The Chicago Bulls stayed streaky with a 111-100 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Monday at the United Center, their third consecutive victory bookending their Paris trip last week.
After a rocky start to the season, the Bulls have climbed back to two games under .500. With a three-game trip against sub-.500 teams this week, they’re well-positioned to level their record.
Alex Caruso showed no signs of jet lag as he catalyzed the Bulls offensively and defensively. He ripped a ball out of the gut of a Hawks player under the basket and smacked away a shot by Justin Holiday on the next play in the first quarter. In the second quarter he sank a 3-pointer, then stole a pass on the ensuing possession to throw down a transition dunk. But despite Caruso’s contributions on offense — 12 points and two assists — his most important work came on the defensive end. He handily won his matchup with Hawks guard Trae Young, helping to hold the All-Star point guard to 21 points on 7-for-16 shooting and 0-for-5 from 3-point range.
Forward Patrick Williams sparked an 11-3 run to open the fourth quarter after the third quarter ended in a 78-78 tie. Williams bounded after a ricocheting shot to slam down a put-back dunk, then completed a three-point play with a physical drive to earn a basket and a foul. His offensive aggressiveness set up his teammates, feeding center Nikola Vučević (14 points, 17 rebounds) a no-look dime for a one-handed slam. Williams finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds and two assists.
It was a historic night for DeMar DeRozan, who played in his 1,000th NBA game. But for DeRozan, it was business as usual. The All-Star forward led the Bulls offense with 26 points and six assists.
The Bulls were energetic from the jump, but they still played with a bit of rust on their shots. They went 6-for-25 (24%) from the field and 1-for-9 from 3-point range in the first quarter. Derrick Jones Jr. was the only Bull to make multiple field goals in the opening quarter.
Despite exiting the first half with a fairly comfortable nine-point lead, the Bulls suffered an offensive meltdown in the third quarter — a common theme of recent games. The Hawks outscored them 30-21 in the quarter despite going 3-for-8 from 3-point range.
Stat of the game
Despite a sluggish start for the Bulls offense, the Hawks never could pull ahead because of shaky ball protection. They turned the ball over seven times in the first quarter and 13 times in the first half.
The Bulls forced 18 turnovers overall and had 13 steals — the third consecutive game in which they tallied double-digit steals.
A grand night
The Bulls commemorated DeRozan’s 1,000th game with a highlight video in the second quarter.
DeRozan, 33, accepted the honor with a mixture of gratitude and sheepish humility, raising a hand to the crowd while ducking his chin in laughter while Ayo Dosunmu patted him on the back.
“I don’t know how many tributes I’ve had in my career,” DeRozan said after the game. “At this point, I’m starting to feel like either I’m old or people feel like I’m about to retire or something. It’s always cool to feel appreciated in this game. Some things that I’ve accomplished, I still don’t believe. It’s still something new to me.
“I just feel old. I’m not, but …”
“Yeah, you are,” rookie Dalen Terry chirped from across the locker room. DeRozan shook his head.
“See?” he said, gesturing at the 20-year-old. “That’s what I get.”
DeRozan attempted to steer the conversation back into typically thoughtful territory: “It just puts things in perspective, just how long you’ve been around. My first game, Shaq was playing …”
“Damn!” This time, it was Patrick Williams — who went on to affirm that he was 8 when DeRozan made his NBA debut — who interrupted DeRozan.
“That’s what I’ve got to deal with,” DeRozan said with another shake of his head. “That’s why I laugh. But it’s fun.”
Goran Dragić missed Monday’s game with a non-COVID illness.
Where they stand
The Bulls improved to 22-24 and remain 10th in the Eastern Conference.
The Bulls hit the road for a three-game stretch, facing the Indiana Pacers (23-25) on Tuesday, the Charlotte Hornets (13-34) on Thursday and the Orlando Magic (18-29) on Saturday.