Bulls can't complete comeback, fall 106-101 to Miami

After trailing by 24 points, the Bulls stormed back and only trailed by two in the final minute but it was too little too late, Chicago falling to the Miami Heat 106-101 on Saturday night. Nikola Vucevic had 26 points, 14 rebounds, and six assists. Coby White had 31 points, five assists, but also six turnovers. Miami's Duncan Robinson scored 23 points and hit seven threes on 15 attempts. The Bulls (25-35) will get a rematch with Miami (32-29) on Monday night.

The heat is on the Bulls, and not just the blast furnace of defense applied by the Miami Heat in Saturday's 106-101 Bulls loss. The temperature is being turned up on the Bulls postseason hopes, and they may be getting burned out.

"We want to have a chance to play in the postseason," reiterated Coby White, who had 31 points, but six turnovers and three quickly that helped Miami take a 15-point first quarter lead. "You just got to come ready to compete. We play them again Monday. It's a must-win game for us. We've got to come out ready to compete. We know that. Just got to get ready for Monday."

Because with now just 12 games remaining and Zach LaVine not on this road trip which means at least two more games out from Covid protocols, the Bulls at 25-35 fell a game and a half and two losses behind streaking Washington for the last playoffs play-in tournament invite. It was especially discouraging because prior to the game, Bulls coach Billy Donovan acknowledged, "When you go against a team like this, there's no question it's a measuring stick and you evaluate your team."

Bulls highlights from Chicago's game vs. Miami on Saturday night.

It wasn't a good look as Miami dominated almost the entire game, leading still by 22 points late in the third quarter before the Bulls made a fourth quarter surge—give them credit that they never, ever do give in or give up—that got the Bulls within four points, 85-81, with 7:50 remaining in the game. Miami called timeout to return its starters and to quit kidding around, as Jimmy Butler actually seemed to be earlier, and scored on its next five possessions for a 97-89 lead with 4:56 left. But back again came the Bulls to the point—or two points—that White got the Bulls within at 103-101 with 15.8 seconds left. But Miami made some free throws and Garrett Temple missed a three, and now with Miami Monday, New York Wednesday and then Milwaukee, Atlanta and Philadelphia, the Bulls are in their own little playoff series.

Lose four or much more and it will be wait 'til next season yet again.

Nikola Vucevic again was excellent for the Bulls, if not employed perhaps quite as much as he could be, with 26 points, 14 rebounds and six assists. He and White were the only Bulls players to score in double figures. Four Miami players scored at least 20 points led by Duncan Robinson with 23 points and four first quarter three pointers that effectively doomed the Bulls. Former Bulls All-Star Butler had 20 points, eight assists, six turnovers and four steals.

The Bulls got a lot right statistically thanks to their dominant fourth quarter, outrebounding Miami and collecting 28 assists. But again they were careless with the ball against pressure with 18 turnovers, and too willing to settle for jump shots, getting just 13 free throws. The Bulls are challenging all time NBA records for fewest games attempting at least 20 free throws. Despite having the size advantage with Vucevic and Daniel Theis against a Miami team that matches—but switches often on defense—Butler or Trevor Ariza against power forwards, the Bulls even attempted more threes that Miami. Though Robinson's seven of 15 threes overall was a difference maker.

"There's no need to panic," said Denzel Valentine, whose fourth quarter was its own so called Eastwood western with his own good, bad and ugly. "I think we have the type of team that we can compete with anybody in the NBA. It's just up to us whether we want to play hard and do the things we need to do to finish the season strong. I personally think that we can make the push. I think we have a very talented team that deserves to be in the playoffs. It's just up to us."

Denzel Valentine scores on a pullup three in transition against Miami.

Outplayed badly throughout the game to the point it appeared Butler was purposely passing on wide open layups in the third quarter apparently to get assists in search of a triple double, the Bulls trailed 80-63 starting the fourth quarter. Valentine then got the Bulls started with a three, scoring all nine of his points in the fourth quarter with three pointers and even harassing Butler into a crucial turnovers with about four minutes left. That's when the Bulls rallied yet again from eight behind with Valentine starting it with another three.

Though Butler was terrific down the stretch with nine points and a pair of steals.

"I'd seen our energy was lacking," said Valentine. "Just fight, compete. That's something I pride myself on. I'm a competitor. I'm going to compete the whole 48 minutes no matter what the score is. I just wanted to make my impact on the game from an energy standpoint. The shots are going to come and go. Turnovers, mistakes; all that is just part of the game. But one thing I can control is come in, being tough and competing for as many minutes as I can. That's what I'm going to do."

