DeRozan hits milestone, Caruso inspires Bulls to win

Some basketball players are table-setters. Alex Caruso has become a tone-setter.

His commitment to creating hustle plays not only helped the Bulls secure a 111-100 victory over Atlanta on Monday at the United Center, but also seems to be finally rubbing off on his teammates.

If Patrick Williams could manage half the dirty work Caruso does, the Bulls might become an actual playoff contender. Williams was on the right track in this game, grabbing a season-high 10 rebounds, collecting 3 offensive boards for the first time since Nov. 7, to go with a steal and 18 points.

"His capability to be able to do everything, he's one of the most versatile players on this team," teammate DeMar DeRozan said of Williams. "Once he gets comfortable and realizes that, as he's doing now, it's going to help us more and more. As long as he's blooming at the right time, you'll start to see more victories."

DeRozan led the Bulls with 26 points, while setting a personal milestone by playing in his 1,000th career game. He's the 143rd player in NBA history to play in 1,000 games and 10th active player. Former Bull Robert Parish holds the record with 1,611 games played.

The Bulls played a tribute video for DeRozan coming out of time out late in the second quarter. The crowd gave him a standing ovation and DeRozan acknowledged the fans while referees held up the action briefly.

"I don't know how many tributes I've had in my career," DeRozan said. "I'm starting to feel like either I'm old or people think I'm about to retire. It's always cool to be appreciated in this game. I never take none of these moments for granted."

The Bulls led most of the way, but the score was tied 78-78 heading into the fourth quarter. The Bulls started the fourth by forcing a 24-second violation, DeRozan hit a jumper, then Williams slammed home a 3-point miss by Coby White. After the 6-0 run, the Bulls held the lead,

"You've got to feel (Williams) on the backboard," Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. "He's got great explosiveness off the floor. When he makes those kind of efforts, he's really an elite rebounder. We need him to do that. He's a guy that's got to try to get double figure rebounds for us."

Caruso scored 12 points and had 3 steals, giving him 14 steals in the last four games. Twice early in the game he stopped Trae Young on the perimeter, forcing the Hawks guard to give up the ball, then Caruso followed the action and collected a steal and blocked shot.

"I think when a guy like Alex does some of the things he does, there's no question it inspires your team," Donovan said. "When you make disruptive, kind of hustle plays, you break momentum or you blow something up, I think for anybody on the team it's going to generate some excitement. I don't know if necessarily Patrick's doing it because of Alex. I think we all need to be doing it because those are the things that go into winning."

In the third quarter, he pestered Dejounte Murray into shooting an airball 3-pointer, then drained a corner 3 on the other end.

"I think those are the plays that win games," Williams said of Caruso's hustle. "His blocks, they're not his rotation to be there, but he's there. That's just the energy that he plays with. I think it gives us a different energy. I think everybody feeds off of those momentum plays."

DeRozan made it clear he expects this performance to become routine for Williams.

"I think y'all don't see how much I get on his nerves," DeRozan said jokingly. "I really get on his nerves. If he plays bad or if he don't compete like the way I know he can compete, there's verbal abuse. When he's got it rolling, it makes the game easier on all of us."

The Bulls (22-24) started the game like they were still living in Central European Time, shooting just 24% from the field in the first quarter and 1 of 9 from 3-point range.

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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Atlanta Hawks' Jalen Johnson collides with Chicago Bulls' Coby White as Alex Caruso watches during the first half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Jan. 23, 2023, in Chicago. Associated Press
Chicago Bulls' DeMar DeRozan passes the ball between Atlanta Hawks' Dejounte Murray (5) and John Collins during the second half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Jan. 23, 2023, in Chicago. The Bulls won 111-100. Associated Press
Chicago Bulls' DeMar DeRozan (11) drives to the basket and looks to pass as Atlanta Hawks' Trae Young, left, Dejounte Murray (5) and Clint Capela defend during the second half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Jan. 23, 2023, in Chicago. The Bulls won 111-100. Associated Press
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