The good news is the Bulls were competitive against a playoff contender for the first time in three weeks. The bad news is they still have plenty of work to do before they’re able to close out games one they get to the finish line.
There were certainly positives to take from the Bulls’ 106-101 loss to the LA Clippers on Friday night, something that wasn’t the case 48 hours earlier in an embarrassing 20-point loss to the Hawks. The Bulls led by as many as 12 points in the third quarter and held a lead with 2:18 to play.
But the veteran Clippers made just a few more plays than the Bulls, who looked flustered down the stretch and ultimately dropped their 12th game in their last 13 contests.
“Hard fought game against a good team. Give them credit,” Jim Boylen said after the game. “I thought they made more plays than we did and I think they finished off the fourth better than we did.”
Zach LaVine caught fire in the fourth quarter, scoring 11 of the Bulls’ first 13 points in the period, including two clutch 3-pointers that both gave the Bulls one-point leads midway through. His second triple in the sequence gave the Bulls a 95-94 lead with 3:47 to play.
From there it was a struggle. LaVine missed a pair of shots after that triple and after a Kris Dunn floater gave the Bulls a one-point lead, Lou Williams connected on a triple and was fouled by the Bulls’ point guard. That four-point play gave LA a three-point lead. LaVine answered with a layup in traffic and Williams missed a floater on the ensuing possession.
That gave the Bulls a chance to take the lead inside a minute remaining. Instead, the Bulls played a round of hot potato, with Bobby Portis passing up on a 3-pointer from the top of the key and LaVine passing to Chandler Hutchison in the corner with the shot clock expiring. He airballed a 3-pointer and gave possession back to the Clips.
LA executed again out of a timeout. The Bulls doubled Williams, who found an open Patrick Beverley and finished with a tough floater over Bobby Portis to push the lead to 102-99.
The Bulls’ response was an ugly one. Dunn handed off to LaVine, who pulled up for an errant 3-pointer early in the shot clock. The result was another airball that gave the ball back to the Clippers. Again, Doc Rivers’ team executed, with Williams lobbing up an alley-oop to Montrezl Harrell for the clinching dunk.
From the 3:47 mark to that dunk, the Bulls were 2-for-7 while LA went 4-for-5. Making matters worse was the Bulls failing to capitalize on three Clippers turnovers in that span.
“We’ll watch it and we’ll learn form it and we’ll do what we do, which is teach and coach and explain and walk through and work on having a better result next time we’re in that situation. That’s all we can do and that’s what we’ll do. That’s what we do every day.”
It was still a bright spot in the Bulls’ recent woes. They actually played well much of the evening against a Clippers team playing their fourth road game in the last six days. Five players scored in double figures, including Jabari Parker, and they committed just 11 turnovers as a team.
But endings have been a struggle. The Bulls are actually tied for “clutch” games, which the NBA defines as a game within five points in the final 5 minutes. They’ve played in 24 such games, though their offensive efficiency in those contests ranks 29th, behind only the New Orleans Pelicans. One good sign? The Bulls committed just one turnover in the final 5 minutes; enterting tonight the Bulls were last in turnover percentage in clutch situations, so again there was improvement. Just not enough to stop a Clippers team with All-Star talent in Williams and Tobias Harris, who combined for 60 points.
“When you’re going through a close game like this you’ve just go to find ways to do the little things and get the win, and they did more of that than we did,” Dunn said. “We’re gonna go and watch the film tomorrow and see the things we could have done better to give us the advantage to get the win.”
LaVine has been asked to do plenty this season, and for a majority of the fourth quarter he looked ready to take on that closing role. He scored 13 of the Bulls’ 19 points in the final period, but also missed five of his final six shots when the Bulls were going back and forth down the stretch. Inst
“We made big plays. They just made bigger ones and they got the win. Their dudes made big plays,” LaVine said. “We’re still trying to learn how to win. I don’t know if this game was trying to teach us or not but it was a very winnable game. We made good plays. They just made more.”