The Chicago Bulls hosted the Golden State Warriors on Sunday, January 15 for a 2:30 matchup between two teams that have been struggling to meet expectations this season. While this seemed like a game primed to give the Bulls four straight losses, Nikola Vucevic scored a Bulls-career-high of 43 to carry Chicago to a 132-118 victory.
The Set Up
The perceptive among us (and the, well, not perceptive) have noticed that the Bulls have been bad this season. With Lonzo Ball's continued absence, drama surrounding Zach LaVine, and incompetence offensively outside of DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vucevic, and LaVine, Chicago remains in the playoff picture only because the Eastern Conference is so top heavy. They're coming off of their third-straight loss, throwing away a game to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Meanwhile, the Warriors are sitting at .500, 6th in the Western Conference. Even as the 6th seed if the playoffs started today, Golden State is underperforming their talent. Still, they have a deadly offense with three players (Steph Curry, Jordan Poole, and Klay Thompson) averaging over 20 PPG. Andrew Wiggins (18.3) isn't far behind. The Warriors have the exact type of perimeter offense designed to give Chicago fits.
The first quarter got started with the Bulls clicking offensively, including hitting 3 of 6 threes in the first four minutes of the game, running out to a 19-5 lead. The start also consisted of some highlight dunks from LaVine and Derrick Jones Jr.
As the quarter progressed, Chicago kept their metaphorical foot on the pedal. Golden State seemingly had no answers for Nikola Vucevic who paced the Bulls with 12 points on 5/7 shooting and 2/2 from deep. The Bulls led 35-20 at the quarter's end.
The Warriors got the second quarter started with an 11-2 run, however. Golden State methodically started working their way back into the game and making it a close contest again behind better rim protection and continued impressive perimeter shooting.
The Bulls did something they haven't normally been doing, though—moving with intentionality offensively. Continued movement, ball screens, and passing allowed Chicago to hang onto the lead despite the Warriors screaming back. That, along with a sense of urgency getting the ball up the court, and the Bulls kept their offense going.
Still, as the quarter progressed, the Bulls continued to leave perimeter shooters open. If you didn't know, leaving Klay Thompson open is a bad idea. Combine that with Chicago putting together a field goal drought for over four minutes as their movement dried up, and you get Golden State taking the lead with under a minute left. Vucevic stopped the bleeding and put the Bulls back up 59-58 before a wide-open Steph Curry (yes, you read that right, the Bulls left Curry wide open) hit a three to put Golden State up 61-59 to end the first half.
Vucevic continued to pace the Bulls with 18 points and 6 rebounds. LaVine ended the half with 12 points and 7 boards. For Golden State, Thompson had 15 with 5 threes and Curry had 12 with 3 threes.
The third quarter got started with the Warriors going on a quick run. It seemed like the dreaded Bulls Third Quarter™️ was getting started. LaVine continued to play angry, though. You could see a competitive fire in him that inspired others to go harder out there.
It led to things going back and forth between the two teams. The things that really kept the Bulls in the game was forcing turnovers and running on the fast break. By the end of the third quarter, the Warriors were up to 18 turnovers compared to 8 for Chicago. It helped the Bulls end the third quarter back on top with a 92-86 lead with both Vucevic (27 points) and LaVine (21 points) one rebound away from a double-double.
In the fourth, Vucevic continued to dominate. Golden State just had nothing to offer in terms of post defense, and the big man was feeling his outside shot, too. Early on in the quarter, Vucevic was already pushing up close to 40 points on the day.
For Golden State, Thompson just continued to hit threes, and they continued fighting with a high-octane offense, but Curry's 8 turnovers proved to be a significant hinderance as they tried to create their own momentum. It was also cool to see a different team constantly leaving players open while on defense. We're not alone, guys!
Vucevic crossed the 40-point threshold with just under two minutes left in the game, putting an exclamation point of sorts on the game and his dynamite performance. He poured in two more to give him a 43-13 performance, his most points scored in a Bulls uniform. It was over from there. The Bulls took this one 132-118.
What's On Tap Next?
The Bulls will get some much needed rest and time to regroup and get DeRozan healthy before they take on the Detroit Pistons on Thursday, January 19 at 2:00 PM. Their game in Detroit kicks off a theoretically easy stretch in Chicago's schedule. If DeRozan gets healthy and the Bulls continue the level of play shown in this one, it could be a good opportunity to right the sinking ship that has been the 2022-23 season.