Bulls

Four observations: Bulls play Miami tough, but lose in a heartbreaker

Bulls

The Bulls scrapped, but fell to the Heat 110-105 in a hard-fought overtime showdown in Miami. Observations from a defeat, snapped from the jaws of a potentially season-turning victory:

Bulls got off to fast start

The last time these two teams met, the Bulls played themselves out of the game early, allowing the Heat to jump out to a 15-0 lead in the first four-and-a-half minutes of the first quarter. Not so tonight. The Bulls came out of the gates locked in defensively and (for the most part) hunted good looks on the offensive end:

They held Miami to 4-for-15 (26.7%) shooting and forced five turnovers en route to a 25-16 lead after one. Of course, the Heat punched back, making nine of their first 10 shots in the second, but the Bulls clung to a 49-47 lead at the halftime break.

Boylen emptied the bench (again)

By the 3:13 mark in the second quarter, all 12 available Bulls had seen game action. Last week, Jim Boylen said that he had intentionally begun to lean on the starters over the course of the team’s recent west coast swing, but him emptying the bench early in games has continued.

Part of that occurring tonight had to do with early foul trouble for Daniel Gafford, who picked up three fouls in a two-minute span in the first quarter. Luke Kornet logged three largely unproductive minutes early in the second quarter, presumably in Gafford’s stead.

Overall, though, the bench brought just about everything you could ask of it for most of the night. Denzel Valentine and Thad Young combined for 23 points and stroked a couple timely 3-pointers to keep the Bulls in the game in the second and third quarters. Coby White shot only 3-for-9, but finished the night with a career-high (!) eight assists. Even Shaq Harrison had a couple feisty moments.

Late-game adjustments were made, but similar mistakes persisted

After Friday’s loss to Golden State, Jim Boylen faced questions about his decision to roll with his starters for the game’s final eight minutes. Tonight, he adjusted, closing the fourth quarter and overtime with Coby White on the floor over Tomas Satoransky.

The Bulls’ general execution, though, remained spotty. There were positives: Before fouling out late in OT, Kris Dunn had seven points and two steals between the final two periods. Lauri Markkanen — after coming alive with a 13-point spurt in the third quarter — had a gorgeous take and finish to put the Bulls up 95-94 with under a minute left in the fourth. White had a couple dazzling moments, and Zach LaVine’s two free throws with 2.8 seconds left in regulation were a necessary response to what could have been a game-ending Tyler Herro 3-pointer seconds before.

 

But there were too many mental lapses, once again. Zach LaVine made one field goal between the fourth quarter and OT, and shot 5-for-19 for the game. Defensive breakdowns popped up at inopportune times. On one, Bam Adebayo positioned himself as if to set a screen for Herro — when the Bulls blitzed, Adebayo slipped, and ended up finishing an and-one layup over a scrambling Carter (the Bulls gave up two Draymond Green-initiated alley-oops late in the Golden State game on similar plays).

Then, on the Heat’s final possession of regulation, the Bulls switched the pick-and-roll, but a soft help by Kris Dunn (attempting to aid Shaq Harrison guarding Jimmy Butler) left Herro wide open for a 3-pointer that gave the Heat a 97-95 lead. Herro broke the Bulls’ back on a number of occasions in this one — he had 18 points and shot 4-for-8 from 3-point range in the fourth quarter and overtime.

This was just an outrageously fun game — but the taste left from it is undeniably sour

We may look back at this game as one of the foundational performances of White’s rookie campaign. As mentioned, he didn’t shoot particularly well, but him closing out the game’s final 17 (!!) minutes — and scoring six points with three assists in doing so — will assuredly prove valuable to his development. He wasn’t perfect, but he validated Boylen’s trust in him.

And until Herro caught fire late, the Bulls did an overall good job maintaining their defensive intensity and not allowing any of the Heat’s ancillary flamethrowers to get going. Butler wore them down — accumulating 21 free throw attempts in the game — but the Bulls can hang their hat on holding him to 3-for-14 shooting and not allowing him to beat them down the stretch.

Ultimately, the pain behind this loss — which you could see in the players’ on-court reactions at the final buzzer — is more about what has come before. On the heels of the Warriors game, pulling this one out could have been a season-changer. But they came up short. There were abundant silver linings, but also the familiar tropes of stagnant late-game offense, costly turnovers and defensive lapses.

The Bulls get back to work in Chicago tomorrow night against the Toronto Raptors. 

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