The Bulls got some much-needed fire power back with Zach LaVine and Javonte Green returning to the starting lineup in the Monday win, but Dosunmu continued to show his evolution, starting at point guard and putting up career highs.
Billy Donovan was putting it on his own shoulders.
The coach had watched rookie Ayo Dosunmu clock in heavy minutes in back-to-back losses, but have very little return, so commented that he needed to do more to “help’’ the former Morgan Park High School standout find his way again.
Adding Zach LaVine to the starting backcourt after the All-Star missed 10 days with a sore knee was one obvious solution on Monday.
Give Dosunmu the starting point guard duties and get the heck out of his way.
In what was yet another showcase performance from the second round pick out of Illinois, Dosunmu continued displaying his all-around evolution, scoring a career-high 24 points – including a ridiculous 50-foot prayer at the third-quarter buzzer – as well as adding eight assists and grabbing five rebounds before fouling out.
Dosunmu showed the mid-range game, his three-point shooting, and his ability to play the role of facilitator, and the Bulls needed it all, blowing a 28-point third-quarter lead, but gripping onto the 111-110 win over the Thunder and ending a two-game losing streak.
“I felt like I was in the zone offensively and defensively,’’ Dosunmu said of his performance. “I definitely have room for improvement.
“A much-needed win.’’
Of course getting LaVine back was a huge boost, especially on the same day that the Bulls (29-17) announced guard Alex Caruso had wrist surgery in the morning, and Lonzo Ball was headed for knee surgery at the end of the week.
Even having to go to the locker room to get a cut above his left eye bandaged up, LaVine’s presence was more than felt, finishing with 23 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 brought back to the starting group. “I think those guys have built a pretty good connection – him and DeMar [DeRozan] and Vooch [Nikola Vucevic], and the rest of the group there. 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.’’
That LaVine did do as he also handed out seven assists.
LaVine wasn’t the only big return for the starting lineup, as Javonte Green finally returned from a groin injury that had him sidelined the entire month of January. That’s why Donovan felt comfortable giving DeMar DeRozan the much-needed night off to rest up.
It looked like a great decision when the Bulls went up 28 with 6:20 left in the third, but very little has been easy for this group the last month, so of course the Thunder cut it to six with 1:28 left.
After a Vucevic miss, that lead was just three when Luguentz Dort made a clutch 29-footer. Then a Coby White miss, and a Josh Giddey layup off the back-cut.
Donovan called the timeout with 14.8 seconds left and a one-point lead, and got the ball in LaVine’s hands. He was fouled and the guard nailed both with 9.9 seconds left, putting the pressure back on the 14-33 Thunder. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander tried playing hero ball with the 27-foot step back, missed, and Green snagged the rebound.
Green missed the first free throw, but made the one that mattered with one second left, as his second free throw attempt was pure.
Mike Muscala did hit a three at the buzzer but it was window dressing.
“We had way too many empty possessions,’’ Donovan said. “I’m happy we won … it could be a really good learning experience.’’