Rookie Ayo Dosunmu has another showcase game as Bulls hold on for victory
The Bulls got some much-needed firepower back with Zach LaVine returning to the starting lineup, and Dosunmu continued to show his evolution, starting at point guard and putting up a career-high 24 points.
Bulls coach Billy Donovan was putting it on his own shoulders.
He had watched rookie Ayo Dosunmu clock heavy minutes in back-to-back losses with little to show for it, so he said he needed to do more to help the former Morgan Park and Illinois star find his way again.
Adding guard Zach LaVine to the starting backcourt after he had missed 10 days with a sore knee was one obvious solution Monday.
The other? Give Dosunmu the starting point-guard duties and get out of his way.
Dosunmu continued displaying his all-around evolution, scoring a career-high 24 points — including a 50-foot prayer at the third-quarter buzzer — to go with eight assists and five rebounds before fouling out.
Dosunmu showed his mid-range game, his three-point shooting and his ability to facilitate, and the Bulls needed it all. They blew most of a 28-point lead but held on for a 111-110 victory against the Thunder in Oklahoma City.
‘‘I felt like I was in the zone offensively and defensively,’’ Dosunmu said. ‘‘I definitely have room for improvement. A much-needed win.’’
Getting LaVine back was a huge boost, of course, especially on the day the Bulls announced guard Alex Caruso had wrist surgery and guard Lonzo Ball was headed for knee surgery at the end of the week.
Even though he had to go to the locker room to get a cut above his left eye bandaged, LaVine’s presence was more than felt. He scored 23 points in his return, despite a shaky 6-for-19 shooting night.
‘‘Leadership-wise, presence out there, his ability to create,’’ Donovan said of what LaVine, who also had seven assists, brought back to the starting group. ‘‘I think those guys have built a pretty good connection, him and DeMar [DeRozan] and [Nikola Vucevic] and the rest of the group.
‘‘I think anytime you take that kind of scoring off the floor, you don’t necessarily feel like one person has to make that up. You have to do it collectively as a unit there, but [LaVine’s] ability to generate things for himself and for others is always something I think he does at an incredibly high level.’’
And LaVine wasn’t the only big return for the starting lineup. Forward Javonte Green finally came back from a groin injury that had sidelined him the entire month. That’s why Donovan felt comfortable giving DeRozan a much-needed night off to rest.
It looked like a great decision when the Bulls opened a 28-point lead midway through the third quarter, but very little has been easy in the last month, so the Thunder naturally made a big run.
The Bulls led by only six with 1:28 left before Vucevic missed and the Thunder’s Lu Dort made a three-pointer. Then Coby White missed and the Thunder’s Josh Giddey made a layup to make it a one-point game with 14.8 seconds left.
Donovan called a timeout and got the ball into LaVine’s hands. He was fouled and made both free throws with 9.9 seconds left to give the Bulls a three-point lead. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander then missed a three-pointer, and Green snagged the rebound and was fouled. He missed the first free throw but made the second with one second left.
The Thunder’s Mike Muscala made a three-pointer at the buzzer, but it was just window-dressing.
‘‘We had way too many empty possessions,’’ Donovan said. ‘‘I’m happy we won. . . . It could be a really good learning experience.’’