Bulls rally around Alex Caruso’s return — and more help is on the way
Caruso showed his impact in the Bulls’ victory Saturday. And with the team now heading west, there is hope for Patrick Williams’ return, too.
It was hard to hide the excitement.
As guard Alex Caruso was doing an on-court TV interview after the Bulls’ victory Saturday against the Cavaliers, his teammates started gathering for video bombs.
First came guard Zach LaVine, looking like a graduate assistant with his new-look glasses. He hugged Caruso, then stole his signature headband as a souvenir. Then came big man Tristan Thompson, who jumped on Caruso’s back with a hug.
‘‘That headband is sweaty as [expletive],” Caruso warned on live TV, as LaVine walked away and forward Javonte Green came by and slapped him on the behind.
Caruso’s return didn’t make the Bulls complete, but it did make them disruptive — something everyone recognized.
That’s why Green donned a white headband at the start of the game and why injured forward Patrick Williams wore a Caruso jersey underneath his coat on the bench.
Teammates not only understand Caruso’s importance to the Bulls defensively, but they genuinely embrace the guy.
‘‘We have great chemistry,” Caruso said of all the love his teammates showed him. ‘‘I think everybody on the team is pulling for whoever it is at the time that needs it, and [Saturday] it was me.”
The Bulls needed Caruso on the court way more than Caruso needed the gestures and butt slaps in his first game back from the broken right wrist that had sidelined him since Jan. 21.
And with only 15 regular-season games left, the timing of Caruso’s return couldn’t be better.
Starting Monday against the Kings, four of the Bulls’ next five games are against teams whose offenses are ranked among the top 15 in points scored. In fact, the Jazz, Suns and Bucks rank among the top six.
The Bulls have shown they can score with anyone. It’s stopping the opposition that has been an issue, specifically when Caruso doesn’t play.
If the Bulls want to hold off the red-hot Celtics and earn home-court advantage for at least the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, getting defensive will be key. That was evident Saturday against the Cavaliers, as the Bulls finished with 12 steals — Caruso led the way with four — and held a team to fewer than 100 points for the first time since the last game Caruso played.
‘‘I think when you bring scorers back, a lot of times the team has to adjust to that, and [they have] to adjust to the team,” coach Billy Donovan said. ‘‘But when you’re bringing a defender back, it’s a lot easier.
‘‘There’s a lot of confidence in that locker room with Alex defensively and the way he generates steals and deflections.”
There will be even more confidence when guard Lonzo Ball (surgery on left knee) and Williams (surgery on left wrist) are added to the equation.
Williams might return on the trip out West, as long as there are no setbacks in practices and shootarounds. Ball’s return is a bit more up in the air as he continues working through the process of lateral cutting and running.
Either way, more defensive help is on the way, and Caruso offered a preview of what that might look like.
‘‘When we were whole with [Caruso] and Lonzo back there, I think that was really the strength of our defense,” Donovan said. ‘‘We were disruptive. Those guys were really, really physical. They’re long, they’re athletic and they’re really, really high-IQ players.”