can hear, ‘hey, we knew they were going to make a run. Now, it’s time for us to respond. We need to respond right now.’ And we did.”

I find it rather poetic that the most important sequence of the game had the fingerprints of all three players on it. Before DeMar DeRozan could take it to the cup for a dagger layup over Giannis Antetokounmpo, both Alex Caruso and Nikola   Vučević have to grab crucial offensive rebounds to keep the possession alive.

The whole thing was chaos in the most beautiful way possible:

Look, I don’t know if the collective experience of these three will be enough to push the Bulls past this juggernaut. But I do know the main reason we’ve seen a 180 for a Bulls team that went 8-15 after the All-Star break is largely due to the mentality of these three players. Whether it be their on-court contribution or their comments behind the scenes, they understand what it takes to play playoff basketball.

“We also understood, especially us older guys, that whatever happened in the regular season, it doesn’t matter at this point,” Vucevic told reporters after Wednesday’s Game 2. “Focus on the series and just go one game at a time. Obviously, Game 1 was a tough game and we came up shot. But tonight was a new opportunity. Every game in the playoffs is a new opportunity. Regardless of what happened in the game before, you can’t dwell on it, you can’t think about it, you just have to move on and come in and try to play better.”

Amen, Vooch. On to Game 3.



Author: Elias Schuster

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