Saturday, May 25, 2024

Bulls vs. Nets takeaways: DeMar DeRozan continues to be clutch, Kevin Durant’s play not enough to beat Chicago

The Chicago Bulls finished their New York road trip with a gutsy 111-107 win over the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday night. The Bulls, who were without Javonte Green and Coby White because of the league’s health and safety protocols and lost Alex Caruso in the first half to a right hamstring injury, still managed to pull out a win on the road against the top-seeded Nets. 

Led by Zach LaVine’s 31 points, eight rebounds and six assists, as well as DeMar DeRozan’s 29 points, six rebounds and three assists, Chicago outlasted a Brooklyn team that was led by a 28-point performance from Kevin Durant, which pushed him pass Ray Allen for No. 24 on the NBA‘s all-time scoring list. LaMarcus Aldridge put up 20 points off the bench, but it wasn’t enough to contend with the offensive firepower Chicago has. 

With the win, the Bulls now hold a 2-0 series lead against the Nets this season, which could come into play later on down the line for playoff seeding, as Brooklyn and Chicago are sitting in the top two spots respectively in the Eastern Conference right now. It was a thrilling game that came down to the wire, so here’s a look at three key takeaways from Chicago’s win over Brooklyn on Saturday night.

1. DeRozan has another magical fourth quarter

Two nights ago in the Bulls’ close win over the New York Knicks, DeRozan put up 18 of his team-high 34 points in the fourth quarter, and it ended up being the difference maker in the win for Chicago. Well, fast-forward to Saturday night, and it was Groundhog Day all over again, as DeRozan tallied 13 fourth-quarter points to help put the Bulls in position to win the game. 

In two stretches in the fourth quarter, DeRozan scored six straight points for the Bulls, helping them keep pace against Durant and Aldridge, who were doing their best to give the Nets the win. But time and time again, DeRozan got to his spots, whether that was at the rim, free-throw line or his patented mid-range attack and sank shot after shot for the Bulls.

DeRozan’s stellar fourth quarter against the Nets is consistent to what we’ve seen from him all season long. Entering the matchup against Brooklyn, he ranked first in the league in total fourth-quarter points (165), and he’s shooting a ridiculous 52.8 percent from the field and 45.5 percent from deep. Though there’s some other legitimate contenders for MVP this season, DeRozan’s name should certainly be in the conversation as he’s carried the Bulls in the fourth quarter on numerous occasions. 

2. Bulls’ depth steps up in win

One of the bigger concerns about the Bulls entering the season was their lack of bench depth. Those concerns haven’t been soothed so far this season, as the second unit ranks 28th in points per game (27.4). However, against the Nets the bench was integral in Chicago’s win, led by rookie Ayo Dosunmu’s 11 points, in addition to Derrick Jones Jr.’s eight points, four rebounds and four blocks. That production was crucial for the Bulls in this win, as it was announced earlier Saturday that guard Javonte Green joined Coby White by entering the league’s health and safety protocols. 

Then in the first half, when defensive stalwart Alex Caruso went down with what the team is describing as a right hamstring injury, it was even more important for Chicago’s role players to step up. That’s exactly what Dosunmu did, and he finished with a game-high plus-16, and provided energy off the bench that shined through on possessions like this chase-down block in the midst of a clunky sequence:

The rookie also knocked down a high pressure free throw with nine seconds left to put the game out of reach for the Nets. It wasn’t just Dosunmu and Jones who stepped up. Ball, who struggled to find his shot from long range against the Knicks, nailed a clutch 3-pointer with just under 17 seconds left after Durant got Brooklyn to within two points. It’s an encouraging sign to see that the Bulls’ role players can answer the call when several key players go down.

3. Durant didn’t get enough help from Harden

If it wasn’t for Durant’s play throughout the game, the Bulls probably would’ve won by a wider margin. Durant did everything he could to keep the Nets within striking distance of the win, but aside from Aldridge’s production off the bench, he didn’t get enough help from the rest of his teammates. Specifically from Harden, who struggled to get anything going on offense and finished with 14 points, 14 assists and seven rebounds. 

That stat line from Harden is pretty eye-popping, but he also went 5 of 21 from the field and 1 of 5 from deep. Brooklyn isn’t going to win very many games when Harden is shooting that poorly, and although he was doing an excellent job at setting up his teammates for shots all night long, the Nets need him to put up bigger scoring numbers. This has been the storyline all season long for Harden and the Nets, who are still without Kyrie Irving. Durant has been doing his best to carry Brooklyn on his back while Harden continues to find his shot, but nights like this one against Chicago show that Harden needs to find his consistency sooner rather than later for the Nets.

On the bright side, Brooklyn has posted a 16-7 record and still holds a half game lead over the Bulls for the No. 1 spot in the Eastern Conference. So it’s a bonus knowing that this team can still pull out wins with Harden not playing at the level we’ve come to expect from him. The Nets just better hope he can be an adequate second star alongside Durant once we get later into the season and in the playoffs. Otherwise, the Nets won’t be winning very many games against other top tier East teams.  

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