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Examining the Chicago Bulls late game errors

Will Gottlieb Avatar
December 17, 2023

The Chicago Bulls had a chance to take both games from the Miami Heat in their two-game set, but fall 118-116, and now drop to 10-17 on the season.

The Bulls entered the fourth quarter down 11, and were up with less than a minute to go. They had an opportunity to steal a win, but their execution cost them. Good learning experience for their young players who played critical minutes in the clutch.

Here’s how the late game execution ended up costing the Bulls their comeback bid.

Bulls ball, up two, 58 seconds left

DeMar DeRozan, who finished with 27 points on 9-of-13 shooting, was in isolation against Caleb Martin, a favorable matchup. He got the ball to his spot, but was defended well and was forced to make a difficult pass to Nikola Vucevic ducking into the paint to bail him out.

With just five seconds on the shot clock in the midst of a broken play, Vucevic secured the ball and took a tough hook shot, which missed, but DeRozan was able to grab the offensive board. He backed it out to kill some clock, but with his back turned to the play, Jimmy Butler double teamed him, stripped the ball and Kyle Lowry got ahead of the pack for the game-tying layup.

There was some frustration on this play — that White wasn’t involved in the offense. He was spacing the floor on the weak side, but since he had the hot hand in the fourth, scoring 18 of his 22 points in the final frame, he perhaps could have been more featured.

But White is a rhythm scorer. He got hot in the fourth quarter getting off the ball and taking advantage when it found him later in possessions. He was not dominating the ball and scoring in isolation. He took advantage during the stretch of the game when Butler was on the bench.

The offense will go through the best player in these situations, and that’s still DeRozan. If anything, the Bulls could have used one of their two remaining timeouts after the offensive rebound to ensure a drawn up play or prevent the steal.

“I wish I could’ve made a better decision”

With the game now tied, the ensuing possession was a high pick-and-pop between White and Vucevic.

Both Butler, who was defending White, and Kevin Love, who was defending Vucevic, went with White, forcing him to get off the ball. White wisely whipped it back to Vucevic who was moderately open at the top of the key.

But defenders were feinting towards him, which threw off his rhythm. He looked to the corner to see if Patrick Williams was open. He wasn’t. Then scanned to DeRozan in the slot, but Martin was retreating to him.

Again, this could have been an opportunity to call a timeout to reset the offense, but Vucevic felt he had a driving lane (the paint was wide open) and a step on Love (he didn’t, Love wasn’t closing out hard), so he drove left and took a difficult shot that missed.

“I definitely could’ve gotten a better look. I thought I had (Love) when I picked up my dribble. He kind of closed off and I should’ve taken one more dribble, been a little more patient. It didn’t end up being a great shot–a tough half-layup, half-left-hand hook. I wish I could’ve made a better decision,” Nikola Vucevic said via KC Johnson.

The challenge of having DeRozan playing off ball in these scenarios are that you don’t have your best decision maker making decisions and his lack of three-point shooting threat clogs up the spacing — his defender took Vucevic out of his shot.

It’s good to have White involved, but if he’s got the ball, he’s not spacing the floor, which is his best attribute.

“We should have probably sent someone over”

After the miss, Butler secures the ball and takes it across half court with eight seconds left. He’s got DeRozan on him, but he’s looking for a better matchup. Love sprints into a screen, and Lowry sets a stagger behind him. The Bulls allow White to switch onto Butler in the open floor, where he gets to a right-to-left step back for the game-winner.

It was surprising the Bulls didn’t send White any help in this situation.

“In that moment we should have probably sent someone over.” Nikola Vucevic told reporters in Miami.

It’s difficult for Williams to help off the strong side corner — that’s an easy pass for Butler to make. But DeRozan should have dug into the lane earlier on the drive to force the ball out of Butler’s hand to make someone else beat them.

“What’s going to be a learning experience in that situation, especially when they’re holding it for the last shot, we’ve got to run and go trap him,” Donovan told reporters in Miami. “Obviously, it’s hard to get that into the guys at that moment in time. I think as guys gain more experience because if you do go at him with 3 or 4 seconds to go on the clock, you’re generally going to be OK making one rotation. You’re not dealing with a full clock. So that next guy probably has to shoot it. Butler obviously got to his spot.”

Other notes:

  • The Bulls gave up four key offensive rebounds in the final 3:08 that gave the Heat an additional six points on four shots. Lack of execution boxing out fell on the whole group, but Williams, Dosunmu and White were the primary culprits
  • Williams had his best offensive game of the season, scoring 25 points on 8-of-10 shooting and 5-of-5 at the line. He was aggressive getting to the rim and had some nice finishes over the top and underneath. He also hit four of his five three point attempts and was a team-best +12.
  • Torrey Craig sparked the Bulls first half surge, scoring 16 points on 4-of-5 three point shooting and grabbing four offensive boards. He unfortunately left the game with a foot injury and did not return to play.
  • With Alex Caruso (foot) and Craig out, Dalen Terry stepped into a season-high 16 minutes. He was 1-of-3 from the field with four fouls, but grabbed a key offensive board in the fourth quarter that led to a Williams three that cut into the deficit and helped get the Bulls back in the game.
  • The Bulls fall to 10-17 on the season and remain a game out of the 10th seed in the East. They’re tied in the win column with the Atlanta Hawks and Toronto Raptors who are 11th and 10th in the conference respectively.

Up next: Bulls are heading to Philadelphia for their first tilt against the 76ers this season.

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