SALT LAKE CITY — Only the Bulls.
These Bulls would be the ones to turn a pretty gutsy effort on the road in a building that hasn’t been good to them in years and riddle it with last-minute mistakes and mishaps, spoiling what could’ve been a bounce-back win against the Utah Jazz.
Instead, they’ve lost their second in a row in as many nights, falling 105-96 at the Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, squandering a 3-point lead in regulation when it looked like they would have a thrilling win.
Gordon Hayward emerged from having a bad three quarters to finish with 25 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists, but the Bulls will find plenty of reasons to kick themselves for literally throwing away a win they desperately needed.
They’ve now lost nine of 13, and since the start of December, the Bulls are 16-16.
“A tough way to lose that one. Felt we gave that one away,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We had our chances, they made the plays, they made the necessary plays to win. We missed some shots, we missed some free throws.”
[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]
The Bulls played through adversity for the better part of 48 minutes, when they held slim leads and took what they thought was a decisive lead with 18.5 seconds left on a Derrick Rose triple, but they didn’t account for the adversity they brought upon themselves.
They kept the Jazz players out of the lane after allowing a freeway of easy opportunities early, going on an 18-2 run at the end of the first half and seemingly took control until the fourth when the Bulls looked to choke the life from the Salt Lake City crowd.
But from there, things went haywire—or Hayward, one could say. After missing one of two free throws, the ball went off Taj Gibson, getting the Jazz up for a tie and Hayward delivered, driving unimpeded to the basket for a layup.
It was the start of the destruction, and it was many of the Bulls’ main players who didn’t come through. Butler scored 26 with six assists and seven rebounds, but will wonder about his missed free throws in overtime that could’ve made the deficit more manageable.
“Just being careless with the ball, not doing what we were supposed to do,” Butler said. “That’s how we’ve been playing lately. That’s the way it’s been going. The same outcome is what we’ve gotten every time.”
Rose, who scored 14 with three assists on a 6-for-21 night, had a couple turnovers late and let Raul Neto have a career-high 14 points on him, including a couple baskets late in regulation. They never fully got engaged in overtime, perhaps stinging from the shock of their inability to put the game away in the first 48.
Then they looked like candidates for “First 48”, bringing very little to the extra session.
Plenty of chance situations went against the Bulls. A tipped rebound here, a review that determined an inbounds pass went off Butler’s fingertips and general things that go against a club when its struggling.
“We trust those guys in that situation,” said Hoiberg, referring to Butler and Rose. “Too casual, too casual on the turnovers in overtime.”
“They were still playing hard,” said Rose of the Jazz. “The turnovers and everything, they were forcing them. Blocking shots, getting to the lane. Their inside presence was always there the entire game.”
Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors, two young bigs with athleticism, length and girth, gave the Bulls issues all night. Favors had four blocked shots to go with 13 points and eight rebounds, while Gobert had 16 and 12 rebounds in 43 minutes.
Pau Gasol scored 19 with eight rebounds but had his hands full with Gobert, and fouled out in overtime as proof of such a difficult go of it.
And more than anything, the Bulls, a supposed veteran team that shouldn’t get rattled in instances like these, got rattled.
And it showed.