Bulls snap Nets’ 12-game win streak behind impactful role players

10 observations: Bulls snap Nets streak behind role players originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Good luck figuring out the 2022-23 Chicago Bulls.

With Wednesday’s 121-112 home victory over the Nets, which snapped a 12-game Brooklyn win streak, the Bulls moved to 6-1 against the Eastern Conference’s top three seeds, albeit 17-21 on the season.

Here are 10 observations:

1. The last time these two teams met was on the first day of November in Brooklyn; the Nets had fired head coach Steve Nash hours earlier and were at the height of their early-season turmoil, while a torrid fourth quarter by Zach LaVine pushed the Bulls to 4-4 on the season.

By early January, it was a much different story.

The Nets entered play with a league-long 12-game win streak, while the Bulls were fresh off two straight gutting losses to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

2. The Bulls came out of the gate locked in, matching their season-high with 40 first quarter points and putting together a handful of active defensive sequences. In the opening 12 minutes, they shot 73.9 percent, made four 3-pointers and handed out nine assists as a team, while also nabbing three steals and swatting two shots, including a LaVine block of a Kyrie Irving 3-point attempt.

In all, the Bulls led by as many as 10 points en route to a 40-33 advantage after one. Then, they tacked on another 29 in the second quarter to lead 69-59 at the half — at that juncture shooting 57.8 percent with 14 assists and four players in double-figures. As much as the Bulls’ offense was humming, the Nets’ defense was also completely out of sorts.

3. By game’s end, six Bulls were in double-figures, including all five starters — but the leaders were not necessarily who you would expect. Although DeMar DeRozan got rolling in the fourth quarter to finish with 22 points, he and LaVine (one point in the second half) combined for just 35 of the team’s 121 points. It was their third co-star Nikola Vučević and a pair of young guns that carried the day.

4. Vučević is made for matchups like this Nets team, which runs small by predominately playing Nicolas Claxton and Ben Simmons at center. And the Bulls big man played like it, bullying defenders in the post en route to 21 points, 13 rebounds and three assists, shooting 5-for-7 in the paint.

He spearheaded a generally relentless interior attack as a team, which finished with 52 paint points (34 in the first half).

5. Patrick Williams got off to a great start, scoring 12 points and making all five of his shots in the first stanza. Those came by way of a pair of spot-up 3-pointers, two cutting dunks and a pull-up midrange jumper.

Then, he added eight more in the third to enter the fourth quarter with a season-high 20 points on 6-for-8 shooting, 3-for-3 from 3-point land and 5-for-5 from the free throw line .

By game’s end, not only had he poured in 22 points on those eight field goal attempts, he also made seven free throws and pulled down seven rebounds — notable after his massive missed box-out in Monday’s loss to the Cavaliers and a generally underwhelming campaign in the rebounding department. He entered play averaging a career-low four boards per game.

6. Ayo Dosunmu’s contributions may have been the most timely of all. The second-year guard notched 13 points and four rebounds between quarters three and four, including a handful of highlight plays in big spots: A chasedown pin block of a Kevin Durant layup in the third quarter, and a steal-and-score that put the Bulls up 11 early in the fourth.

7. In the non-Vučević minutes, Billy Donovan ran small for this matchup with Derrick Jones Jr. at center instead of Andre Drummond, who notched a DNP. Jones Jr. had a pair of tough finishes above the basket, finishing with eight points, and the team was a steady +2 in his minutes while finally stymying the offensive glass (Brooklyn, who entered near the bottom of the league in each category, had six offensive boards and five second-chance points for the game).

Moreover, a lineup of Jones Jr., Goran Dragić, Coby White (10 points, 2-for-4 from 3-point range), Dosunmu and DeRozan sparked a critical second-half stretch by expanding a three-point lead to seven in the first four minutes of the fourth quarter. That advantage eventually ballooned to double-figures.

8. Williams drew the primary defensive assignment on Durant, and the Bulls threw multiple bodies his direction on every drive. Nothing they did mattered against the 12-time All-Star, who this season is averaging 29.6 points while — somehow — shooting the best field goal percentage of his career (56.4).

After the Bulls pulled ahead by as many as 18 midway through the second quarter, Durant took over by knocking down multiple heavily contested floaters and jump shots to score the Nets’ final 13 points of the first half. At that juncture, he had 28 points on 11-for-15 shooting.

Even in a third quarter that saw the Bulls throw aggressive double-teams his way and — on a lot of possessions successfully — attempt to force the ball out of his hands, Durant added 11 in the third quarter, including three at the free throw line after Patrick Williams fouled him on a near-buzzer beating heave.

Then, he sat for the first four minutes of the fourth, which the Bulls used to catalyze the run that eventually clinched the game. Durant finished with a ludicrous 44 points on 15-for-22 shooting. But the Bulls avoided a decisive avalanche with focused traps.

9. One unintended consequence of the Bulls’ increased defensive attention on Durant was a slew of possessions on which they lost Nets guard Seth Curry behind the 3-point line. Curry finished 22 points and made six of his seven 3-pointers.

But the Bulls were fortunate Royce O’Neale could not take advantage in similar fashion; he went a whopping 0-for-8 from 3-point range on mostly wide-open looks.

10. Alex Caruso turned his right ankle stepping on Simmons’ foot in the first quarter and did not return. According to Bulls PR, the initial diagnosis is a sprain.

Caruso had been notably durable through the Bulls’ first 25 games, but recently has missed a game with a tailbone contusion and three with a concussion/shoulder sprain. We will see if this latest aid lingers. As for tonight, his absence of course limited the Bulls’ defense, but not enough to cost them the contest. Kyrie Irving, who Caruso undoubtedly would have looked down the stretch, finished with 25 points, but accrued them on just 10-for-24 shooting. And no Net other than Curry burned the back end of their scrambled rotations.

Next up for the Bulls: At the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday.

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