Riding the high of their three-game win streak, the Bulls had a chance to jump to the ninth seed on Tuesday night with a win against the team in front of them in the standings: the Indiana Pacers.
The Pacers were down bad. Losers of seven straight and missing their best player in Tyrese Haliburton, the Bulls had a real opportunity in front of them to put past demons of stooping to the level of their opponent behind them.
When they got off to a hot start, building up a 21-point lead before the half, you might have thought the Bulls finally turned a corner.
The Bulls lost to another rock-bottom contender 116-110, falling to 22-25 on the year and digging themselves deeper into their self-inflicted hole.
“It’s very frustrating,” Nikola Vucevic said after the game. “We keep talking about the same issues, and if they don’t get fixed and we keep repeating the same mistakes it’s hard to expect better results.”
Here are the three stats that explain the Bulls explosive meltdown.
Zach LaVine’s six fourth quarter turnovers
Zach LaVine averages 2.4 turnovers per game. He has gotten much better at taking care of the basketball every season with the Bulls. But Tuesday was not his night.
He had six turnovers in the game, all of which came in the fourth quarter.
Worse, four of them came in the last 2:06.
“They were really, really, aggressive, we had a really hard time handling the basketball, passing and even getting into offense,” Billy Donovan said.
If ball pressure is enough to affect the ability to dribble, pass and get into offense, there are bigger problems. And maybe, with LaVine’s hand injury, there are bigger problems than that.
LaVine is shooting 4-of-36 on 3-point attempts since injuring his knuckle against the Wizards on December 11. He was 0-of-7 on threes Tuesday night, which lead to forced offense and cascaded into bad decision-making.
“I’m playing with a messed-up finger on my shooting hand,” LaVine said when asked whether his hand injury was affecting him. “You can see by the numbers I’m not shooting the ball well from 3. I can still get to the cup and shoot FTs and midrange. It’s affecting my shot. But it won’t keep me from trying to help contribute”
Pacers 7 offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter
Bulls opponents are averaging 9.8 offensive rebounds per game against the Bulls, but the Pacers had 14 offensive on the night, leading to 19 second-chance points.
The back breaker was that seven of those offensive boards came in the fourth quarter alone.
“The other part of it too was that when we did do a pretty good job defensively, we gave up so many second chance opportunities, where they just kind of outworked us, got to loose balls,” Donovan continued.
Bulls allow 70 second half points
Powered by TJ McConnell, Bennedict Mathurin and Myles Turner, the Pacers beat the Bulls 70-48 in the second half. The Pacers trio went off for 47 of those points on a combined 19-of-28 shooting.
After much was made about the Bulls locking down the defensive end of late, they collapsed and regressed to allow one of their worst halves of the season.
There was no pressure, no ability to keep Pacers players out of the paint. McConnell generated 10 assists, finding Mathurin and Myles for easy looks and the Bulls just collapsed in the face of adversity.
“The intensity level, as it got raised, we were not able to respond and play at that level,” Donovan continued.
The Bulls are three games under .500, 47 games into the season. They don’t get to have these kind of games, these kinds of halves anymore. The good will and momentum they built up with wins against the Warriors, Pistons and Hawks is washed away.
This team has struggled with consistency all year, and this loss is the perfect example of why they aren’t the team they want to be.
Up next: A new season low? Tune in Thursday night against the 13-36 Hornets to find out!