SALT LAKE CITY — Taj Gibson sat in his locker, head staring at the floor while Jimmy Butler, two lockers over, rubbed his aching knee, slumped down and nearly slouched over.
For more than 15 minutes after media was allowed into the visitor’s locker room, it was dead silent. Pau Gasol was the first to emerge from the doldrums, tapping both Butler and Gibson on the leg in encouragement on his way to shower after the Bulls’ 105-96 overtime loss to the Utah Jazz Monday.
Derrick Rose slowly got dressed, the first to face the media firing squad, forced to address an unthinkable collapse — especially when one considers 30 minutes prior, Rose’s usually checked emotions got the best of him, taking a bow to the visiting crowd after nailing what could’ve been a game-winning, season-turning triple with 18.5 seconds left.
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Instead of exuberance, the locker room was filled with frustration at best, and at worst…acceptance.
The frustration that was evident in the Staples Center visiting locker room after a blowout loss to the Clippers circled around following gameplans and keeping not only personal discipline but collective discipline when a team makes a run.
In that instance, things snowballed to a predictable result.
In this one, the Bulls picked up the snowball and smashed themselves in the face with it, resulting in nine losses in 13 games, placing them squarely in the middle of the pack of the Eastern Conference.
“It hurt,” Rose confessed. “But we still got a lot of basketball to play. You’re not gonna play your best every night…we thought we had it in regulation.”
They should’ve won it in the first 48 minutes, but their playmakers - the veterans - made key mistakes when they’d been entrusted to finish things off.
“It bothers me. Losing, period,” Butler said. “I gotta play better. That’s why they got me here. I haven’t been doing that lately. But that’s on me. I gotta hit the gym and put in the time.”
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Butler made a couple mistakes that led to the team’s demise, as well as Gasol and Rose.
“It’s tough in overtime and it’s crunch time and you make certain mistakes,” Gasol said. “But I think we were playing pretty well and had a chance to win. We didn’t make the plays we needed to.”
Just as palpable the emotion was in the visitor’s locker room in Cleveland when they spoiled the Cavaliers’ debut of Tyronn Lue as coach, the pendulum has swung in the other direction.
And whether they realize it or not, the season is on the brink.