‘Caru-Show’ back on the air: Bulls sparked by Alex Caruso’s return

The defensive specialist had been out of the lineup since Jan. 21 because of a Grayson Allen flagrant-2 foul that fractured his right wrist.

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The clapping and excitement started a slow rumble throughout the United Center just before the timeout.

Alex Caruso had made his way to the scorer’s table with 6:31 left in the first quarter, set to make his first appearance since Grayson Allen derailed his season with a flagrant-2 foul in January that fractured his right wrist.

By the time the timeout came and went, and Caruso officially took the floor, the clapping turned into a standing ovation.

The Caru-Show was back on the air.

Thanks to four steals and the disruptive defense that has become his trademark, as well as 11 points in 29 minutes, Caruso helped spark the Bulls to a dominant 101-91 victory Saturday against the Cavaliers.

Not bad for a guy on a minutes restriction who was deemed an “unknown’’ by his own coach because of all the time he has missed.

“He’s only played in 28 games, and the one thing that’s been difficult is when he did kind of get back from that foot sprain and then he got COVID, it’s just kind of been really choppy for him — a game here, a game there,’’ coach Billy Donovan said. “Certainly getting him back gives you a jolt, there’s no question about that, but I just don’t know where he’s at. He hasn’t played in so long. It always takes a little bit of time for these guys to get back into a rhythm, get into a flow. There hasn’t been a lot of necessarily five-on-five for him.’’

Caruso stepped on the floor with the Bulls down a point and looking sluggish against a short-handed Cleveland team, and by the time his first stint was over, the Bulls were up eight, with the entire team suddenly playing disruptive defense.

Call it the Caruso Effect.

“He had a major impact, just having another competitor out there,’’ rookie guard Ayo Dosunmu said. “He makes [defense] easier for a lot of us. He’s a veteran; he’s won; he’s played in those high-level games. You have that, and it boosts the entire team morale.’’

The Cavaliers found that out firsthand as they tried to figure out what happened to those warm feelings early on. They were down 11 at halftime and searching.

“His IQ to see something happening as it’s developing and to be able to jump into passing lanes and recognize and read, we become obviously much more disruptive,’’ Donovan said. “And like I’ve said, there were some things in his absence that I thought we could control better. We still have to control it.’’

The Bulls held Cleveland to 36.7% shooting in the first half, forced eight turnovers and outrebounded the Cavs 26-18. It wasn’t only Caruso who pitched in on the defensive end, either. Dosunmu, who had two rough games against All-Star Darius Garland earlier this season, held Garland to six points on 2-for-12 shooting in the first half.

Garland did get loose in the second half, finishing with 25 points, but the Bulls kept the Cavaliers off-balance most of the night.

And even without Zach LaVine, who was dealing with left-knee discomfort, the Bulls had more than enough offense, led by DeMar DeRozan’s 25 points, as well as 20 points and 14 rebounds from Nikola Vucevic.

The Bulls (41-26) needed the victory with the current climate in the Eastern Conference. They’re holding down the No. 4 seed, just behind the 76ers and a half-game ahead of the idle Celtics.

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