Bulls get defensive against Cavaliers, snap four-game skid

Alex Caruso’s return was huge for the Bulls defensively, but, as he showed in the third quarter, it’s his intangibles that really were missed while he was out.

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The Bulls’ DeMar DeRozan steals the ball from the Cavaliers’ Kevin Love during Wednesday night’s game at the United Center.

The Bulls’ DeMar DeRozan steals the ball from the Cavaliers’ Kevin Love during Wednesday night’s game at the United Center.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

There will be a time in the next few weeks when coach Billy Donovan will be summoned and a serious heart-to-heart discussion will take place on what the Bulls need as the Feb. 10 trade deadline draws closer.

The coach knows that’s coming.

“Those guys have been great, always keeping me in the loop of what’s going on,’’ Donovan said of his bosses. “For us right now, so much has been directed at the guys that have been out. It’s been more like really talking about this team, how do we help this group? No question there will be a time that they sit down and talk to me about that stuff. They’ve always been very inclusive with that, but I don’t think there’s anything going on right now where they need to sit down with me. And listen, we talk all the time anyway, but I can’t say we’ve gotten into any details about the trade deadline.’’

First things first — what did Donovan really need Wednesday?

How about a 6-5 foxhole guy who lives for doing the dirty work that wins basketball games. Welcome back, Alex Caruso.

DeMar DeRozan led the Bulls with 30 points in the 117-104 victory against the Cavaliers, but it was those feisty Caruso intangibles that have been sorely missed over the last month, as the guard battled with hamstring, foot and protocol issues since Dec. 4, He finally made his return just in time to help end the four-game losing streak.

“I’ve always said this when players come back, I have no anticipation or expectation that he will be at the same level he was at before he went out,’’ Donovan said before the game.

Maybe not, but it was a heck of a display in the third quarter.

In a one-minute span, all Caruso did was hit a corner three, draw a second offensive foul on a Jarrett Allen attempted screen, rip off a layup, and then pull the chair out from Kevin Love as the big man was attempting to back him down, forcing a travelling call. And just like that a six-point lead was an 11-point lead.

In 23 minutes, Caruso had just nine points, but finished a ridiculous plus-18 in plus/minus.

Just how important is the Caruso Effect for this team?

Entering the Cavs game, the Bulls (28-15) held opposing teams to 105.7 points per game with Caruso but 113.7 points without him.

The Cavs scored 104.

“I thought he got better as the game went on,’’ Donovan said. “Just his voice out there, communicating with the guys . . . he certainly is really, really good playing the elbows. Alex’s ability to communicate on defense, recognizing what’s coming, makes us better defensively, there’s no question about that.’’

None, especially considering the Bulls finished with 24 points off turnovers.

And what Caruso brings to the table seemed to be contagious, as Coby White had four steals and rookie Ayo Dosunmu had two.

It didn’t hurt that the substitute backcourt also combined to score 34 points, but it was a night for the defense to step up, and it did. DeRozan knew why.

“Everything he brings, energy, leadership, it goes a long way, his voice in the huddles,’’ DeRozan said. “It was great to have him back. We’re a different team. 

‘‘It was something we definitely needed. He definitely helped us to get this win. He’s like that one college professor that’s always preaching a thesis . . . that’s AC.’’

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