- December 30, 2021
BULLS BEAT SHORTHANDED HAWKS AGAIN, IMPROVE TO 22-10
With the victory, the Bulls earn their first five-game winning streak since 2017.
he NBA is getting a pretty good idea by now the Bulls are for real, the latest being Wednesday in a routine 131-117 victory over a decimated Atlanta Hawks team missing a dozen players from injury and virus.
Though perhaps not many complete teams would have withstood the Bulls Big Three, Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic with 61 points, 26 rebounds and 14 assists—20 rebounds for Vucevic and 25 points on 10 of 13 shooting for LaVine—and team season bests with 61.9 percent shooting, 38 assists, a third consecutive game shooting almost 50 percent combined on threes and a fifth straight victory.
“We’re extremely good,” said Coby White, who also was extremely good with 17 points and 12 assists starting for virus-debilitated Lonzo Ball. “Well coached, talented; we have the talent to play with anyone, the players to play with anyone. The biggest thing on this team, and me and DeMar were talking before the game, we all have fun playing basketball and I think that’s the key. Everyone is unselfish and everyone loves playing with one another and we have fun on and off the court. It’s easier to play with guys like that, so for us as a team we’re really all connected and we all have one goal, to win as many basketball games as we can.
“We’re just happy to play basketball at the end of the day,” said White. “We just have a lot of guys who love playing and sometimes that is hard to come by in this world. We’re all excited because we know we can do something special.”
But what usually comes next is a name, like Jerami Grant or Harrison Barnes or Christian Wood or Marvin Bagley or Domantas Sabonis or Robert Covington or, you know, a real power forward, someone with size who can score, that final piece for the Finals.
You do know they’re playing a 6-4 guy there, right?
And once again he was pretty darned good, Javonte Green scoring 14 points with his usual assortment of slam dunks and how-did-he-get-down-that-lane-so-fast cuts and follows, a team best by a wide margin plus-24 while being the primary defender on Hawks All-Star Trae Young and adding some of his usual, a couple of steals, a block, six of eight free throws.
“That’s one of the big reasons he’s on the floor for us,” said undefeated substitute coach Chris Fleming. “He’s a nice shot in the arm for that (starting) group. We have a lot of calm guys who play at their own pace, and Javonte kind of brings us up.”
Well, actually the biggest reason he’s on the floor is larger power forward Patrick Williams probably is out for most of the season following wrist surgery. But the guy who seemed like merely a salary balancing throw-in for Daniel Theis when Chandler Hutchison and Daniel Gafford also moved on has been just another surprise in this most pleasantly surprising season.
The Bulls let Theis go in free agency and perhaps in another one of management’s quiet hustles resigned the peripatetic Green for two years. His statistics, 5.6 points and 4.3 rebounds, don’t jump out at you.
“He dunks everything,” White said with a laugh in marveling over some of Green’s pregame choreography that may been to have a Stephen Curry-like appeal. “He shoots a free throw, he makes it. And either does a between the legs or reverse dunk (as the ball hits the floor). That’s just who he is, ultra athletic. Swish and as it bounces, he takes a step and goes between legs or windmills; it’s crazy. He does it because he can, and I hate it because I can’t.”
The 28-year-old Green says it’s just a hobby he picked up overseas in his complex journey out of Radford University in Somewhere, Virginia and then Spain, Italy and Germany and the Celtics’ 2019 Summer League team for an unlikely NBA opportunity.
More unlikely it seemed with the Bulls, but Arturas Karnisovas seems to have an eye for this team building thing.
There have been other possibilities—and perhaps others to come—but virus-sidelined coach Billy Donovan’s style of play emphasizes speed and impetuous opportunity, which Green provides despite his disadvantages in dimensions. Even with a 6-4 so called “power forward,” the Bulls aren’t outrebounded often, and Wednesday led 41-37. Huge centers like Joel Embiid have been a problem at times, but it’s no longer an NBA with power at power forward. No more Karl Malone, Buck Williams and Charles Oakley. Draymond Green is a prototype.
The Bulls’ Green doesn’t do all that Draymond stuff, but he’s no softie. He was offered a football scholarship coming of high school as an all-state quarterback. “Playing different sports growing up and me liking contact,” Green explained.
Often his kinetic energy is the ignition for the motor of that starting group, especially with Vucevic and DeRozan who like to survey the game first. Green attacks it, like he did Wednesday with eight first quarter points in a bewildering 38-36 start for the Bulls.
“I just want to do everything that DeMar and Zach and Vooch don’t necessarily have to do, like guard the best player, just do all the little things, bring them energy,” Green said. “They’re going to score the ball regardless. I just want to take more pressure off them and just do the little things.”
Green had four quick free throws barging toward the basket, got a reverse dunk on a run out and another dive to the basket score on a LaVine pass as Hawks circled. But did little.
“He (Green) brings a level of tenacity, especially on the defensive end,” White said. “I feel like he doesn’t get enough credit on the offensive end. Everybody knows what he does defensively, and he shuts guys down. But offensively he opens up so much by crashing the glass, being able to hit the three and also putting the ball on the floor and getting to the basket. And especially his off ball movement opens up a lot for us in the pressure he puts on the rim.”
To be fair, it wasn’t a fair fight. And Young did notice the Bulls a few weeks back got a few games postponed with fewer players out than the Hawks had Wednesday. But this isn’t a welcome topic in the NBA, and the games go on. So everyone plays them, and the Bulls Little Nine (what else you have a Big Three?) was most helpful.
Ayo Dosunmu took the defensive baton from Green on Young and frustrated the Hawks star, as he did Monday in Atlanta, this time with a pair of blocks and a steal and had 14 points. Tyler Cook, who is a taller type power forward, caught a bunch of passes rolling for dunks and 10 points.
And Zach, oh Zach stop it, just stop it.
LaVine has been a marvel in his latest return from Covid, shooting 64 percent the last three games. And we know hardly anyone takes shots as difficult—and makes them.
That was LaVine basically ending the game late in the second quarter with his offensive improvisation, the step back three, spinning through traffic cone defenders for a layup, the quick pullup from out of bounds.
“That secret’s out,” Fleming said about LaVine. “He’s been an All-Star, he’s an Olympic champion, he’s playing at a extraordinary high level for a team that’s second in the East; I think people know he’s pretty good.”
By the time the second quarter was over, the Bulls with a 16-0 run and 22-3 closed the half with a 21-point lead. It was way too much for an Atlanta team still learning eachother’s names. But they are, as it’s always pointed, out NBA players. And still the Bulls shot a staggering 69.8 percent in the first half with 24 assists on 30 baskets.
“We were trying to get out and run a little more, trying to make the game easier, especially on our main guys,” said Fleming. “They’ve been playing at an incredibly high level shooting the basketball. They got out and really tried to run and we had a really good offensive game doing that; they got out and really shared it.”
Young got a little bit going in the third, and he did finish with 26 points and 11 assists. But Green and Dosunmu and friends harassed him into seven turnovers with only two other players, Clint Capella and Cam Reddish, who normally are in the Hawks’ top 12.
The Bulls had no problem holding off Cameron Oliver’s 12 fourth quarter points. Free hot dogs if you know where he played.
Just for kicks, Green stole the ball from Young midway through the fourth quarter and handballed it ahead to LaVine, for a 360-degree two-hand slam dunk. The show goes on.