Alex Caruso’s return shines as X-factor in Bulls’ win over Cavaliers

Alex Caruso, Chicago Bulls Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
Alex Caruso, Chicago Bulls Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports /

Demar DeRozan scored 25 points and Nikola Vucevic added 20 points and 14 rebounds as the Chicago Bulls (41-26) secured a 101-91 victory against the Cleveland Cavaliers (38-29) at the United Center on Saturday night.

Although Zach LaVine did not play due to left knee soreness, Alex Caruso returned from a 22-game absence after injuring his right wrist in the Jan. 21 game against the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Cavaliers came into the game with a huge disadvantage, playing without All-Star big man Jarrett Allen who is out indefinitely with a fractured finger. Lauri Markkanen sat out due to a sore right ankle and Caris LeVert missed his ninth straight game with a foot injury. Cleveland had also lost their last eight of 10 games coming into the matchup.

As a result, the Bulls had plenty of confidence heading into the game, which helped them notch a much-needed win. It was their second consecutive victory after a brutal five-game losing stretch.

In their upcoming schedule, Chicago will travel to Sacramento to face the Kings while Cleveland will head back home to face the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday night.

But first, here are three takeaways from Saturday’s game.

3. Bulls’ Stars Shine

DeRozan and Vucevic contributed big performances for the Bulls with LaVine out. Although he shot 9-for-24 from the field, he was a perfect 7-for-7 from the foul line. DeRozan scored 17 points in the first half, spurring the Bulls to a 53-42 lead going into the break.

Since Allen was out, this freed up more opportunities for the Bulls to hunt for buckets in the paint.  The Bulls scored 46 points in the paint while Vucecvic had a strong second half despite dealing with a hamstring injury. He also recorded his 38th double-double of the season.

In the Bulls’ Mar. 9 win against the Detroit Pistons, DeRozan, Vucevic and LaVine combined for 82 points. The Bulls need consistent scoring from their Big 3 if they’re going to compete down the stretch and secure the best playoff positioning possible.

2. Coby White and Ayo Donsunmu Make an Impact

Coby White stepped up, filling in for LaVine in the starting lineup. The third-year guard finished with nine points, seven assists, seven rebounds and two steals.

Rookie guard Ayo Donsunmu also got the starting assignment in Saturday’s game, adding 17 points, three assists, two rebounds and two steals. Donsunmu was one of the more efficient players for the Bulls, shooting 7-of-10 from the field and 3-of-4 from the 3-point range.

Donsunmu made an impact on both ends of the floor, something that he’s done during the stretch without Caruso. And now he’s got some more help.

1. Caruso’s Return Bolsters Bulls’ Defense

With Caruso returning, it’s no surprise that we would see more cohesion with the defense. Caruso returned from roughly seven weeks out of the lineup and finished with 11 points, four rebounds and a game-high four steals in just under 30 minutes.

Caruso was pivotal in the Bulls’ forcing ill-advised turnovers and adding the intensity that was evident earlier in the season. Chicago had a dozen steals while scoring 17 points off the Cavaliers’ 14 turnovers. The Bulls also held the Cavaliers to 91 points, 41.9% shooting overall, and 20.8% shooting from deep.

Caruso’s return also marked the first time Chicago held an opponent to under 100 points since the Jan. 21 game against the Bucks, which was the last time he played before Saturday night.

Additionally, this helped Donsunmu assume his role as defensive catalyst with less pressure, as he spent the night matched up against Darius Garland. The Cavs guard had rough start to the game, shooting 2-for-12 in the first half. He finished with 25 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, but wasn’t exactly efficient with his 9-of-24 performance.

Overall, getting Caruso back along with Lonzo Ball and Patrick Williams will give the Bulls more firepower heading into the postseason. Bulls fans got a mini preview as they wait for Ball and Williams to get clearance.