Bulls impressively blow out Cavs in preseason opener

by 24USATVOct. 6, 2021, 5:20 a.m. 26
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In the Bulls debuts of Lonzo Ball, DeMar DeRozan and Alex Caruso, the Bulls opened their exhibition schedule with a 131-95 victory over the Cavaliers at the United Center.

Here are eight observations from a fun night in which the Bulls led by as many as 48:

The Bulls were---dare we say?---fun again. Lonzo Ball fed a cutting Zach LaVine along the baseline for a dunk. Alex Caruso followed on the next possession with an alley-oop to LaVine for another dunk.

Earlier, Ball left a drop pass for Caruso on the break for a layup and DeMar DeRozan got rewarded for his block on Lauri Markkanen by throwing down a reverse dunk on a give-and-go with Caruso.

The slick passing and unselfishness made this Billy Donovan pregame quote prescient: “I think we have a good passing team.”

When Ball checked out as the last starter late in the third, the Bulls had posted 26 assists to just four tunovers. That's no small statistic for a team that finished 27th in turnovers last season and was playing together for the first time with a bunch of new parts.

And, no, LaVine didn’t get an assist for the rare missed highlight---a botched dunk on a breakaway that Ball cleaned up with a layup, and a laugh.

For all the talk about all the new offensive toys at Donovan’s disposal, the coach preached defense from Day 1 of training camp. It showed.

The Bulls proved extremely active defensively, flashing active hands and a man-to-man commitment that even featured Caruso and Javonte Green guarding Lauri Markkanen one-on-one in the post.

The Bulls finished with 11 blocks and 13 steals.

Donovan has talked all preseason about his desire to play faster. Multiple times, the Bulls forced a turnover and got out on the break. Just as impressively, Ball pushed tempo after made baskets.

The Bulls repeatedly got into halfcourt sets early in the shot clock, allowing players to read and react to each other to opt for the most optimal shot. Overall, the Bulls attempted 25 more field goals than the Cavaliers.

With Patrick Williams out, Donovan turned to the unheralded Green. The third-year guard displayed physicality and some defensive aggression in a limited role last season after coming over from the Celtics in the Daniel Theis trade.

Green showed his defensive versatility by leaping high to swat an Evan Mobley shot in the paint and later rushing out to block Ricky Rubio’s 3-pointer. Overall, he finished with 13 points, two steals and four blocks.

Beyond White---when he’s healthy---and Caruso, the Bulls’ reserve rotation isn't set. Nights like the one Green made can make a huge impression. He can play himself into the rotation.

Troy Brown Jr. and Caruso were the first two substitutes. Caruso drew one of the loudest ovations of the night when he checked in at the 5 minute, 22 mark of the first quarter.

As he stated on Monday, Donovan played his starters around the 25-minute mark. While this is atypical for some coaches, Donovan pointed to the fact the Bulls have just four exhibition games and so many new faces as his reasoning. There's urgency here.

Tony Bradley (lower left back strain), Derrick Jones Jr. (sprained left ankle) and Marko Simonovic (sprained right thumb) all sat with injuries that are considered minor and day-to-day. This is on top of Patrick Williams and Coby White already, of course, out with longer-term absences.

“The straight-ahead running has been fine,” the coach said. “Everything he’s done up to this point and time he’s been able to do it. Like he’s shooting, he’s running, he’s doing those things. It’s going to be when they start cutting him and then if he does feel some soreness they’ll back away, but what they don’t want to do is have maybe a jarring motion where he really sets himself back and then he’s out again, and has to play through it.’’

Lauri Markkanen drew some applause when he checked in during the first quarter. Somewhat surprisingly, Denzel Valentine drew some boos when he checked in during the fourth.

But the biggest ovation of the night---even bigger than Caruso's---came when local product Ayo Dosunmu, who also played at Illinois, checked in during the third quarter. The second-round pick sank a floater and threw down a dunk off another forced turnover to further jazz the crowd.

Before his serious sprained ankle that ended his season early last season, Brown Jr. had seemingly carved out a rotational role with his commitment to defense and athleticism. But questions surrounded his shot.

Not in this preseason debut. Brown Jr. knocked down three 3-pointers as one of seven Bulls in double figures. He didn't hesitate either, firing corner 3-pointers quickly after the catch. Before the game, Donovan said the fourth-year wing had improved his shot.

8. LaVine is still an elite scorer.

Fresh off his Olympic gold medal stint, in which he didn't serve as that team's featured scorer, LaVine scored 25 points in 24 minutes on 9-for-14 shooting. LaVine also sank 4 of 6 from 3-point range.

LaVine played flawlessly alongside Ball and DeRozan, who finished with a combined 21 points, nine assists and nine rebounds combined. LaVine's field-goal attempts matched those of DeRozan's, one more than Nikola Vucevic. This bodes well for an unselfish, balanced offensive attack.

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