One of Alex Caruso's Best Two-Way Games of the Season?

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One of Alex Caruso’s Best Two-Way Games of the Season?

Chicago Bulls

As Alex Caruso sat next to DeMar DeRozan during last night’s postgame press conference, it just felt right.

Sure, DeRozan may have just scored a playoff career-high 41 points to lead the Chicago Bulls to their first playoff victory in five seasons. But almost everything Alex Caruso did on the floor in Milwaukee proved just as important.

Indeed, the Bulls free-agent signee played easily one of his best two-way games of the season against the reigning champions on Wednesday night. We watched him make fearless charges on the oversized Antetokounmpo, repeatedly poke the ball away from a similarly-elite defender in Jrue Holiday, distribute the ball to his All-Star teammates, and knock down a couple of much-needed 3-point buckets. Somewhere in between all of those impactful moments, he would let out an adrenaline-fueled scream or bark out a specific order. Waves of energy spewed out of his body and right down the gullets of his teammates on the court. “We got our spirit back,” Caruso said after the game.

The work of Caruso on both ends of the floor helped this group look the closest to their early-season self yet. His ridiculously good hands on the defensive end disrupted a number of possessions, while his awareness and body control led to a couple of crucial offensive foul calls on the Bucks. He was a big reason Chicago was able to force Milwaukee into at least 15 turnovers for the second game in a row, which the Bulls were able to score an important 19 points off of.

On the offensive end, the veteran guard dished 10 assists and coughed up the ball just once. He kept the wheels in motion and fed his All-Star teammates in the right place at the right time. As the Bucks began to claw back into the game, it was Caruso’s calm and collected hand on this side of the floor that proved just as valuable as his defensive chops. He faked the 3 to draw the closeout before feeding Vucevic for the easy layup at the end of the 3rd, drove and kicked out to Zach LaVine for an enormous corner 3 with under 5 minutes to go, and made sure not to miss a wide-open Patrick Williams under the basket for the quick dunk.

Caruso was doing it all.

“Great defender, plays hard, gives everything he has, extremely smart, plays to win, helps his team anyway possible, does the little things,” Giannis Antetokounmpo said about Caruso after the game. “That’s what makes him special. He helped his team tonight to get a win. He knocked down shots, he played great defense, he rebounded the ball, he got his hand in a lot of deflections. Unbelievable player.”

The respect Caruso has garnered around the league is clear (well, I guess from everyone other than the Lakers). He’s a winning talent who plays the same regardless of whether he’s facing a 2x MVP or a G-League call-up. And he knows that’s exactly what he was brought to Chicago to do for a team hoping to re-enter the contending mix:

“I just try to be a leader in the aspect just because it’s something I’ve done over the course of my career since I was a kid, being able to move on to the next play,” Caruso said. “The team has adapted to that and has adopted that mindset. You have to. Sometimes you get a bad call, a turnover that was missed communication, you can’t do anything to fix it. You got to move on to the next play.”

Caruso’s leadership appears as important off the court as it is on the court. The most recent player on this roster to earn himself a championship ring, he knows what it takes to compete consistently at the highest level. And that’s likely why we saw head coach Billy Donovan defer to him in the locker room after the game.

“They automatically have the advantage right now,” Caruso told his teammates after the Game 2 victory. “Human nature effect. We win, they lose, they’re going to be the hungrier team just naturally, right? Enjoy it. Learn from it. Got to get back to that same mentality.”

Don’t just read the words, watch the awesomeness: 

Caruso’s absolutely right. The Chicago Bulls win deserves a round of applause, but it’s just one win in a series where you need four.

The goal now is to keep the same spirit and execution we saw in front of a Chicago crowd this weekend. I know Caruso can do it, but can the rest of his teammates?

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Author: Elias Schuster

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