Valentine ended up doing a little too much of it when he launched a probably too quick three that missed with 52.4 seconds left—18 seconds on the shot clock—and the Bulls trailing 101-96. Robinson then got inside and scored on a pass from Bam Adebayo for a seven-point Miami lead that was just a basket or so too much for the Bulls unlikely comeback.

"I had made three (threes) in a row before that," noted Valentine. "It was a bad shot. If I could go back, I wouldn't have took it. I would've come down and got something we wanted. But I just got kind of lost in the game and kind of wanted to hit the shot. If I had come down and got what we wanted, it would've cut it down to three or even two. It was definitely a bad shot. I guess I was just feeling it."

It was hardly the reason the Bulls lost, which had a lot more to do with yet another lethargic start. That perhaps someone like Valentine can help alter.

"We just got to start the games like we played in the second half," said White. "I feel like tonight we started on our heels. We didn't start out ready to play. So we got to come out in the first half ready to play, especially against a team like that. We just got to put two halves together."

Coby White finished with 31 points, five rebounds, and five assists but also six turnovers in the loss to Miami.

The Heat, 32-29, had a lot to do with it, another team that pressured and upset the Bulls on the perimeter. Plus, the Bulls seemed absolutely lost trying to account for Robinson. Who happens to be Miami's go-to three-point shooter and seemed open constantly with Bulls players lost and almost bumping into one another. Bulls coach Billy Donovan suggested it may have been partly his fault with some of the switching assignments on defense. Though I doubt that as Donovan's schemes tend to be well thought out. Robinson had been slumping coming in, missing 13 of his last 17 threes, and this time he made some shots. It happens. Perhaps of greater concern was the way the Bulls started without that energy Valentine talked about and Donovan has routinely pleaded for. It's hardly on him, but you almost feel sorry for rookie Patrick Williams the way he seems to be dragging himself apparently exhausted through the end of this relentless schedule.

Donovan seemed to recognize and kept Williams out the last 18 minutes for the more energetic Valentine.

Williams' promise is undeniable, but it's been a staggering stretch for him. He had four points and three turnovers Saturday. He is averaging 5.9 points the last 10 games with just one scoring in double figures. Over the last 19 games, Williams has been on the positive side of the plus-minus just three times.

The Bulls desperately need to be the five most aggressors to start every game. Especially now without the offensive bursts they can get from LaVine that can obscure some slow starts.

The Bulls didn't get that Saturday, and Miami was off and shooting. Robinson was scorching, which can happen. But the Bulls need to slow the game and take advantage of their size. Especially against a team like the Heat, which switch just about every pick and roll on defense. That should produce mismatches that put small defenders on Vucevic or Theis. Miami is one of the best teams in defensive help and recovery. But the Bulls didn't seem to take advantage until later in the game after Miami led 61-41 at halftime.

"The three-point line differential was big and then you couple that with the (18) turnovers and that's why I think we had a pretty large deficit to overcome," said Donovan. "I thought our guys competed and battled to get themselves back in the game and give themselves a chance. But the first half was maybe hard to overcome.

Billy Donovan reacts to the 106-101 loss to Miami in the postgame press conference.

"We were trying to get the ball in there (to the post)," Donovan said. "I thought we did a good job at times and then not so good a job at other times of getting it in there. I thought a lot of the threes in the first half came off inside/out; we missed a lot of them. They switched us a lot (on defense). I really thought we had a hard time breaking anyone down off the dribble."

Which, of course, LaVine is best at.

"The team switching like that you need some form of penetration to create some scrambles and some rotations and we weren't able to do that," Donovan said. "There were some opportunities of post feeding that we missed and maybe in the second half we did a better job."

Miami seemed to be toying with the Bulls into the third quarter, still leading 78-56 with two minutes left when the Bulls showed some life with a Lauri Markkanen three and Thad Young layup. Markkanen had the best plus-minus at plus-10, the only plus along with Valentine.

And then like they have done many times, though too many in vain, the Bulls got that Valentine three to start the fourth, a White three-point play and another Markkanen three, Vucevic inside, White with a three, Valentine with another and there was that inside/out effect. The Bulls finally were rolling. It was like spring break on South Beach. Bodies were everywhere. Vucevic made a three and then scored inside with Butler lamely trying to hold him off. And then another Valentine three after he took the ball away from Butler.

But then Valentine stepped out of bounds as he was trying to keep that roll going, and White threw another one of those post entry passes away and Markkanen short armed a three. And the Bulls were again only close enough to dream. Which became yet another nightmare. They cannot suffer many more.