OKLAHOMA CITY — The team picture for worst loss of the season is getting crowded.
And if that line has been used before, well, the Bulls have collapsed this spectacularly before.
That doesn’t make watching a 26-point, first-half lead or 10-point fourth-quarter lead disappear any easier. It also doesn’t fully explain just how maddening an avoidable 109-106 loss to the Thunder is.
But we’ll try.
The Bulls scored 37 points in the first quarter and 38 in the second half. They had more turnovers with 11 than assists with eight in the second half. They scored a staggering 39 points off 26 Thunder turnovers and lost. They failed to secure four critical rebounds late, surrendered the go-ahead point after fouling on an inbounds pass and found themselves on the wrong side of a whistle that will make Tuesday’s Last Two Minute Report from the league office required reading.
Chris Paul turned back the clock, outscoring the Bulls himself 19-16 in the fourth quarter and making his first five 3-point attempts in the final period. One came in transition, two came over Lauri Markkanen, one over Thad Young and one over Wendell Carter Jr.
“He made a couple 3s over the top of us that those are shots you gotta live with,” coach Jim Boylen said. “He didn’t get to the rim. He didn’t get in the paint. They were at end of possessions. Give him credit for that. He made big shots.”
Despite four of the made shots coming over big men, Boylen, Carter and Kris Dunn all said the defensive scheme wasn’t to switch. One time, Dunn slipped, leading to a scramble situation. Dunn and Zach LaVine both got so hung up on Danilo Gallinari screens that big men had to help.
“We weren’t switching on purpose,” Carter said. “’KD slipped one time. One time he got nailed. Gallinari set a hard screen so it was hard for Kris to come over it. Whenever that happens, I gotta stay there until he gets back. We could’ve guarded it better.”
Boylen said he didn’t consider blitzing Paul.
It was Paul’s first miss that accelerated the anguish. Gallinari rebounded the miss, which led to a Terrance Ferguson missed 3-pointer that Steven Adams rebounded. Carter blocked Adams’ shot, leading to a jump ball on which officials whistled Carter for a foul despite replays showing Adams grabbing Carter first.
“He definitely grabbed me,” Carter said. “I know what I felt and I know what he does on the jump ball. I told the ref to watch it. They said he didn’t grab me.”
Boylen used his coach’s challenge to dispute the call. But officials upheld the call, leaving the Bulls without a timeout with 1 minute, 22 seconds left. Dunn then fouled Paul on the ensuing possession, and Paul sank two free throws for a four-point lead.
“[Official] Tony [Brothers] said that Wendell grabbed him first,” Boylen said. “I’m going to trust my guys in those situations. If a guy tells me, ‘Coach, you gotta challenge that,’ then I’m going to trust him. I believe in my group.”
And Zach LaVine rewarded that trust, pulling the Bulls back into a tie with four straight points. LaVine — who was visibly upset when a made basket didn’t get counted as continuation on a foul and when he felt he drew a foul on a 3-point attempt that was called out of bounds — scored 39 to post consecutive 30-point games for the first time this season.
But again, the Bulls failed to secure a defensive rebound after Paul missed a driving layup with 5.3 seconds left, leading to a timeout. On the ensuing inbounds, Carter fouled Adams.
“That’s where we have to grow. We have to get those big, timely rebounds to close out games,” Boylen said. “We talk about it. We work on it. We do the drill work on it and we’re hoping it can carry over as we go here.”
Adams, a 51.5 percent free-throw shooter, banked in the first and missed the second. Boylen substituted Coby White for Carter because the Bulls were out of timeouts and he wanted speed and shooting on the floor. Instead, LaVine, on the block instead of Carter, couldn’t secure the rebound and the Bulls were forced to foul Paul, who made both free throws with 1.3 seconds left.
“We needed speed on the floor. We didn’t have a timeout. We had to get the ball down the floor,” Boylen said. “He banks the first one in and now we gotta get something going to the rim because we have no timeouts.”
LaVine’s 51-footer at the buzzer didn’t come close. Boylen used one timeout with 33 seconds left in the third quarter when the Thunder scored to pull within 10.
“There are missed calls throughout the game. And we made mistakes too. I’m not going to get in trouble with the officials. Obviously, I was upset and thought it could’ve gone a different way. But I don’t think we should’ve been in that position to even have me begging for a call,” LaVine said. “We know what our problem is. It’s black and white. Stop giving up fourth-quarter leads. Play better defense and execute our offense better in the fourth. We need to hold onto leads and sustain them. We’re giving up the game in the fourth.”
Indeed, the Bulls have blown late leads to the Hornets, Knicks, Lakers, Warriors, Raptors and now Thunder.
“Disappointing loss but I like the way my guys battled and we’ll learn from it,” Boylen said.
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