Stars shine in Brookyn as Bulls knock off first-place Nets
For a team that's been in rebuilding mode and looking to improve, the Bulls are taking the right approach.
They've been knocking on the door of the other Eastern Conference leaders and are playing the role of annoying house guest, refusing to stop ringing the bell.
Earlier this season, they swept the two Los Angeles teams, now they added a New York sweep to the resume. They rallied in the second half to beat Brooklyn for the second time this season 111-107 at the Barclays Center.
The stars were shining, with Zach LaVine scoring 31 points and DeMar DeRozan 29. Lonzo Ball hit a clutch 3-pointer with 16.9 seconds left to put the Bulls up by 5. Like he did against the Knicks on Thursday, DeRozan had big fourth quarter, scoring 13 points.
"In my mind it's just win, whatever it takes,: DeRozan said. "Not thinking about failure, not thinking about missing shots. Everything is just about being aggressive and winning. I can live with whatever the result is after that. I kind of just lock in and turn into something else mentally."
At the same time, Bulls coach Billy Donovan is playing the proper role. He's the guy who looks at it all and sees room to improve.
"I don't want to over magnify the win and I don't want to take away the work these guys put in," Donovan said. "It was a great game for us to come in and play against a really good team and we can learn a lot more about ourselves.
"But I'm not going to take one game in the middle of December and act like this is unbelievable. It's one game. We've got to play again Monday against Denver. You just try to keep building those habits, building the level of consistency, building an identity."
The Bulls (16-8) were a little short-handed for this game. Alex Caruso was listed a questionable before tipoff with what Donovan termed a lower hamstring strain. Caruso was able to start, played eight minutes and hit a couple of early 3-pointers, but went to the locker room before halftime and did not return.
A day earlier, the Bulls lost starting forward Javonte Green due to a positive COVID test. Donovan said the Bulls used a car service to drive Green back to Chicago. Coby White was already in health and safety protocols, with both players likely to be sidelined for at least 10 days.
The Nets jumped out to early leads of 9-0 and 22-14, and the flow of the game followed that trend. Brooklyn would build an 8 to 10-point lead and the Bulls would respond.
The Bulls finally took the lead at 85-84 on a Troy Brown Jr. layup with 9:28 remaining. In the next few minutes, LaVine hit a step-back 3 and DeRozan connected from midrange, and the Bulls were playing from ahead down the stretch.
With Caruso, Green and White out, Brown, Tony Bradley and former Net Alize Johnson joined the rotation. Rookie Ayo Dosunmu played a vital role, scoring 11 points and hitting 5 of 6 shots in 23 minutes.
"To start the game, the way it looked was we got beat on the glass pretty handily," Donovan said. "I thought that was a major factor. Our turnovers led to them getting out in transition. We gave up way too many fast break points and we shot like 5 for 11 from the free-throw line. It was one of those game where we just weren't doing enough against a caliber of team like that."
The Bulls beat Brooklyn (16-7) at the United Center last month and will only play once more, so they clinched the season series on Saturday.
"I love the competitive spirit of these guys," Donovan said. "The one thing I think you have to have to be a really good team is what these guys is they'll fight and they'll compete and they'll be resilient and they'll bounce back. I love that competitive spirit about those guys.
"But as I look at it from a team perspective, we have to keep getting better. We have to keep growing. I still think there's room for us to grow and get better and that's where our focus needs to be."