Bulls bench takes a mob mentality in coming back to beat Celtics

The Bulls starters have looked disjointed through the early stages of the 2022-23 regular season.

Not a real surprise considering it’s been a part-time crew.

The reserves?

That’s been a little different animal.

For the most part the second unit has been intact since the start of camp. By all accounts, a group of angry dogs that have enjoyed running down the first-teamers at every opportunity.

So a first-quarter 19-point deficit against the defending Eastern Conference champions?

No problem.

Thanks to the likes of Goran Dragic, Derrick Jones Jr., and Alex Caruso, the Bulls watched what could have been a nightmare of an evening against the Boston Celtics turn into a 120-102 laugher in favor of the home team.

Not that Billy Donovan had much of a choice with the way the game started.

In what could only be described as an exercise in futility from the tip-off, Donovan saw his starters fall behind 12-0 out of the gate, and eventually into a 19-point deficit with 3:32 left in the opening quarter.

Frustrated with the effort he was seeing, the coach turned to his reserves, and just like that the game turned with them.

A Javonte Green three with 1:43 in the quarter cut the deficit to 11 and the comeback was on.

By the time Jones made a layup just minutes into the second, the Bulls (2-2) had cut the lead to two. Dragic finally gave them the lead with a layup, and just like that the 30-9 run was complete.

“We just played as hard as we could,” Jones said of the comeback. “Got a lot more physical, just trying to be disruptive out there on defense. And once we got the lead we didn’t look back.”

Rather than crawling into the locker room at the half, the Bulls could strut in. It was easy to figure out who to thank.

Caruso was a plus-20 in plus/minus in that second quarter, while Dragic and Jones were each a plus-16. It didn’t hurt that Donovan staggered Zach LaVine into that group, and watched his guard also finish a plus-15.

That bench group not only turned the tide, but it was momentum that had staying power, as the Bulls ran away in the third, outscoring Boston (3-1) 35-25 in the stanza.

A great showing, but one that also leaves some questions about the starting group and its cohesiveness. Questions that aren’t about to change.

One of the major reasons the group has been inconsistent is the amount of practice time they get with each other. Donovan has spoken about the load management the organization has been taking with LaVine in games, but lost in all that talk is the amount of time he has missed – and will continue to miss – when it comes to practices and shootarounds.

Part-time group with part-time results.

“The good part of it is he’s been in the league for a while. That helps,” Donovan said of LaVine and the ongoing concerns about his left knee. “I think he’s bright enough and smart enough where if his reps are limited, that at least gets him some. Obviously, ideally from a coaching perspective, you always want all your guys out there available, experiencing whatever you’re going through. But the situation is what it is. We’ve got to manage his health. That’s the most important thing. For us it’s getting into that routine of what is best to keep him at a place where he’s feeling good. Certainly the more load he has away from games that’s the part that’s got to be managed.”

Donovan already anticipated that LaVine would be limited in Tuesday’s scheduled practice, and then a wait-and-see if he’s a go for Wednesday.

“I do think we’ve got to figure out a way there has to be a balance of work,” Donovan said. “Because I’ve never been a believer that a guy can play a game, not do anything, and then just go play the next game.”

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