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Chicago Bulls clutch time demons won't go away in loss to Sacramento Kings

Will Gottlieb Avatar
March 16, 2023

]DeMar DeRozan got fouled on a three-pointer and hit a game tying free throw with just 10 seconds to go in Wednesday night’s game against Sacramento.

But that was too much time for the Kings.

De’Aaron Fox joined Jalen Suggs, AJ Griffin and Tyrese Haliburton with game-winning shots against the Bulls in the closing moments.

Kings win 117-114.

Gut punch.

“Everybody knew it was going to be an iso,” Ayo Dosunmu, the primary defender on the play said. “Yeah, that’s pretty much what it was. [We] just knew it. It would be an isolation. We knew it wasn’t going to be too much of a complicated play.”

“I thought Ayo got a pretty good contest on it, and we tried to send Patrick over there,” Billy Donovan said after the game. “He was a little bit late, but I think the other thing too with their shooting, you don’t want to give up a wide-open shot either by just running at him with 11 seconds. You want to wait until the clock gets down a little bit where if it does get sprayed out, the next guy doesn’t really have a lot of options other than to just shoot it.”

Given the elite floor spacing around the Kings’ dynamic Fox-Domantas Sabonis pick-and-roll and dribble-handoff focused offense, it’s incredibly difficult to help on the ball handler without fear of leaving someone open who can hurt you.

“I wanted to use my wingspan but not get too close to him because I didn’t want to try to get a drive or a foul or a handcheck,” Dosunmu said. “I was trying to keep a good distance where I could still contest. When he pulled up, I contested. Pat contested. He made a tough shot.”

“You tip your hat to him,” Zach LaVine said.

It’s not only a gut punch, it’s a complete departure from where the Bulls were last season.

Last season, the Bulls were the third-best clutch performing team, both in terms of record (25-16) and net rating (15.3).

This year has been the complete opposite. They’re 12-23 in games where the score is within five points in the final five minutes. Their net rating in such scenarios is -3.8.

It’s even worse in “super clutch” situations — games where the score is within three points in the final three minutes: 6-19 with a -5.7 net rating.

“Just finishing the games,” LaVine said when asked why the Bulls have struggled in clutch situations. “A lot of times this year, I think we’ve made, offensively, some plays to either tie the game or have the lead. But teams are going down and scoring on the other end. You just gotta finish the game. Contested three over two guys. Just don’t want to be in that position.”

The Bulls were in that position because of their third quarter slide, during which time they got out-gunned 37-22.

The Kings threw a curveball in the form of a zone defense that caused the Bulls offense to get stuck in the mud. The Kings forced tough, contested shots and turnovers that got them out in transition and the Bulls just couldn’t get settled.

“They got out in transition and we weren’t able to set our defense,” LaVine said. “They went to that zone and it slowed our offense down. Obviously if we’re not making it, they’re not taking it out of the net. They’re taking it and getting out in transition, getting east threes up, getting to the foul line.”

“We just gotta try to find easy shots,” LaVine said of solving the zone puzzle. “They’re going zone for a reason. Hit the middle and try to get a three or a layup. Instead of holding it, trying to figure out what’s going on. Run our zone offense or try to figure out how to attack the zone.”

These goose egg quarters have plagued the Bulls all season. To their credit, they played great basketball for 36 minutes. It was enough to keep them in the game at the end, but that’s just not enough against the top teams in the league. Especially those who dominate in the clutch.

“It sucks,” DeRozan said. “We’ve just got to keep pushing, keep fighting. You can’t let it discourage you too much to make you feel like it’s over. We understand we still have an opportunity to play this thing out until we can’t no more.”

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