The Chicago Bulls keep finding heartbreaking ways to lose.
Wednesday night at the United Center, De’Aaron Fox’s 3-pointer with 0.7 seconds left overcame DeMar DeRozan’s dramatic four-point play with 12.5 seconds left and lifted the Sacramento Kings to a 117-114 victory.
The loss dropped the Bulls to 31-37, a half-game behind the 10th-place Washington Wizards and a half-game ahead of the 12th-place Indiana Pacers.
Here are seven observations:
1. With Alex Caruso sidelined by an illness, coach Billy Donovan started Ayo Dosunmu instead of Patrick Williams. Donovan said he did so for multiple reasons. The move allowed Dosunmu to match up with Fox initially, moved Patrick Beverley onto Kevin Huerter to utilize Beverley’s ability to navigate screens and kept Coby White and Patrick Williams in tandem in reserve roles.
“I think they’ve been playing well with some rhythm in that second unit,” Donovan said.
Indeed, White sank three quick 3-pointers, Williams bullied his way to two early baskets and the Bulls built a 16-point, second-quarter lead.
2. The Bulls built this lead despite Zach LaVine missing his first six shots, including two blown point-blank layups.
“I started off terrible,” LaVine said. “We all missed a lot of easy shots, open 3s, wide-open layups.”
LaVine, who has been scorching offensively since the All-Star break, rallied to score 25 points but shot 7-for-22. It’s only the second time in the nine games since the break that LaVine didn’t shoot 50 percent or better.
3. Fox’s shot produced the heartbreak and the highlight. But the Bulls lost the game in the third quarter, getting outscored 37-22. Particularly initially out of halftime, the Bulls’ had poor shot selection. At one point, the Bulls missed 13 straight 3-pointers.
“That’s the disappointing part to me of the game,” Donovan said. “The start of the third quarter gave them a lot of momentum.”
Making the third quarter even more painful was the fact the Bulls lost almost all of that 16-point, second-quarter lead before halftime but rallied with a strong close to the first half to lead 58-48.
The Kings utilized a zone defense for much of the third to stymie the Bulls.
“They got out in transition. We weren’t able to set our defense. They went to that zone and it slowed our offense down,” LaVine said. “We gotta try to find an easy shot. They’re going zone for a reason. Hit the middle and try to get a 3 or a layup instead of holding it and trying to figure out what’s going on.”
4. The Bulls tied their season-high with 42 3-point attempts. They sank 16 for 38.1 percent despite Nikola Vucevic missing all seven attempts.
“The way they play defense, they came in and provided help at the rim and we sprayed it out,” Donovan said. “We did a good job at times attacking the closeouts.”
DeRozan, who posted his 18th 30-point game with 33 points, produced two four-point plays in the final 3 minutes, 50 seconds. Both victimized Harrison Barnes, who actually drew a flagrant on the first for not giving DeRozan landing space on his jumper.
Kings coach Mike Brown challenged the second foul call with 12.5 seconds left, but DeRozan said---and replays indicated---that Barnes brushed DeRozan’s elbow.
“It’s just a read,” DeRozan said of taking the 3-pointer rather than passing to LaVine, who is more accomplished from that distance. “Try to get them to make a decision on either me or Zach. We played it well, got them to mess up.”
5. Donovan and players refused to concede messing up on the final defensive possession, crediting Fox instead. Dosunmu played Fox straight up, with Williams offering late help.
“Ayo it looked like from the bench got a pretty good contest on it,” Donovan said. “We tried to send Patrick over there. He was a little bit late. But the other thing with their shooting is you don’t want to give up a wide-open shot either by running at him with 11 seconds left.”
Indeed, Kevin Huerter and Malik Monk, who sank a combined 9-for-17 from 3-point land, stood poised on the wings if the Bulls left to double-team Fox.
“I wanted to use my wingspan but not get too close to him because I didn’t want to try to get a drive or a foul or a handcheck. I was trying to keep a good distance where I could still contest,” Dosunmu said. “When he pulled up, I contested. Pat contested. He made a tough shot.”
6. The Bulls dropped to 12-23 in clutch games, defined as being within a five-point margin with 5 minutes or less to play. The Kings improved to 23-15, one of the best clutch records in the league.
The Bulls finished 25-16 in clutch games last season, also one of the league’s best marks. The script has flipped. That Fox trumped DeRozan’s four-point play heroics seemed symbolic given the New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day 3-point miracles that DeRozan delivered last season for victories.
“For the most part, we were pretty good coming down the stretch,” Donovan said. “I like the way the guys managed the clock.”
7. More painfully, it’s the sixth time the Bulls have blown a lead of 16 points or more. That statistic will leave a mark should the Bulls find themselves on the outside of the play-in picture when the season concludes.
“It sucks. We gotta keep pushing, keep fighting. You can’t let it discourage you too much where you feel like it’s over with. We understand we still have an opportunity,” DeRozan said. “We’re going to play this thing out until we can’t anymore.”