BULLet Points: Bulls deliver completely empty signature victory

The Bulls technically aren’t eliminated until they lose another game or Indiana wins one, so Saturday night’s matchup with LeBron James and the Cavaliers still mattered. As is often the case, the Bulls brought their A-game for LeBron and co., pulling out an impressive 105-102 victory. Of course, it’s far too little, too late, so plenty of Bulls fans are just annoyed by this type of performance. Let’s take a look at how they did it.

  • The Spring of Cristiano Felicio continues. Felicio was 7/7 with 16 points, five rebounds, and two blocks in 23 minutes. He provided a real defensive presence and was perfect from the field, slamming down several dunks. Fred Hoiberg rightfully rode Cristiano down the stretch, as he played nearly the entire fourth quarter. The Bulls were +12 in Felicio’s minutes and -9 in Pau Gasol‘s.
  • The Bulls’ success with Felicio in the game is classic addition by subtraction. Pau puts up gaudy rebounding and block numbers that largely amount to empty calories. His slowness getting back and moving defensively sink the unit. His offensive production is overvalued as his post-ups slow down the flow and he takes a high percentage of long mid-range shots. Felicio does all the little things defensively and stays out of the way for the most part on the other end. The Bulls will be a better team without Pau in the starting lineup.
  • Good news! The Bulls have the rights to Cristiano Felicio next season for under $900,000, making the 23-year-old Brazilian a legitimate find. The Bulls will also have matching rights after next year, so Felicio will be on the team for a long time if things go well. A fun silver lining to a season that’s been anything but.
  • Bobby Portis and Felicio made up the frontcourt for almost the entirety of the fourth quarter comeback. The Cavs led 82-79 after three, but the Bulls stormed ahead to a double-digit lead before a late flurry from LeBron James made things interesting.
  • Ultimately, the James-Kevin Love frontcourt didn’t get the job done, as Tyronn Lue elected to go small for that stretch. Tristan Thompson never came in throughout the Bulls’ onslaught, and I wonder if that would’ve stopped the bleeding.
  • Both LeBron and Love were phenomenal, though. James finished with 33 points and seven rebounds in 39 minutes. He nearly willed the Cavs all the way back at the end, drilling multiple three-pointers at critical times. He was 4/5 from distance on the night, a far cry from his 30.2% clip on the season. Kevin Love notched 20 points and 13 boards.
  • Jimmy Butler turned it up late to secure victory. He finished with 21 points, six boards, and three steals. Derrick Rose had a tough night, adding only 10 points while posting a -20 in 32 minutes.
  • Nikola Mirotic tallied 13 points and six rebounds in only 17 minutes. He’s really started to look like a valuable player since coming back from his appendicitis. He’s shot 43.7% on threes since the All-Star break and is up to 38.2% overall.
  • J.R. Smith was lights out, scoring 24 points with seven three pointers. He’s quietly been one of the most prolific three point shooters in NBA history, and some nights he’s just going to roast you from deep. The Bulls are lucky J.R.’s hot shooting didn’t sink them.
  • Mike Dunleavy still looks like a corpse, which is unfortunate.
  • Coming up: the Bulls head to New Orleans tomorrow night.
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