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Alex Caruso nets career-high 3s — and blows out shoe in the process — in Chicago Bulls win over top-ranked Minnesota Timberwolves

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images North America/TNS

The moment Alex Caruso landed, he knew something was wrong.

Midway through the second half of Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, he had launched into the air to contest Anthony Edwards. When his foot hit the ground, something gave way.

It wasn’t just a minor issue. The entire bottom of his left shoe — sole and insert included — had blown out of the bottom seam’s stitching, leaving Caruso’s foot all but bare against the Target Center hardwood.

Caruso knew the shoes were perhaps past their prime — a lucky pair of Kobe 4 “Fade to Black” released in March 2016. But they were a sentimental favorite that Caruso cherished on the court.

An equipment manager scrambled to the locker room to locate a backup pair. But Caruso had already come up with a makeshift solution on the bench, slipping into a pair of teammate Torrey Craig’s shoes to finish out the game.

If there was ever an ideal opportunity to retire a favorite pair of Kobe’s, Sunday’s game was fitting — a 109-101 win over the best team in the Western Conference highlighted by five steals and a career-high seven 3-pointers from Caruso. The shoes were the victim of Caruso’s biggest game task: shutting down Edwards, who shot only 9-for-20 with Caruso scrambling after him throughout the game.

“He was unbelievable tonight,” coach Billy Donovan said. “Just him getting over pick-and-rolls, handling post-ups, handling (Edwards) in the midrange, just moving his feet — he did such a good job, he blew his sneaker out. I’ve never seen that before. He was amazing.”

For 25 minutes on Sunday, Caruso couldn’t miss.

The guard is best known for his defensive prowess. But throughout this season, Caruso has flexed an improved ability to make shots from behind the arc, improving his accuracy to 39.5% on a career-high 4.6 attempts per game.

Still, none of that incremental improvement flashed quite as brightly as Caruso’s performance in Minnesota. He made his first six 3-pointers of the night, finishing 7-for-8 to score 21 points without taking a shot from inside the 3-point arc. And Caruso managed this career-high feat despite playing through an ankle injury that has forced Donovan to limit the guard’s rotations the past week.

“I just tried to focus through All-Star break and then coming out of the break staying true to the work and just being aggressive,” Caruso said. “I think it’s shown over the last couple of games, I’m shooting pretty well just because I know where I’m going to get the shots and then I just trust in the work I’ve put in.”

The Bulls have left any sense of predictability in the rearview mirror.

That became clear over four quarters in Minnesota as the Bulls stacked a 16-point lead on one of the top contenders in the league, then blew it entirely to land back into their 41st clutch finish of the season.

The Bulls had been struggling from deep, averaging 34.6% shooting behind the arc in the 10 games before Sunday’s win for 10.4 makes per game, tied for the third-lowest 3-point production in the league in that span. But they briefly snapped out of that spell against the Timberwolves, dropping 17 3-pointers on 58.6% shooting on the top-ranked defense in the NBA.

That still wasn’t enough to hold off a Timberwolves comeback, but the Bulls absorbed the pressure of another clutch game — one of their strongest suits this year.

The Bulls have finished nearly 55% of their games this season with a margin of five or fewer points in the final five minutes. And after Sunday’s win, they are now 25-16 in these situations.

It’s not an easy way to live — especially after a long week in which the Bulls yo-yoed from demoralizing losses to bottom-rung teams like the Washington Wizards to resounding wins over the Timberwolves and Indiana Pacers. But for a Bulls team desperate to keep its standing at ninth in the Eastern Conference, it had to be enough in Minnesota.

“We love the drama,” DeMar DeRozan said. “It’s frustrating because we know our capabilities. We know we can beat anybody. So when we lose the games where — you know, I see it on Twitter, they go crazy on us, say we’re the most confusing team. That’s not us. We go out and perform like we did tonight, that’s who we are. It’s all about being consistent.”

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