The Bulls are a veteran team, but apparently they like learning their lessons the hard way and squandered another opportunity to put away a win at home this season, capitalized by Phoenix Suns Mirza Teletovic crashing the glass after a Jon Leuer miss for a soft jumper to give the Suns a 103-101 win at the United Center.
It was the 41st and 42nd points scored by the Suns in the fourth quarter, a shocking development after the Bulls surrendered a season-low 10 in the third quarter, looking reminiscent of a defensive DNA established many moons ago.
And more importantly, it leaves the Bulls searching for answers after blowing a 16-point lead in the fourth quarter.
It left their coach seething and their leaders unable to figure out why putting away teams is so difficult to do.
“We had them where they didn’t want to play anymore,” Bulls guard Derrick Rose said. “That’s what happens in this league if you let teams stay close. They have that confidence where half of their bench was in and they still came back. We have to find ways to close out teams.”
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Instead of quitting, the Suns felt emboldened to make a comeback, knowing the Bulls would leave the door cracked just enough for them to make a run. It didn’t seem possible in the third when the Bulls swarmed the Suns all around, forcing six turnovers and hitting just four of 20 shots, pleasing everybody on the Bulls’ sideline as if their troubles were behind them.
An easy win seemed likely if they could push a 16-point lead to 20.
“That’s what you have to do,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “You have that have that killer instinct. We have yet to find it this year.”
In this up-and-down season, the highs were followed by extreme lows, as Rose missed a floater that could’ve put the Bulls up with 16 seconds left and the Suns galloped downcourt, eager for a chance to earn a win they probably felt they had no business in anyways.
“This game’s all mental,” Bulls guard Jimmy Butler said. “When you get a double-digit lead you’re supposed to build on it. We don’t do that. Are we strong mentally? I think so. But at times we have lapses.”
Rose tried to quell the Suns’ run in the fourth, scoring six while Brandon Knight played at a speed that seemed dangerous on his way to a 17-point quarter. Knight finished with a team-high 21 points for the Suns.
“He played great,” Rose said. “He knocked down shots, kept shooting. As a leader for a team, that’s what you have to do. He stayed in the game and the shots went in towards the end.”
The Bulls created a fast-moving monster that was relentless in the final minutes, unable to stop whatever the Suns threw at them after keeping them somewhat at arms’ reach for most of the night.
Tony Snell had a spurt to start the first quarter, hitting triples and even driving to the basket for a dunk, while Butler played an efficient game on both ends, scoring 19.
“We tried to let the group that started the fourth stay in there, since they finished the third well,” Hoiberg said. “Our defense wasn’t the same. They got comfortable and in a rhythm. When we did get a stop they got the rebound.”
The Suns scored 28 second-chance points, and even though they were outrebounded by eight and committed 19 turnovers, they were desperate for a comeback.
Butler was asked when he felt like things were slipping away and apparently, he saw the storm clouds coming rather early in the final 12.
“Whenever they started digging into our lead, to tell you the truth,” Butler said. “It happens entirely too often. We keep talking about it. Eventually we’ll have to fix it or we’ll keep finding ourselves on the losing end.”
It wasn’t Knight, or Eric Bledsoe, the man who played on speed in the last six minutes to keep the Suns’ intensity high but Teletovic, who scored 20, put the finishing touches on a shocking win that will again leave the Bulls bewildered.
He went over Rose’s back to grab the offensive rebound but the benefit of the doubt is usually given to the aggressor at that point. And the Bulls had that sapped out of them well before the final possession.
“We couldn’t find a way to get a rebound,” Hoiberg said. “We played our best defensive quarter of the year and followed it up with our worst defensive quarter of the year.”
Pau Gasol scored 22 with 10 rebounds and six assists, as his jumper with a little over two minutes remaining pushed what was once at 16-point lead back to five, leaving many to think ordered had been restored.
But the Bulls were outhustled, outmuscled and outplayed when it mattered most, and if its not panic, it’s time for concern with a team that can’t do anything consistently except be inconsistent.
“Just a bad loss. Things like this, with a team as talented as we are, it just shouldn't happen,” Gasol said.