Dunn comes through in clutch as Bulls win fourth straight
Sure, the Bulls are 4-0 since Nikola Mirotic returned from injury. But equally vital to the recent success is Kris Dunn developing into a high-quality point guard in rapid fashion.
Expected to be a key piece to the rebuild, Dunn missed the start of the regular season with a dislocated left index finger. He spent 10 games playing backup to Jerian Grant and struggled nightly with turnovers.
Back then, it was easy to look at Dunn and think, "At least, he's a pretty good defender." In recent days, Dunn has transformed into a different player, with skills no one thought he possessed.
On Wednesday, while Mirotic scored 29 points, Dunn knocked down 2 clutch jumpers down the stretch to help the Bulls hold off the Utah Jazz 103-100 at the United Center, stretching their win streak to four in a row.
Dunn struggled with his outside shot for most of his career. Heck, he even struggled in this game, hitting just 4 of 16 shots before the final two. Could he even imagine firing up jump shots with a game on the line a few weeks ago?
"I could imagine the ball being in my hands," Dunn said. "I don't know if I would have shot the jumper. It's credit to coach, (he) keeps working with me each and every day on my jump shot. Just told me to keep believing, keep having that confidence. I'm going to stay aggressive."
Dunn drained a 16-foot baseline jumper with 1:39 left, then buried a step-back 20-footer with 22 seconds left. The Bulls made things tough on themselves by missing 3 free throws during the final 14.4 seconds, but earned the win when Utah rookie Donovan Mitchell barely missed a running 30-foot bank shot at the buzzer.
"It started with defense," Dunn said. "I understood that I was missing shots. I just tried to put on my construction boots and tried to get stops for my team."
The Bulls (7-20) showed some mental toughness in this game, something they didn't have early this season. After a lethargic first half, Utah came back in the third quarter determined to end its three-game losing streak and opened a 65-58 lead.
A lineup of Dunn, Mirotic, David Nwaba, Justin Holiday and Bobby Portis put together a nice defensive stand and the Bulls surged back into the lead as Mirotic scored 13 of the Bulls' next 14 points.
"We got down 4 and we went to a blitz, I thought it changed the game," said Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg, who has frequently praised Mirotic as an underrated defender. "It got it going in our favor. When you've got guys who can make adjustments on the fly, it certainly helps your team."
Mitchell, the No. 13 pick of this year's draft, put on a show, scoring 32 points using a variety of impressive drives to the basket.
Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen missed his second straight game with a sore back. Hoiberg thought Markkanen would be able to play, but he ended up a late scratch, which kept a confident Mirotic in the starting lineup.
"I've been telling you guys, I've been very positive," Mirotic said. "Some of you guys, I'm thinking you thought I was joking. I was not joking. I was very, very serious. I told you we were going to be 4-0. We have to keep building from this, there's going to come some tough games now. But with me back, we have more chances now."
• Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls.