The Bulls were short-handed in their win over the Eastern Conference leaders, the Brooklyn Nets, on Saturday. Against the Nuggets on Monday, they were even more short-handed.
The Bulls lost DeMar DeRozan to health and safety protocols, the same day he was announced as the Eastern Conference Player of the Week for averaging 30.2 points per game and shooting 58.7 percent from the field.
DeMar DeRozan has been named Eastern Conference Player of the Week! pic.twitter.com/X3Gfnlk9tr
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) December 6, 2021
The team also admitted that Alex Caruso will be out at least one week with the hamstring injury that forced him out of the Nets game eight minutes in.
Nevertheless, the Bulls found a way to win. LaVine took over in the third quarter, scoring 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting to add to his 32-point, eight assist game.
The Bulls kept the similarly injured Nuggets in check on offense. They kept them to shooting 39.2 percent from the field and 34.4 percent from three.
Nikola Jokic had as many points in the first half as Dashing Doughnut has wins in the Dunkin Race this season — seven. He did record a triple-double, with 17 points, 12 rebounds and an impressive 15 assists, but he was visibly frustrated by his lack of offensive success.
The Bulls did plenty positive against the Nuggets. They outrebounded them 55-51, dominated the paint 44-28, and completed a fast break shutout — putting up 15 points on fast-breaks and keeping the Nuggets to zero.
Outside of all the in-game details the Bulls succeeded in one of their biggest wins of the season, one thing stood out in particular.
Billy Donovan’s trust in the team
Donovan was dealt a tough hand versus the Nuggets.
Without two starters in DeRozan and Green, and their best defensive asset in Alex Caruso, the Bulls had to fend off the third-best defensive team in the league.
That meant Donovan had to put faith in his team.
Donovan started second-round rookie Ayo Donsumu at point guard. Dosunmu played a team-leading 42 minutes. The most minutes he’s played in a game before the Nuggets was 23 minutes.
Dosunmu scored 11 points on 4-of-6 scoring and added an extremely impressive, hustle-driven stat line of eight assists and six rebounds. His courage and energy were all on display, showing no fear in his first career start in the NBA.
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) December 7, 2021
Bench players stepping up
Donovan’s first-quarter substitution of Matt Thomas, an Exhibit 9 minimum contract player from Iowa State, showed faith in his short-sided bench.
Thomas can’t do much outside of hustle and shoot the ball, but that’s exactly what he did. He put in 19 minutes, scoring an end-of-quarter three-pointer, adding three rebounds, and plenty of effort on defense.
Another bench player that stepped up was Derrick Jones Jr., who started the game at power forward. Jones put up 12 points on 5-of-12 shooting and added nine rebounds.
Jones’s effort on offense was unparalleled. He scored on two and-one’s, a shot-clock-expiring three-pointer with Nikola Jokic in his face, and another corner three.
Donovan’s insertion of Thomas and Jones was exemplary of his faith in the team. He could have taken the easy route and played the starters for the majority of the game on little rest. Yet, he asked his lower-level players to step up, and it worked.
LaVine and Donovan trust
LaVine guarded his dunk-contest nemesis, Gordon, for the majority of his 39 minutes. Gordon is three inches taller and 35 pounds heavier than LaVine.
LaVine’s defensive assignment of Aaron Gordon was extremely indicative of Donovan’s trust in his players. Gordon is the team’s third-leading scorer and rebounder, and the second most efficient from the field.
It’s been a known fact that LaVine’s offseason focus was his defense, on and off-ball. He used his Olympic experience to focus on defense and translated that to this season, maintaining a positive floor rating and career-best defensive rating.
Zach LaVine: "It’s a new team, man. I tried to say it at the beginning of the year, this isn’t last year."
— Darnell Mayberry (@DarnellMayberry) December 7, 2021
Gordon had a strong game, putting up 18 points to his usual 13.6 average, and added six rebounds and an assist. On the positive side, LaVine kept Gordon to under 50 percent from the field.
Despite Gordon’s offensive success, Lavine’s position on one of the Nuggets’ best offensive players exudes the trust Donovan has in LaVine and the team.
Trust is an important part of this team, especially considering everyone is new. The players, coaching, and management are learning on the fly, and trust within each other they will find a way to win.
The Bulls checked another box on Monday with the Nuggets, giving them the most wins in the Eastern Conference. The team will look to keep this energy going against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday.