Winning with Defense, A Vooch Shoutout, Creating a Play-In Cushion, and Other Bulls Bullets

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Winning with Defense, A Vooch Shoutout, Creating a Play-In Cushion, and Other Bulls Bullets

Chicago Bulls

It may not have been pretty, but it didn’t need to be.

If anything, turning that game into an ugly slogfest was the Chicago Bulls’ best way of walking out with their first-ever victory against Joel Embiid (yes, you read that right).

The 76ers have comfortably ranked first in net rating over the past 15 games. They were arguably scoring the ball better than anyone in the league, and the Bulls were going to have to put a stop to that to have any chance at pulling off their fifth win in six games. To their credit, they did just that.

  • Despite going to 2OT, the game ended a modest 109-105. The Bulls held Philly’s scalding hot offense to a mortal 42.2 percent shooting. And they did that without Alex Caruso! Now, did the 76ers help them out with an off-shooting night? Absolutely. But the Bulls’ defense was completely locked in. They forced Philly into 21 TOVs and scored 24 points off those screw-ups (the Bulls gave the 76ers just 7 points of their 11 TOVs). Not only was the team hustling for loose balls, but everyone played with active hands. Whether it be swatting at drives to the rim or pressuring the point of attack, the defense was making it impossible for Philly to get into any sort of offensive rhythm going.
  • Likewise, as we’ve seen in a handful of games since the All-Star break, the Bulls were basing a lot of their defensive approach on simply contesting shots. The communication was strong as the Bulls played on a string and repeatedly got their hands in the face of open shooters. It was particularly impressive when we consider Philly entered the night as the NBA’s top 3-point shooting team. The 76ers had three rotation guys shooting over 40 percent, and a big reason for that has been their ability to create wide-open looks off screens and kick outs. The Bulls made sure to minimize those opportunities, and Will Gottlieb did a good job demonstrating some of that in the tweet below:

  • I have to give a particularly big shoutout to Nikola Vucevic. I was thoroughly impressed with his effort and execution against the MVP-favorite in Embiid. He kept his wide frame parked right in front of the big man on several possessions, either disrupting or completely deterring several entry passes. While Embiid may have still finished with 37 points on 11-22 shooting (and 15-17 at the free-throw line), it was Vucevic’s ability to help force turnovers (team-high 4 steals) and mess with the 76ers’ gameplan that paid off big time.
  • Oh, and how about Derrick Jones Jr.? After failing to stay within the rotation over the past few weeks, Jones Jr. came in and put together a rock-solid performance. He scored 8 of his 10 points in a competitive second half and had a punch-a-hole-in-the-wall-out-of-awesomeness-worthy block on James Harden to secure the victory.


  • Speaking of Harden, the Chicago Bulls might as well be his kryptonite. He may have dished 12 assists, but he shot just 2-14 from the field and ended with a total of 5 points in 47 minutes! This means the Bulls have now held the future HOFer to just 8-44 shooting over three games this season. Isn’t that insane!? I know Harden has taken a step back in recent years, but that’s still an extremely eye-popping stat.

  • I continue to love the way Zach LaVine is playing basketball. While an 8-20 shooting display isn’t worth a ton of praise, his ability to (1) get to the free throw line and (2) stuff the rest of the stat sheet is. He still managed to score 26 points thanks to an 8-10 display at the charity stripe. More specifically, LaVine went 5-5 in the second half and 4-4 in the second OT alone. He also led the team in assists with 7 and poked away 3 steals. If you keep up with my bullets, you know how much I’ve praised LaVine’s passing chops in recent weeks. I continue to be really impressed with his ability to help make the right decisions, and it’s an underrated reason why the Bulls have been 8-4 since the All-Star break.
  • This latest winning streak for the Bulls has now moved them 2.0 games ahead of the Washington Wizards for the 10 seed. They’re also now 2.5 games ahead of Indiana. Again, keeping that is going to be difficult when we consider the upcoming schedule, but that’s still a generous cushion when we consider the number of games left. There is also a real opportunity for the team to make a push for the 9 or 8 seed. Toronto is just 1.5 games ahead in 9th and Atlanta is just 1.5 games in 8th. As a reminder: 8th would give them a chance to win one Play-In game to secure the 6th seed, while 9th would at least give them a home Play-In game before having to play the loser of the 7 vs. 8 games.
  • Should the Bulls go O-line with their first pick?

  • Time to start the offseason talk.

Author: Elias Schuster

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