The Bulls fought to the end against the Trail Blazers, but fell short after failing to obtain the defensive rebound in the closing seconds.
Bulls coach Jim Boylen late Friday night in Portland was talking about the Bulls' narrow 107-103 loss to the Trailblazers, a game in which the Bulls just about went the distance and effectively lost to an offensive rebound with 8.8 seconds left.
Boylen almost crumpled with disappointment staggering onto the floor to call timeout as the Hassan Whiteside tip of a Damian Lillard miss fell through the netting to leave the Bulls four points behind. Last chance layup attempts by Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen went awry and the Bulls record dropped to 6-14 with their fifth loss in the last seven games. Though Boylen, as he's relentlessly been this season, still was sanguine.
"The wins will come," Boylen insisted. "Wins are always good, but we're building this thing. We've got the blocks being laid. I liked our effort tonight, I liked our togetherness, and I liked our competitiveness."
But still, 6-14?
Bulls vs. Trail Blazers game recap
"If you build it, they will come," Boylen responded with some mixture of defiance and whimsey.
"Seen that movie?" Boylen asked reporters about the famous Field of Dreams film.
Technically, the line was that if you build it, he will come. But perhaps the more relevant one for Boylen and the Bulls from that wonderful film was to "ease his pain."
"This loss hurts," Boylen admitted. "This is a painful loss."
All games have equal weight in the standings. But many lately were particularly deflating because of the low quality of opponent and Bulls play, like Wednesday in Golden State, or even the blowout home loss last week to a Portland team concluding a long road trip. But this time it was a more resilient Bulls team, repeatedly refusing to allow the Trail Blazers to pull away and perhaps on the verge of another Charlotte-like miracle when LaVine made a corner three with 31.7 seconds to get the Bulls within two.
One defensive play and a chance to walk away a road winner in a tough place where the Bulls had lost nine of their last 11. The Bulls made that play when Kris Dunn making his first start of the season denied Lillard on a drive. Wendell Carter Jr. had come up to help. Whiteside then snuck in front of Tomas Satoransly on the weak side away from the ball and tipped in the Lillard miss for the four-point lead that became too late to transcend.
"We got the stop but didn't finish it off with the rebound," said Boylen. "That's the lesson in that. We'll watch it, learn from it, and move on."
That's been a much too familiar refrain this season as the lessons aren't enough without passing test scores. So once again it wasn't feeling like heaven for the Bulls; just Oregon.
Though it also was a lot closer than it's been lately to the place where the Bulls dreams may finally come true.
Zach LaVine dunks against the Trail Blazers
"I think once we get a win and try to build off that we can create a streak," said Dunn.
Nobody was pleased with what could be interpreted as a moral victory for the third quarter comeback from 12 behind and trailing by seven in the fourth quarter. This time the Bulls didn't crack or crater. That will have to do for now, though only if it becomes a regularity rather than a rarity.
"We talked about the moment in the third at home against these guys when they were making their run and we didn't handle it very well," Boylen noted about the deficit that bled to 28 last week in the United Center. "We had that same conversation at the timeout (trailing 72-60 with 5:44 left in the third). I think we were down 13 and I was really happy with the way our guys responded and fought and battled back."
The Bulls went in to trail 81-78 after three quarters, fell behind again to start the fourth, training 91-84 with 7:26 left in the game. And then with a pair of dunks from Carter on passes from LaVine and Satoransky, a three from Lauri Markkanen and a Dunn floater and steal off a trap, the Bulls were in position after LaVine's three for one more. It never came.
"We get a stop at the end and don't get the ball," lamented Boylen. "I think they (Bulls players) proved it on the floor. They battled. Every loss these guys take to heart. It was a hard fought game; give them credit. They made a few more plays than we did."
