The Bulls respond to adversity with victories over the NBA elite, originally appearing on NBC Sports Chicago
MILWAUKEE — Try to figure out this Chicago Bulls team.
Last Friday night they surrendered their fourth straight game to an under-.500 Orlando Magic team in heartbreaking fashion, and with their two-time All-Star and newly minted highest-paying player in Zach LaVine on the bench.
This week they post back-to-back victories over the NBA’s top two teams, the Boston Celtics and the Milwaukee Bucks, putting on their most comprehensive defensive performance in the latter on Wednesday night at the Fiserv Forum.
“It shows that we can play against anyone. And we can beat anyone,” LaVine said. “We just have to have the same attitude in every game.”
That mindset focused on playing defensively physically and actively, resulting in a season-high 12 blocks and nine steals. That mindset focused on making the extra pass offensive, resulting in a season-high 18 3-pointers.
And most importantly, that mindset focused on looking inward after such adversity, a dynamic that helped the Bulls record their first regular-season win in eight attempts here.
“Coach (Billy Donovan) challenged me, Zach and Vooch (Nikola Vučević) a few games ago. We have to live up to that. keep this group. It’s a challenge that we’ve all accepted,” said DeMar DeRozan. “It’s fun as a competitor. They want to be challenged in this way to make themselves and the team better.”
This is what leadership looks like. And it gives DeRozan’s belief that the Bulls’ best basketball is ahead of them potentially credibility.
“We had some down moments,” DeRozan said. “Losing games in a row. Dropping games we thought we should have won. close games. Getting our butt whipped at home. We went through so much emotion in just 20 games in one season. Sometimes that’s an advantage. You have to absorb that pain and turn it into competitors. And I think that’s where we are right now.
“By losing the games we lost, we held each other accountable. Everyone has spoken up in film sessions and exercises. We turned on each other. We picked it up. I think we show how much we want it instead of just talking about it. It’s just proof that boys want to compete.”
There has been a noticeable difference in energy levels over the past two games. And that would have been true even if the Bulls hadn’t finally broken through on Wednesday and closed the deal by earning their first “clutch win” in eight attempts.
From DeRozan, who took over the attacks from Giannis Antetokounmpo, to Patrick Williams, who blocked two of the two-time MVP’s shots, the Bulls joined the fray.
“Everyone was locked in, sacrificing their bodies and helping each other,” LaVine said. “Giannis will be Giannis at the end of the day. But I think we did a good job and helped with that. We had good communication.”
This communication does not only take place on the pitch. As DeRozan noted, that communication has also been happening off the beaten path — and in an intensified manner since Donovan pulled off his shocking move to bench LaVine last Friday.
In typical coaching language, Donovan stressed his happiness for the players for the effort they put in, but warned that the win only emphasized one game. But this one felt like something special, something the Bulls can build on.
“If you don’t answer, you’re going to get your ass kicked, especially on these really good teams,” LaVine said. “Hopefully we can start stacking them.”
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