The Bulls held a 97-93 lead with 5:07 to go in the fourth quarter on Wednesday night but ended up losing by four. After their slow decline, the Bulls had a chance to get within one or tie with 17 seconds to go. They had the ball sideline out of bounds after a timeout and this was the result:
“I think he got forced out a little bit higher, we could have, I think, done a better job screening to help on the inbounds pass,” Billy Donovan said.
The Bulls couldn’t shake their clutch demons and fell to the Pelicans 115-111.
Those struggles in the clutch are becoming a trend.
The Bulls are the worst clutch team (net rating in the final five minutes of games within five points) in the NBA. Their -46.4 clutch net rating is almost comical. They are 0-6 in clutch games this season.
This is especially surprising in contrast to last year, where the team’s clutch play was perhaps their biggest strength. They were third in the NBA in clutch net rating at +15.3 and held a 25-16 record in such games.
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The officiating in this game was certainly a talking point on the Internet. The Pelicans doubled the Bulls up on free throw attempts 36 to 18. Not something you typically see for a top-eight team in free throw attempts per game.
One from the tip that drew some ire:
The one that ended up hurting the Bulls was on a DeMar DeRozan drive with 27 seconds left in the fourth quarter, down two points.
“Yeah, I thought I did. Did it look like it? Yeah, I mean, I thought I was fouled. But it is what it is,” DeRozan said.
“It sucks,” he continued. “It’s frustrating. Frustrating as hell. Just not giving ourselves an opportunity to see what could have happened.”
“This will eat away at me all night for sure.”
DeMar DeRozan breaking free
After getting up only 15 shots in the previous two games against Toronto, DeRozan had an early barrage of baskets that helped him off to a hot start.
But as the game went on, the Pelicans disciplined defense seemed to get to DeRozan.
‘Not on’ Herb Jones (an incredible nickname) was fantastic against DeRozan, staying down on his pump fakes and forcing DeRozan to shoot over his outstretched arm. Not many defenders have the size and smarts to stonewall DeRozan, but not many defenders are as good as Jones.
DeRozan grew frustrated in the third quarter, picking up a technical after he failed to get Jones to bite on his fakes. So he took matters into his own hands:
From there, DeRozan got himself going. He finished with 33 points on 14-of-26 shooting, but only got to the line six times. He played great down the stretch, but the turnover prevented him from doing enough to secure the win.
“That was on me,’’ DeRozan said of the turnover. “Wasn’t on anyone else. I tricked it off, should have caught it. It’s just frustrating when we don’t give ourselves a chance to see what would happen by making mistakes.’’
Alex Caruso punching above his weight
Alex Caruso is a maniac. Nothing you don’t already know.
A lot of the stuff he does as a defender goes unnoticed, like this play to squash this Zion Williamson post up before it ever happened. His effort and ability to make plays are worth highlighting, even in a tough loss.
Zach LaVine, spot up shooter
Very cool designed play here to get Zach LaVine an open spot-up three.
Prior to the game, Billy Donovan talked about the importance of LaVine spacing out the floor:
“For Zach, as great as he has been offensively, the one thing he has to try to do for our team is to try to take those catch-and-shoot threes. And listen if there are hard closeouts, or teams are really pressing up on the three-point line, he’s so explosive that he can get around people.”
LaVine was 12-for-29 on catch-and-shoot threes coming into Wednesday’s game, and went 3-for-12 from deep. His ability to stretch out defenses is so key for the Bulls to have a better floor layout, and it opens up great driving opportunities for him when he attacks closeouts.
Jonas Valanciunas bullies Nikola Vucevic
After a handful of consecutive strong performances, Vucevic got bullied by the bigger Valanciunas, who finished with 21 points and 13 rebounds on 8-for-13 shooting.
Anecdotally, Vucevic really struggles against bigger bigs, who give him work in the post and prevent him from getting into his own low-block offense. In those instances, it appears difficult for him to get going from around the perimeter and he becomes a bit of a drag on the team.
Vucevic found his offense late in the game scoring eight of his 18 points in the fourth quarter, including 2 huge threes to give the Bulls a late lead.
The Bulls have three days off before their next game, Sunday against Denver. They’ll have another shot at the Pelicans next Wednesday.