Against all odds, the Chicago Bulls have secured the first victory by a ten seed in NBA Play-In Tournament history, defeating the Toronto Raptors 109-105. Zach LaVine may have surpassed DeMar DeRozan as the top dog in the Windy City, dropping 39 points on 12-for-22 from the field compared to DeRozan’s 23 on 10-for-19. The final step to the Bulls’ qualifying for the NBA playoffs will be to defeat the Miami Heat on their home court, where they’ve already won twice in two tries this season. How did Chicago pull off this upset for the ages, and is the formula sustainable?
LaVine Took Over
After scoring just nine first-half points and staring down an 11-point halftime deficit, LaVine seized his opportunity to take over the game, scoring 30 points in the second half leading the Bulls to the four-point road victory. At one point in the third quarter, Chicago trailed by 19 points, and DeRozan was soon after seen tearing a towel in half on the sideline. The season was all but over for Bulls Nation. Enter the ex-UCLA Bruin guard, who’s averaged 23 or more points in Chicago for five straight seasons, Zach LaVine.
In his postseason debut last season, LaVine averaged only 19 points on 43% shooting, including an ugly 37.5% three-point percentage. Many wondered if his offseason max contract extension was a bit of an early trigger from the Bulls, seeing that he’d only seen four career postseason games and was mediocre at best during that span. In his first opportunity to re-write his postseason narrative, LaVine took the criticism personally and displayed to the NBA world tonight that he belongs in the superstar category among the game’s elites.
Hats Off To Billy Donovan
Head coach Billy Donovan has seen more than his fair share of criticisms this year for his lack of experimentation, his failure to light a fire under a veteran-led team, and the repetitiveness of the Bulls’ issues all season long without any solutions from their leader. Tonight was a different story, adjusting the sets that Chicago was running and the personnel on the floor for the entire second half.
Throwing in Derrick Jones Jr. to change the pace and counter the Raptors’ size and strength created a pulse in Chicago’s lineup. Leading the bench and third on the team overall with a +6 plus/minus on the floor, Jones Jr. spaced the floor and provided the ability to switch amongst all five defenders. Riding the starting five for the final ten minutes of the game was also an undervalued decision. Despite Coby White’s impressive first-half performance, the defense and tenacity of the Beverley/Caruso duo were too suffocating to turn away from.
Finally Won In Clutch Time
The Bulls have the fourth-worst clutch record in the NBA. A clutch game is defined by games within five points with under five minutes to go, as tonight’s game was. Chicago had a 15-23 record in such games during the regular season, and when tasked with a similar situation tonight, they prevailed with flying colors. Led by LaVine and DeRozan’s clutch buckets and decision-making and the relentless defense of Caruso and Beverley down the stretch, the Bulls buried Toronto with game-sealing free throws from first LaVine and then Vucevic.
Time to strap in Chicago for what could be an exciting postseason ride. Next stop, Miami on Friday!
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To bad this franchise is just a raging dumpster fire 99% of the time…Worst ownership in the League but only 2nd worse in Chicago sort of lol since White Sox are same haha then come the McCrapsys in 3rd