The Chicago Bulls have been playing really good basketball to begin the 2021-22 NBA season. Granted, their victories have come against the Detroit Pistons (twice) and the New Orleans Pelicans.
When the Bulls traveled north of the border to visit the Toronto Raptors for their fourth game, it was going to be a good test. In the end, the Bulls rode turnovers generated by active defense to a 111-108 victory.
The Set Up
After a season opener against the Pistons that was closer than it needed to be, the Bulls pretty casually blew out the Pelicans and the Pistons in their next two games. It led to Chicago’s first 3-0 start since 2016, but it didn’t shut down any naysayers. After all, the Pistons and Pelicans are two of the worst teams in the NBA.
The thing is, if you’ve watched the Bulls over the past several seasons, you know that those are the exact teams Chicago would find a way to lose to. Either way, the Raptors represented the real first challenge for the Bulls this season.
In the first quarter, the Bulls and Raptors traded blows back and forth. Outside of DeMar DeRozan’s 11 points, the Bulls were tossing up a lot of bricks. In the opening frame, the Bulls only shot 33% from the field.
In the second quarter, the Bulls started to pull away. They outscored the Raptors 37-27 to generate a 61-51 lead at halftime. DeRozan and Lonzo Ball were leading the way and it looked like the Bulls were ready to dominate the game.
Once the second half started, that looked to be the case even more. The Bulls built on their second-quarter success and looked to be in complete control. Even as the Raptors continued to hit shots efficiently, the Bulls won the third quarter 31-29.
It’s that pesky fourth quarter that made things tense. The Bulls, who had five turnovers going into the fourth, coughed up the ball seven times in the final 12 minutes. At one point, Zach LaVine looked like a fifth-grader about to get cut from his elementary school team trying his first behind-the-back dribble.
As things got physical in the fourth, the Raptors slowly and methodically got themselves back into the game. Fred VanVleet was a man on a mission (15 points and 17 assists) and the Bulls were their own worst enemies. Turnover issues persisted and the Raptors continued to execute on their opportunities.
Toronto outscored the Bulls 28-19 in the fourth, and it looked like one of those classic games. Not like a classic, go-back-and-watch-it-over-the-years game, but a “welp, here the Bulls go again beating themselves” classic game. Still, at the end of the game, Nikola Vucevic made one of two free throws, VanFleet missed a desperation three-pointer, and the Bulls walked away with a 111-108 victory.
DeRozan’s Interesting Homecoming
As I outlined in my Bulls thoughts on tap Twitter thread after the game, DeMar DeRozan was both my favorite and least favorite player during this game.
He was clutch throughout the game on multiple occasions. Often, when the Bulls needed it, DeRozan was the guy who generated the clutch basket.
Of course, there were also several possessions where DeRozan threw up bad shots and stifled the offense. It led to DeRozan shooting just 36.8% from the field on his way to a game-high 26 points. He went seven of 19 from the field, which led to 16 points on his shots from the field.
Now, his perfect 10/10 mark from the free-throw line can’t be ignored, but shooting under 40% while taking nearly 20 shots isn’t the best look.
You can’t scrutinize the performance too much because DeRozan played an integral part in the Bulls remaining undefeated. Still, on the season, DeRozan is shooting just 41.9% from the field on a team-high 74 shots. When the Bulls start playing better teams, one has to wonder if DeRozan needs to slow down a little bit and cut into his 29.2% usage rate.
Then again, the Bulls are winning, so what do I know?
What’s On Tap Next?
Next up, the 4-0 Chicago Bulls will take on the 2-1 New York Knicks. It will be an excellent early-season test of how good these Bulls really are. The game will be Thursday at 7:00 PM CT as Julius Randle, Derrick Rose, and company visit the United Center, so make sure to get out for the game, get loud, and #CrackUm.
Check out the Bulls On Tap podcast for further postgame reaction as well as Chicago basketball analysis and commentary all season.
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