LaVine led the Bulls with 28 points, but after 18 in the first half on five of 10 shooting, LaVine was three for 14 in the second half. He missed a quick pull up three with 1:14 left after the Bulls got within 103-98. Perhaps he could have driven the ball as Trail Blazers Lillard with 28 points and Carmelo Anthony with 23 did in that closing stretch. But LaVine also made the tough three that gave the Bulls their final chance. Lillard just a minute earlier had missed a wild, 30-foot three. Shooters shoot. The Trailblazers just had a few more good ones with Anthony and C.J. McCollum, the latter with 20 points. Rodney Hood added 19 and Whiteside had 15 rebounds and 10 blocks.
Carter had 16 points for the Bulls and Markkanen and Coby White each had 13. Tomas Satoransky added 12, including a crucial dribble/drive score with 2:15 left to get the Bulls within 101-98. But LaVine gets put in those spots often because several Bulls players often are passing up shots. It appears either from a lack of confidence or uncertainty when they are not beyond the three-point line. Even the confident White often seems to hesitate when he steps inside the three-point line if he cannot get to the basket.
Anthony's spin to the basket and foul for two free throws, meanwhile, gave the Trailblazers a seven-point lead with a minute left that the Bulls almost overcame.
That was the stretch in which Markkanen made one of two free throws and Dunn stole a McCollum pass with 35 seconds left as the Bulls trapped. That led to LaVine's clutch three, the last of the Bulls points.
"Once the fourth quarter hits, we have to pay attention to detail more, rebounding, getting stops," said Dunn. "But if we move the ball like we did tonight, good things will start happening. There's three more quarters (of the season) left; it could change like that."
There's been a deja vu all over again feeling to this season with these been-there-done-that losses. Though this one did feel different when the Bulls led early, lost the lead, but never lost their energy and enthusiasm. We didn't have to hear the mantra about the heads down with the missed shots.
Dunn got his first start of the season and it looked like something that should continue as the Bulls close the three-game trip in Sacramento Monday. Dunn had nine points, seven rebounds and two steals, but several more that should have been credited, like when he forced an inbounds turnover after a made basket with a one-man trap when everyone else lollygagged back down court. Dunn does get beat off the dribble by quick guards like Lillard. But Dunn is strong and can hold them off physically, and he has long arms that he flicks out like a snake's tongue to deflect passes.
Dunn ostensibly was starting because Chandler Hutchison was out with a sore shoulder. Plus, Satoransky was a game time decision with a toe problem. Otto Porter Jr., of course, remained out. Boylen prefers three-guard lineups. But with the size of Dunn playing with Satoransky and LaVine, it make more sense than many of the mini-guard lineups the Bulls have played.
It showed well to start with LaVine playing more decoy, Carter and Satoransky scoring and the Bulls making an 11-4 start. Markkanen would eventually get going some, though not until after a scoreless first half with four shots.
"Some things aren't going to go your way and I learned that this year," said Dunn. "Different coaches like different things and I had my opportunity with Fred (Hoiberg) and Jim last year. Now coming off the bench, still try to be assertive and that's the mindset I try to have."
LaVine made a pair of threes when the Trail Blazers began to respond and kept the Bulls ahead 28-25 after one quarter. Portland went ahead to start the second quarter with erratic shooting from the Bulls reserves, LaVine's 10 points with five of seven free throws kept Portland from pulling away. The Trail Blazers led 53-47 at halftime. The Bulls tried to get Markkanen going with plays to start the second half, though he missed. But Dunn rebounded a miss for a score and LaVine threw down a driving baseline slam dunk for a 56-52 Bulls lead. The Trailblazers looked like they'd had enough and would take control with a 15-4 run. But Markkanen finally came to life with a driving score and cuts to the basket for easy points. There were a few more responses, though the distant voice seemed to still be saying not yet.
All that once was good could be good again. Yes, wins will come.
"If you look at the standings right now, things aren't going the way some teams would like it to go and that's good for us," said Dunn. "We're still learning and trying to figure each other out and hopefully start creeping up in the standings. Take on the challenge and meet it head on. It's not always going to be an uphill battle. Need to fight through adversity, and get through it, and see what happens."