The Chicago Bulls Are Finally Embracing Adversity

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Have the Chicago Bulls Finally Embraced the Adversity?

Chicago Bulls

One month ago, if the Heat went on a 13-3 run at the start of the 4th quarter and cut the Bulls’ lead down to one possession, the Bulls would lose.

One month ago, if a miscommunication between Nikola Vucevic and Zach LaVine led to the 76ers extending their lead to 105-101 in 2OT, the Bulls would lose.

One month ago, if Vucevic was ejected from the game with the Bulls leading 61-47, the Bulls would lose.

Adversity has kicked this team in the crotch more times than we can count this season. Whether it be crucial late-game mistakes or blown 20+ point leads, the Bulls have struggled since October to finish games. But could the tide have finally turned?

The Bulls are currently 10-5 since the late-February All-Star break. Six of those wins have been by double figures and four have been by at least 20 points. On top of actually keeping big leads, the Bulls have also improved in the clutch. Before the All-Star break, Chicago was tied for having the third-most clutch losses in the NBA with a record of 10-20. They held just a -2.9 net rating in those games (17th).

Now, since Feb. 24, the Bulls are a much more reasonable 4-3 in clutch games and have the 11th-best net rating at 6.9.

Pre All-Star BreakPost All-Star Break
OFF Rating111.7 (24th)117.3 (12th)
DEF Rating112.0 (7th)110.5 (2nd)
Net Rating-0.3 (22nd)6.9 (4th)

Indeed, for the first time since Arturas Karnisovas doubled down on “continuity,” it appears to be paying off. The Bulls have looked like the more connected and experienced group in a handful of these recent games. And this includes last night’s impressive win over LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Lakers went on an 8-2 run after Vucevic’s controversial ejection to get the Staples Center (do I really have to call it Crypto dot com Arena?) on its feet. Time and again we’ve seen moments like these take the Bulls out of the game. They’ve hung their head, turned to iso ball, and lived in past possessions. The absence of those things last night, however, was another sign of a drastic mental shift inside the Bulls locker room – one that head coach Billy Donovan seemed ecstatic to see.

“Things happen in the game, bad call, ejection, missed shot, whatever, there are so many things that can get you down” Donovan told reporters after the game. “And you’ve got to be able to just say, ‘ok, what’s the next thing that’s in front of me that I’ve got to do my job on?’ And not get too caught up on what’s happened and what’s getting ready to come. I feel like, in that moment, we came together and we tried to help each other more.” 

After the Lakers’ run to close the half, the Bulls came out firing with their own 13-2 run. Four of the five second-half starters scored in the opening 2:29 of the quarter. Chicago went on to shoot 50.0 percent in the third frame. Zach LaVine went 5-6 from the field and Andre Drummond filled in admirably for Vucevic off the bench.

“We had not at all every responded to teams making a run … Those were games earlier in the game where we could just not stop the avalanche. And I’m seeing better fight back, which to me is what we got to build on is that,” Donovan said. “There’s just going to be runs in the game. They got good players and it’s a prideful organization, prideful guys individually, and when teams get a lead, they’re going to fight back.”

Look, I know it feels silly to praise the Bulls for winning a game where they held a 21-point lead. But the truth is they weren’t doing that earlier this season. What the Bulls showed against the Lakers was honest growth – even if that growth feels more like an elementary school graduation than a college graduation.

I don’t know if they’ll keep this up nor if it will really mean anything come Play-In Tournament time. But the team could have continued on its path and folded embarrassingly to close out this year. The fact they’ve been able to do the opposite thus far is … well … commendable.

Author: Elias Schuster

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