Bulls get the win on South Beach, but again lose guard Alex Caruso

Caruso has been essential in this team trying to build an identity, and after missing the last two games with a left ankle injury, worked his way back for a Thursday return. It was short-lived, however, as he lasted just under five minutes. Good thing he had some teammates to pick up the slack.

SHARE Bulls get the win on South Beach, but again lose guard Alex Caruso
Coby White

The Bulls’ Alex Caruso last just under five minutes before reinjuring the left ankle in Thursday’s win, and while the Bulls held on for the win, the hope is Caruso will be back quickly to continue pushing the turnaround.

Lynne Sladky/AP

MIAMI – For just under five glorious minutes, it felt like old times.

Well, it felt at least like last week, when the Bulls were on a four-game winning streak, playing with an identity in large part because of Alex Caruso.

Then it happened.

An all too familiar occurrence for the defensive-minded guard.

Caruso – who had missed the last two games with a left ankle injury – again felt the ankle betray him when Nikola Vucevic accidentally stepped on it Thursday, went to the bench with his team up 16-5 to start the game, and then to the locker room, never to return during the eventual 124-116 Bulls win.

While it didn’t cost the visiting team in the first of a two-game series in Miami, there’s a bigger picture that’s concerning for the Bulls (10-16) and Caruso. Specifically, his importance in continuing to try and turn this season around.

“Critical,” coach Billy Donovan said, when asked about Caruso and the part he plays in the culture Donovan has been trying to build. “I’ve talked a lot about things that impact winning, go into winning, and I’ve talked a lot about Coby (White) and kind of his evolution of the things that have become important to him, how can he impact the game besides shooting and scoring the ball? Alex does that.

“He is really, really smart, really tough, he’s really competitive. He’s a great team guy in the locker room. To me I would just put the word winner around him, just a winner. So for me personally, I think he impacts winning at an incredibly high level. I love guys like that because those guys, you know what you’re getting every single night, and those guys have an ability to impact the game.”

Caruso wasted no time showing off that impact against the Heat, hitting two three-pointers and handing out an assist right off the opening tip.

A lead the Bulls would build up to as much as 25 in that first half even with Caruso back in the training room.

Rather than make the night easy for themselves, however, there was no foot-on-the-throat mentality displayed, as Jimmy Butler’s Miami team had answer after answer, eventually getting the game down to four in the final few minutes.

A three-pointer by Ayo Dosunmu with 2:27 left stopped the bleeding and ended up being huge, as was White once again, finishing the game with 26 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds. Vucevic put up 24 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and handed out seven assists, while Dosunmu scored 24 on 10-of-12 shooting.

But as good as the trio was on the night, the Caruso setback was on their minds afterwards.

“It was a bummer losing AC because you just feel bad for him and the work he’s put in to get back,” Dosunmu said. “I was actually very sad. He checked in (at the start), hit two threes, he was feeling good, and then to see him have to go out, it was a bummer. But I just try and stay ready. Stay ready and try and grow.”

Both of those boxes were checked by Dosunmu.

What remained blank was how long will this latest Caruso injury sideline him? In the last four games with Caruso in street clothes the Bulls are 0-4.

There’s a reason why he’s the most sought-after asset the Bulls have when it comes to the trade market.

“He’s one of those guys that you’re not going to look down at the box score and see 25 points every night,” Donovan said. “There’s going to be a lot of things that don’t show up in a stat sheet about him fighting a guy off of a post-up and being in a help position. There’s a lot you cannot measure on the things he does. For me, those are the kind of guys I feel that I have great respect and admiration for.”

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