Bulls’ Alex Caruso returns, offers masterclass in impacting winning

Caruso returns, offers masterclass in impacting winning originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

At the first timeout in the first quarter of the Chicago Bulls’ victory over the Cavaliers, Alex Caruso basically sprinted to halfcourt to greet his teammates, clapping.

“You could see he was just anxious to get out there and play,” DeMar DeRozan said.

And play Caruso finally did, making his first appearance since Dec. 20 after a stint in the league’s health and safety protocols and time to heal hamstring and foot issues.

“I was smiling in the back putting my jersey on and lacing up my shoes,” Caruso said.

Back in 2004, the last time the Bulls began a culture change, a force of nature named Andres Nocioni seemed to almost hyperventilate with intensity and excitement. Caruso’s game is different, but his palpable effect on team dynamics is similar.

“Everything he brings — his energy, his presence, his leadership — goes a long way,” DeRozan said. “His voice in the locker room. Before we go out there on the court in huddles. Halftime. It’s something we definitely lean on and feed off. So it was great to have him back.”

Caruso finished with nine points, three rebounds and two assists in 23 incident-free minutes physically. But as per usual, his impact transcended the box score.

He finished a game-high plus-18. He held his own guarding bigger players like Kevin Love and Evan Mobley. And while he surprisingly didn’t record a steal, it’s not coincidence that the Bulls got back to their havoc-wreaking ways defensively.

They scored 24 points off 15 Cavaliers’ turnovers.

“Man, it’s everything. You see tonight, we were a different type of team. We were aggressive,” DeRozan said. “The wings feed off of AC. What he generates defensively gives us opportunities to get out in transition. That’s what you saw tonight. And I feel that’s when we’re at our best.”

Caruso said he felt great physically in his first stint and, even though he missed some open shots, felt he ran the offense well and took the right shots. Guarding the Cavaliers’ size in the second half tested his conditioning.

But little could fully slow Caruso’s intensity and enthusiasm.

“I didn’t have any competitive outlet for, like, a month,” he said. “So I was teed up.  I was ready to go.”

That’s what Caruso missed the most — the outlet for his competitiveness, the bonds forged in game action.

“Just being with my guys, watching them go through it, not being able to affect it at all,” Caruso said. “That’s probably the toughest thing about playing a sport, being a part of a team. It’s probably what coaching is like. It’s probably what being a parent is like — watching people you care about play the game and having no control. Not a great feeling. It was a lot better to be there and out on the floor with them.”

Caruso’s non-stop communication didn’t stop when he was sidelined. But this time, his actions could augment his words.

“He doesn’t necessarily yell,” DeRozan said. “AC is kind of like that one college professor who is always preaching a thesis or something.”

Wednesday’s subject: How to impact winning.

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