February 1, 2023
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Nikola Vucevic matches career high with 43 points to send Bulls on to Paris with victory

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Bulls center Nikola Vucevic was a man possessed.

Every time the Bulls needed an answer Sunday against the Warriors at the United Center, there he was.

Vucevic produced inside and beyond the three-point arc and exploited the Warriors in one-on-one isolation situations, matching his career high with 43 points to lead the Bulls to a 132-118 victory that ended a three-game losing streak. He added 13 rebounds and four steals for good measure.

It was a positive prelude for the Bulls’ eight-hour flight to Paris, where they will face the Pistons on Thursday.

‘‘We came out and competed from the beginning,’’ said Vucevic, who was 18-for-31 from the field, including 5-for-10 from three-point range. “Beginning of games have been a big issue for us, and [today] we came out and played really well.’’

Vucevic scored 12 points in the first quarter, helping the Bulls open a 17-point lead early. But they gave up that comfortable margin after a second quarter in which they were outscored 42-24.

Aside from those 12 minutes, however, the Bulls played consistent defense. They got into passing lanes, which led to 12 steals and 18 points in transition. And with the help of Vucevic’s career afternoon, the Bulls outscored the Warriors 56-34 in the paint.

‘‘They made runs,’’ Vucevic said. ‘‘They’re a very good team. We sustained them and were able to finish the game off in a really good way.’’

With forward DeMar DeRozan missing his third consecutive game with a strained right quad, the Bulls needed a big performance from Vucevic and a strong showing from guard Zach LaVine.

LaVine’s three-point shot wasn’t falling — he was 1-for-8 from deep — but he was able to get to the rim. He shot 12-for-14 from the free-throw line and finished with 27 points, nine rebounds and six assists.

Vucevic has produced a double-double in every game in January. The one Sunday was his ninth in a row going back to the Bulls’ loss to the Cavaliers on New Year’s Eve. He also had one triple-double during that stretch.

‘‘It’s got to be a team effort to slow [Vucevic] down and connect the game,’’ Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. ‘‘It seemed like they had seven or eight stampede fast breaks that ended up in layups or dunks. And that’s because of poor offensive possessions, either on difficult shot attempts or turnovers.’’

The Warriors allowed 31 points off 23 turnovers. Klay Thompson led them with 26 points, and Steph Curry added 20.

The Bulls’ game Thursday against the Pistons will mark the third time they have played in Paris. The last time was during the preseason in 1997 — in the midst of their second three-peat.

Vucevic, however, declined to compare this Bulls team to those led by Michael Jordan.

‘‘I don’t like to compare the greatest era of basketball to anyone, but it’ll be fun to be back there,’’ Vucevic said. ‘‘Paris is a great city. Fans really love the game of basketball there. They’re really into the NBA, and I think the Bulls will have a huge following because of the ’90s Bulls.’’

The Bulls headed straight to the airport from the United Center, and everyone’s plans for the flight varied.

Coach Billy Donovan answered the question about his plans quickly.

‘‘A lot of film,’’ he said.

LaVine said he would indulge in some red wine.

After his big game, Vucevic wanted to curl up with a good book.

‘‘Take some melatonin, read my book, and I’m hoping to get a good six or seven hours of sleep so I can wake up refreshed there,’’ Vucevic said.





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