Chicago Bulls: Can Patrick Williams’ final game carry over into playoffs?

Patrick Williams, Chicago Bulls (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)
Patrick Williams, Chicago Bulls (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images) /

In what was supposed to be an insignificant regular season finale, Chicago Bulls lottery pick Patrick Williams may have found his groove heading into the playoffs.

Williams was one of few Bulls integral in their postseason hopes that suited up in the final game of the regular season, and he needed to. He missed much of the season following wrist surgery in October. His March return was triumphant in the first few games, but his production dipped significantly the more minutes he got.

It could easily have been fatigue, as he was coming off five months without NBA-level action. But Williams was entering the game early and wasn’t even looking to score. His passiveness allowed teams to trap Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan.

Going into the final game, it was clear that the team wasn’t going to play a lot of their key pieces. They dropped the final games against elite teams and then got spanked in the regular season home finale to a subpar Charlotte Hornets team.

The final game was a formality that held no significance for the Bulls’ standings, their stars, and their momentum. That was before Williams turned the contest into his own showcase.

Williams dropped a career-high 35 points in Chicago’s 124-120 win at Minnesota. Chicago was without Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vucevic, Alex Caruso, and Coby White. Without the other core pieces, Williams was able to show what he can look like as the offensive focal point.

Williams went 10-of-21 from the field, shooting 60% from three. He took the most shots he’s ever taken in his NBA career and made 12 of his 14 free-throw attempts. He also played the most minutes of his career, staying out there for 41 minutes.

He was assertive and decisive throughout the game and did not fade when the Timberwolves came back.

“I didn’t know I had (35 points) until after the game,” Williams said. “I just play. Like I’ve been saying for two years now, anything the team needs to win, I’m all for it.”

He also noted that his teammates and coaches had been telling him to look for his own shot. When asked what went into his mindset in that game, he said that he was echoing those sentiments with action.

“They’ve been giving me that message since last year, honestly,” Williams said. “It’s on me. I feel confident enough to do it. I’ve proven to myself, not only in this game but in previous games and even some last season that when I am aggressive, I am helping this team. … And from what I’m hearing from the coaching staff and my teammates the last two years is that when I’m aggressive, I’m helping the team win, offensively and defensively.”

The regular season conclusion was his 12th game since his return and easily could be a turning point for Williams – something the Bulls will need in the first round.

The Milwaukee Bucks were one of the first teams to deploy the “Bulls Blueprint.” They typically bait DeRozan or LaVine into traps on their drives, forcing them to make last-minute kick-outs. When they’ve done this, the player receiving the ball hasn’t been pulling the shot or even attacking the defense.

It has been a hesitant dark hole that has wasted Chicago’s possessions against the Bucks. Considering that Milwaukee generally limits the Bulls to one shot attempt, every possession matters.

Williams being assertive on those kick-outs will put the defense on their heels. Instead of being able to reset on the close-out, Milwaukee will be in a scramble. That is a situation where the Bulls can get the Bucks’ bigs in foul trouble, free up LaVine and DeRozan, and get wide-open three-point opportunities.

By just being an offensive threat, Williams gives Chicago a much better shot at competing against the Bucks in the first round.

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