The Indiana Pacers delivered a potentially crushing blow to the Chicago Bulls’ play-in chances Sunday afternoon at the United Center, prevailing 125-122 when Tyrese Haliburton sank a 30-foot 3-pointer with 2.7 seconds left and Nikola Vucevic missed a tying shot at the buzzer.
The loss wasted 42 points from Zach LaVine, whom the Pacers snuffed out on the final inbounds play with a thicket of bodies.
Though the teams now have identical 29-36 records, the Pacers nudged ahead in the play-in race by virtue of winning the season series 3-1. The Bulls currently sit 12th.
Here are six observations:
1. The Bulls continue to struggle in clutch games, which are defined by within five points or less with 5 minutes to play or less.
After going 25-16 last season, which tied for the third-most such victories in the league, the Bulls are now 11-22 in clutch games this season. That’s tied for the third-fewest such victories with the Detroit Pistons, ahead of only bottom-feeders in the Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs.
“We have not closed games well this year,” coach Billy Donovan said. “It’s not one thing. It’s been different things.”
2. On Sunday, Patrick Beverley pointed to offensive rebounding and transition opportunities, two areas that the guard said the Bulls addressed in practice.
That may make the Pacers’ 13 offensive rebounds and 20-8 edge in second-chance points and 24 points scored off the Bulls’ 15 turnovers even worse. Those are bigger reasons the Bulls lost than Haliburton’s heroics.
3. It’s not often you see a team shoot 60.8 percent and lose. That’s what happened to the Bulls, thanks to the aforementioned second-chance points and points off turnovers but also a math problem that has plagued them all season.
That led to the Pacers attempting 94 field goals, 20 more than the Bulls. Worse, the Pacers attempted 44 3-pointers, double the Bulls’ 22 attempts.
The Bulls actually shot a good percentage from 3-point range, knocking down 10, including five from LaVine. But they still finished minus-18 from beyond the arc, a trend that has happened all season for the league’s lowest-volume 3-point shooting team both in terms of attempts and makes.
“Obviously, we don’t have the team that takes a lot of 3s. We have a couple guys on the team that take multiple 3s a game,” LaVine said. “But if a team is shooting 2 or 3 times more 3s than you, it’s tough unless you’re making a lot of twos.”
4. Haliburton’s 3-pointer following tough defense from Beverley pushed the Bulls into need for a tying shot.
“He shot the ball and it went in,” Beverley said. “Good shot.”
Donovan said LaVine represented the primary option on the ensuing inbounds play, which LaVine said the Bulls changed over the course of consecutive timeouts.
“Try to get me to the top to get a 3,” LaVine said. “There was just a lot of clutter up there.”
DeMar DeRozan, who curled off a screen, represented a secondary option. So did Vucevic, who released to the ball as a safety valve and turned and hoisted his tying attempt at the buzzer. Donovan called it a decent look, all things considered.
5. At 34.8 percent, the Bulls now own the NBA’s sixth-best odds to earn a top-four pick in June’s NBA draft. That’s what they need to keep their pick or else it conveys to the Orlando Magic, who sit just behind the Bulls in the standings.
The organization’s publicly stated goal is to make the playoffs, so don’t expect the Bulls to pivot and try to maximize their draft lottery odds. But the Bulls’ current 8.3 percent odds to win the No. 1 pick in the draft lottery, according to Tankathon.com, are greater than their current 5 percent odds to make the playoffs, according to FiveThirtyEight.com.
“As long as you got time, you got a chance,” DeRozan said.
Along those lines, DeRozan was sitting talking to the Bulls’ young core of Patrick Williams, Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu when reporters entered the locker room. DeRozan said the meeting centered on keeping “everybody on the same page” and pointing out nuances from the game that can impact winning.
Beverley said the Bulls’ mood remains “swaggy, always swaggy.”
6. LaVine continued his torrid play, knocking down 13 of 23 shots and 11 of 13 free throws beyind his five 3-pointers. His 42 points marked his fifth 40-point game and fell one short of his season-high for points.
It also marked only the second time this season that LaVine has attempted 20 or more field goals in three straight games.
“I told you once I got healthy, I’d get back to playing the way I was supposed to. It takes time to get back to full strength,” LaVine said. “I feel I’ve been playing well. We just got to win games.”