The Bulls have a problem playing with the lead.

At 7:22 in the second quarter, Zach LaVine made a layup to put the Bulls up 46-27.

But in the next 5:06, the Clippers ripped off a 23-4 run to tie the game at 50.

A 19-point deficit erased in half of a quarter.

The Bulls went on to play roughly even the rest of the way. But for a team with zero margin for error, that was enough to do it. The Bulls dropped to 23-27 with a 108-103 loss to the Clippers.

“In that situation, you’ve got to have good offensive possessions,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said post-game. “We had some turnovers, I thought the turnovers were I think uncharacteristic, we’ve been pretty good taking care of the basketball, I don’t think tonight we did a real good job of that. And then, I don’t think we ended up with great shots. I think we needed to probably generate some better looks.”

DeMar DeRozan finished with a career-high eight turnovers. Zach LaVine joined him with six more. The entire Clippers team finished with eight. As a result, the Clippers had 16 more field goal attempts. Without volume three-point shooting (12-of-24) and losing the free throw battle by seven made attempts, it will nearly be impossible to compete with the best of the best.

The problem is, this is not a new problem.

The Bulls led the Orlando Magic by 25 points in the third quarter and allowed them to widdle that lead down to five before putting them away.

They blew a 10-point lead to the lowly Hornets, and allowed them to come back and win.

They allowed the Indiana Pacers to come back from a 21-point deficit to beat the Bulls by six.

And that was just the previous three games before Tuesday night.

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“We have to understand, as a team, what causes momentum to happen against you, and what creates momentum for you,” Donovan said pre-game. “Sometimes, we’ve created momentum for teams, and we’ve taken momentum away. And then you’ve got to be able to stop momentum. That’s a big part of it too.”

So what did the Bulls do to allow momentum to swing in the Clippers direction?

After going up 19, the ensuing possessions:

  • 7:11 — Derrick Jones Jr. fouled Clippers center Ivica Zubac on a dunk (46-29)
  • 6:56 — Zubac blocks Jones Jr. (46-29)
  • 6:44 — Zubac scores on an offensive rebound putback (46-31)
  • 6:27 — Dragic misses jumper (46-31)
  • 6:10 — Paul George three-pointer (46-34)
  • Bulls Timeout after 7-0 run

Rather than turning off the faucet following the timeout, the Clippers instead rallied off an 16-4 run on 6-of-7 shooting. The Bulls, meanwhile, shot 2-of-5, turning the ball over twice and fouling a three-point shooter.

Runs happen throughout the course of any basketball game, and great teams know how to dig themselves out of a hole.

“That would be the biggest thing is shining a light on that,” Donovan said. “Here are the things we are doing that allowed Orlando to get back into the game. Here’s the things that happened in the Indiana game, when we were up, that allowed them to come back to win. And you just expose those things and you talk about those things.”

But between bad shot selection, a few sloppy turnovers and the inability to get stops, the Bulls let the Clippers get all the way back from 19 in just five minutes.

“As a coach, if you’re able to pinpoint and hit a bullseye and say OK, ‘here’s a magic word that’s going to change the consistency’ we’d say it,” Donovan said. “It comes down to habits. It comes down to a mindset and a mentality and an understanding of the moment.”

With the trade deadline looming and fake trades swirling, the Bulls are running low on time to fix their problems.

“I do see a group that really, really wants to win,” Donovan said. “But it’s not just one person, it’s all of us. Coaches, players, collectively being better in those moments of course correcting.”


Lead Writer and podcast co-host for CHGO covering the Chicago Bulls. A fan of the side-step and well executed defensive rotations. Previously covered the Golden State Warriors for Bleacher Report and the Bulls for the Athletic Chicago. Say hi on Twitter @will_gottlieb