At some point, this will have to stop, right?
Not tonight at least, as the Chicago Bulls came back down the stretch to win their sixth straight contest, this time a 117-115 nail-biter over the Philadelphia 76ers. Kris Dunn and Nikola Mirotic each dropped 22 points, while the Bulls went 7-8 from the field in the last 3:34 to secure the victory.
First three quarters
After Philly went up early in the first quarter, Chicago used a 10-0 run to end the frame up five points, 30-25. Despite the team success, Lauri Markkanen shot a disappointing 0-5 to begin his first game back from a week-long back spasms issue.
In the second quarter, the 76ers regained control, but only temporarily. With just under five minutes to go, Justin Holiday took over. Yes, that’s correct, Justin “36% shooting” Holiday took over. He scored 15 points in those last five minutes, including three straight three-pointers, to put the Bulls up 67-59 at half.
Though Chicago would extend the lead to 12 points in the third quarter, Philly came storming back to bring the deficit to just 2 points heading into the fourth quarter. Enter the Non-Clutch Bulls.
Beginning the frame, it was still a tight battle. However, two easy inside shots by rookie phenom Ben Simmons and a three-pointer by Jerryd Bayless put the 76ers up seven with just seven minutes to go.
With five minutes to go in the fourth, the 76ers had a cold stretch, missing three straight three-pointers. However, the Bulls couldn’t capitalize, missing three consecutive shots of their own. Enter the Clutch Bulls.
Suddenly, the Bulls came roaring to life. After a Nwaba layup, Markkanen and Dunn splashed in back-to-back threes, followed by a Niko and-1 and a Kris Dunn spinning bucket in the paint. You read that right: 13 straight points by the Bulls.
Niko block, Dunn 3. pic.twitter.com/V2o2OHWAVa
— ⓂarcusD (@_MarcusD2_) December 19, 2017
During that span, Niko recorded a block and a steal to get the defensive stops. Although his success may not last very long, watching Niko play since his return has been nothing short of thrilling.
The offensive onslaught would continue. Though the Bulls let up five easy Dario Saric points, they made up for it with a Dunn jumper and a Mirotic three. At that point, the Bulls were seven for their last seven from the field.
Dunn feeds Niko- Splash! pic.twitter.com/pRtsaL4sYa
— ⓂarcusD (@_MarcusD2_) December 19, 2017
Saric would hit one more three, and after an ambitious Mirotic miss, Philadelphia had a chance to tie or win. Ben Simmons dribbled past David Nwaba with a few seconds left, but Kris Dunn contested the shot, and the refs opted not to call a foul as Simmons missed the tough shot. Electricity in the air, the Bulls had won again.
Simmons finished with 19 points, 11 rebounds, and 9 assists, while Saric totaled 27 points in the losing Philadelphia effort. As for Chicago, Mirotic snatched 13 rebounds to complement his 22 points, and Bobby Portis earned a double-double. Both teams had 6+ scorers in double figures.
All in all, Lauri Markkanen played well in his first night back. Lingering rust can be blamed for his 0-5 start, but the 4-6 span after that was impressive, especially the huge three with under three minutes to play.
Kris Dunn continues to ball out since I criticized his inconsistency towards the end of November. He dazzled again tonight, finishing with 22 points and 6 assists on 9-14 shooting, including those three clutch baskets.
It’s safe to say Dunn is the starting point guard moving forward. Importantly, that solidifies the versatile Zach LaVine as a shooting guard when LaVine returns in 2018.
Justin Holiday dropped a whopping 0 points in the second half, after ending the first with 20 to his name.
Unfortunately, or fortunately if the goal is tanking, this success will stop for the Bulls. Surrendering 117 points to a Joel Embiid-less 76ers team, their defense obviously still needs work. Meanwhile, their offense won’t be able to sustain the recent high shooting percentage.
However, it’s safe to say this is no longer the worst team in the league. Not by a long shot. Until/unless big trades occur, Chicago fans can count on exciting basketball from the Bulls.