Bulls’ Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan explode in comeback win vs. Jazz

10 observations: LaVine, DeRozan lead comeback vs. Jazz originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

the Chicago Bulls are officially streaking.

With Saturday’s 126-118 victory over the Utah Jazz — which, on the second leg of a back-to-back road-home, featured a seven-point comeback in the fourth quarter — the Bulls have won three straight and are 19-21 for the season. Signs of a turnaround have begun to sprout after an 11-18 start to the campaign.

Here are 10 observations:

1. The Bulls got off to a fast start, jumping ahead 8-0 in the first four minutes of the first quarter before Will Hardy whistled for time. The Jazz had missed their first seven field goal attempts at that point, six of which were 3-pointers.

2. Out of that timeout, Lauri Markkanen threw down back-to-back authoritative dunks to cut Utah’s deficit in half, catalyzing a back-and-forth contest from then on. Markkanen, in fact, threw down another ambitious slam minutes later — poetic, considering his pesky habit of rimming out poster attempts during his four seasons in Chicago.

Markkanen finished the game with 28 points on 12-for-20 shooting and a whopping eight dunks, including a seismic poster of Nikola Vučević.

Although he finished 2-for-7 from 3-point range, he made consistent positive impact as a finisher and facilitator after drawing increased defensive attention. Regardless of who you blame for the unceremonious end to Markkanen’s Bulls tenure, that dynamic was not present often in the last two seasons of his Chicago tenure — a sign of his comprehensive and impressive improvements by him.

3. Zach LaVine hardly cooled off in the 25 hours separating Saturday’s tipoff from his 41 point, 11 3-pointer outing against the 76ers. He keyed the Bulls’ first quarter lead by scoring 11 points on 5-for-7 shooting in the opening frame, going 3-for-4 at the rim on a handful of strong drives and making his first attempt from long range.

Although he started the second slow, he scored six points in the final 28 seconds of the quarter — on a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer and on free throws off a Kelly Olynyk shooting foul near the buzzer — to boost the Bulls to a four-point lead at half.

Then, he caught fire again in the fourth to score 12 of his eventual 36 points while making three of four 3-point attempts. In all, LaVine went 6-for-12 from distance on Saturday. As on Friday, he was devastating roaming off the ball and pulling off the catch, and came up with a big defensive play down the stretch too.

4. DeMar DeRozan snapped out of a mini-funk — he scored just two points in the second half of the Philadelphia game and went scoreless in the first quarter of this one — by pouring in six points early in the second as the Bulls expanded a four- point lead as high as eight. But when he exited, a brutal drunk followed. The Bulls did not register a field goal between the 8:27 and 3:23 marks of the quarter, a dry spell which coincided with a 12-2 Utah run that put them ahead 46-40.

5. The Bulls pulled back ahead 53-49 by the break, but the Jazz dominated the third quarter to the tune of a 40-31 scoring margin that put them ahead by five points entering the fourth. Fault lines appeared in the Bulls’ ability to contain dribble penetration and protect the rim in those 12 minutes, as they allowed 24 paint points on 12-for-13 shooting.

For the game, Utah finished with 68 paint points and a 29-for-38 (76.3 percent) shooting line at the rim. While the still-sidelined Alex Caruso and Javonte Green would not solve all of those issues, their absences certainly were felt in the perimeter containment department.

6. Patrick Williams began this game 0-for-7 from the field. Coby White started 0-for-4.

But in a critical stretch early in the fourth quarter (that spanned less than two minutes), they combined to rattle off 11 straight points to flip a seven-point deficit into a two-point lead. Williams drained back-to-back corner 3-pointers, while White hit a long-ball from the top of the key and snuck home a contested floater inside.

For Williams, that continued a recent trend of bouncing back from in-game adversity, which included a season-high 22 points in Wednesday’s win over the Nets following a late-game blunder in Monday’s loss to the Cavaliers, and a 16-point third quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers after going scoreless in the first half.

And for White, it continued a season-long trend of saving his shotmaking for big moments. He entered play shooting 41 percent from 3-point range in fourth quarters and 34 percent in quarters one through three. He also closed the game, a sign of Billy Donovan’s trust.

7. The Bulls’ stars took the reins from there. White and Williams’ onslaught pulled the Bulls from down 99-92 to ahead 103-101. After Utah tied the game out of a timeout, DeRozan (with a midrange jumper), LaVine (with three straight 3-pointers) and Vučević (with a layup) combined to score the Bulls’ next 13 points to grab a 10-point lead ahead of the stretch run.

8. In all, DeRozan scored 15 points on 5-for-7 shooting in the fourth to finish with 35. It is the first time this season both he and LaVine scored each scored more than 30 points in the same game, a sign that the Bulls ‘ two reigning All-Stars are gelling together again. Add in Vučević’s under-the-radar but all-important 15-point, 16-rebound, four-assist, two-block performance, and the Bulls’ best players set the proper standard.

9. Rookie Jazz wing Ochai Agbaji was the latest in a line of unheralded, sharp-shooting role players to burn the back end of Bulls rotations from beyond the arc. Agbaji, the 14th pick in the 2022 draft who was acquired from Cleveland as part of the Donovan Mitchell trade, entered play shooting 29.6 percent from 3-point range, but made four triples without a miss and converted a few strong drives en route to 19 points on 7-for-7 shooting.

10. The Bulls’ good vibes keep rolling. They have now won three straight, and all in impressive fashion: A comfortable home win over the full-strength Nets, a second-half rout of the 76ers sans Joel Embiid, and a back-to-back closing comeback win over the frisky Jazz . The Bulls are now 8-3 in 11 games since their meltdown in Minnesota and could very well be turning their season around.

Next up: At the Boston Celtics on Monday.

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