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10 observations: DeMar DeRozan, Alex Caruso play heroes in wild OT victory over Raptors

Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich

The Chicago Bulls evened their record at 1-1 with a wild, 104-103 overtime victory over the Toronto Raptors Friday night at the United Center.

“We had lulls but we never gave in,” DeMar DeRozan said. “We stuck with it and fought to end and gave ourselves an opportunity to win. And that’s what we did.”

Here are 10 observations from the victory:

—DeRozan and Alex Caurso played heroes. DeRozan scored 18 of his 33 points in the fourth quarter and Caruso made multiple defensive plays down the stretch before sinking the game-winning 3-pointer with 2.3 seconds left in transition on a nice feed from Zach LaVine after Caruso blocked Pascal Siakam at the other end.

“I give Zach a lot of credit. He kept his head in the game and made an unbelievable pass to Alex. He could’ve tried to force his way in there and gone to the rim,” coach Billy Donovan said. “For him to trust Alex with the pass was good.”

—Everything is a slog offensively through two games, particularly in the halfcourt. The Bulls had multiple possessions where they had trouble even completing passes. Add poor shooting and you get an ugly result. The Bulls scored six points in the first 7:12 of the fourth quarter and shot 37.4 percent overall, including 20 percent from 3-point range.

—DeRozan singlehandedly willed the Bulls back to life. DeRozan worked his pump fake magic to repeatedly go to the free-throw line, but missed the third of three free throws with 12.7 seconds left in regulation to tie the game—as well as putback in traffic on the ensuing scramble—and a go-ahead free throw in regulation with 0.7 seconds left after Caruso took a Siakam charge on an inbounds.

“Win by any means. That’s my mindset every fourth quarter,” DeRozan said. “Be aggressive. Don’t matter what happened the previous three quarters. It’s go time.”

—The Raptors opened the second half with an 11-0 run to extend a run that began in the second quarter to 23-0. The slow starts to both halves, not to mention Wednesday’s slow start, immediately draws into focus the fit of the starting lineup. While it would be a major surprise if Donovan makes a change this early in the season on Saturday night in Detroit, it’s a storyline to monitor moving forward.

—LaVine endured his second straight rough night. After shooting 4-for-16 in the opener, LaVine shot 3-for-14 and finished minus-23 on the night. LaVine also took the floor for second-half warmups wearing a wrap and pad on his lower back.

“It just got a little stiff,” LaVine said. “Playing against Toronto, you have to guard different positions. You’re guarding the 4 and the 5 with the 3 and the 4. So it got a little tight. But we were able to figure it out.”

Asked if he plans to play in Saturday’s back-to-back vs. the Pistons, LaVine said the team will assess it and figure it out on Saturday.

If LaVine does play, he’ll need to right his shooting woes to start the season.

“We’re all just trying to find a rhythm, me included obviously,” LaVine said. “You work on a lot of things throughout the season. You try to find things that will get you in the game. I just haven’t found that the first couple of games. I haven’t wanted to force anything either.

“But obviously, I gotta start getting things clicking. This is not the way I should be performing.”

—Williams exited at the 8 minute, 29 second mark of the third quarter and didn’t play again. Williams played just 13 minutes and shot 1-for-5, adding three rebounds and two steals. His backup, Torrey Craig, played 23 minutes.

“It’s probably a hard game for him from the perspective we got off to such a slow start that I felt like I ended to mix it up a little bit. And the same thing happened at the start of the third,” Donovan said. “I don’t think that was at all all on Patrick. It was just that group wasn’t great to start.”

—Craig arrived at the United Center in a Dennis Rodman T-shirt and then did his best Worm impersonation by creating extra possessions and attacking the offensive glass. The Bulls finished 28th in offensive rebounds and 30th in second-chance points last season. Craig grabbed three offensive rebounds as the Bulls finished with 24 second-chance points.

—Nikola Vucevic matched his eight field-goal attempts from last game in the first half alone. He finished with 11 points and 12 rebounds on 4-for-15 shooting. He obviously became the main story from Wednesday’s season opener when he and Donovan had a heated third-quarter exchange over Vucevic’s frustration with the offense. But it wasn’t about shots or even touches, more so just about offensive stagnation. Still, the Bulls made a concerted effort to exploit Vucevic’s mismatches more often, particularly when Jakob Poeltl only played 10 first-half minutes with three fouls.

—About that rough start, the Bulls missed their first five shots, including two 3-point attempts apiece from Coby White and Williams, and committed two turnovers. Worse, they failed to get out in transition after forcing two Raptors turnovers, stagnating in the halfcourt. Donovan burned his first timeout just 3 minutes after tipoff with the Raptors ahead 8-0. DeRozan scored out of the timeout on a drive. But that didn’t stop the bleeding. The Raptors jumped ahead 16-4 and Donovan went to Craig and Caruso early, staggering LaVine with the second group again. Those moves, along with White drawing a charge as part of a strong stretch, completely flipped the script. Until an OG Anunoby dunk narrowly beat the first-quarter buzzer, the Bulls enjoyed a dominant 20-0 run. Caruso took two charges. Craig created three extra possessions with offensive rebounds or tips, one leading to his own 3-pointer. White also scored four points and fed Vucevic for a traditional three-point play during the run.

DeRozan guaranteed a better effort. It didn’t come early. The Bulls endured an abysmal start before clamping down defensively and posting a dominant 20-0 run to right matters. DeRozan isn’t one to use idle words or make empty promises. He said the Bulls would have a better effort because he saw their workmanlike response to Wednesday’s disastrous season-opening loss. Effort wasn’t the problem, especially at the defense end. Execution was. The Bulls committed 17 turnovers.

—Both coaches won challenges and thus received a second challenge. In Donovan’s case, the Bulls got White’s charge on Poeltl overturned into a three-point play because White scored on the play. Raptors coach Darko Rajakovic used his second challenge unsuccessfully. Just to use the second challenge cost a timeout under new rules. Donovan followed suit in the fourth quarter, winning his second challenge and keeping the Raptors off the free-throw line and helping LaVine avoid his fourth foul.

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