Bulls erase 19-point deficit, fall in heartbreaker to Blazers

Portland's Damian Lillard hit a fadeaway three-pointer at the horn to give Chicago the 123-122 defeat on Saturday night.
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later
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The Bulls came roaring back from a 19-point hole to get into a fourth-quarter duel with the Trailblazers, but it was Damian Lillard who knocked down the game-winning three-pointer as time expired as Portland stole the 123-122 win. Chicago falls to 7-11 on the season. Lauri Markkanen led the Bulls with 31 points, Zach LaVine added 26 points on an efficient 9-of-12 shooting.

There's the old joke about the operation being a success but the patient died.

No one among the Bulls is laughing after playing so well and then giving up a five-point lead in the last 10 seconds to lose 123-122 to the Portland Trailblazers on a pair of Damian Lillard three pointers around a disputed—at least by the Bulls—jump ball turnover, Lillard's stunning second three winning it as the game ended and flatlined the Bulls.

"Sometimes the losing is painful with some of the ways we've lost," acknowledged Bulls coach Billy Donovan. "When you think about Oklahoma City (22-point lead), you think about Golden State (buzzer three pointer), you think about this one. Give him (Lillard) credit. They were great shots (well defended 37 and 26 footers). I've got great respect and admiration for him. But for me, as I look at it, it was less about him and more about us."

Though this really can't be called malpractice even if, as always, there's the opportunity for second opinions.

Billy Donovan addresses the media following Chicago's stunning loss to Portland.

Maybe Thad Young doesn't inbound to Zach LaVine in the baseline/sideline corner with a two-point lead and 6.2 seconds left. Maybe LaVine doesn't cradle the ball expecting to get fouled when instead there's a jump ball call. Which, by the way, both Donovan and LaVine said was too quick and maybe should not even have been a jump ball. Maybe Lauri Markkanen dives on the ball coming loose after Gary Trent controlled the jump to prevent Lillard from gathering it in and shooting. Maybe Donovan calls his final timeout to either advance the ball or when he saw LaVine being squeezed.

"I haven't seen that shot before," said Markkanen, who led the Bulls with a season high 31 points. "I don't know what to say to that."

Plenty would have been said if this were a playoff game or certainly a Finals game. In other times it would have been a classic. Though it will be hard to forget for the Bulls.

"We have another game coming up," said LaVine. "We've gotta get the Knicks (Monday)."

Trailblazers legend Rasheed Wallace would have been correct when he likely would have said, "Both teams played hard."

That kind of fourth quarter with eight lead changes or ties, with both teams shooting over 50 percent and the Bulls over 60 percent, with LaVine and Markkanen a combined nine for 12 in the fourth and with Lillard's four three pointers and two in 8.9 seconds—hello Reggie Miller—on the way to 44 points would have been called one of the great games in league history. Both teams shot better than 50 percent and more than 40 percent on threes, each team with at least 40 attempts. The Bulls made all their free throws and for the second consecutive game Thad Young barely missed a triple double, this time by a basket as he had 11 of the Bulls clever 31 assists.

The Bulls overcame a 19-point third quarter deficit to take a lead with eight minutes left in the game. Then it was haymaker after haymaker, Lillard a three and then a Garrett Temple three, Temple and Young drawing consecutive charges and then Markkanen with a three to get the Bulls back tied at 113. Then Markkanen finishing a neat Young pass with a driving slam dunk and following that with a block on Enes Kanter.

Lauri Markkanen led the Bulls with 31 points (12-of-18 shooting) in the loss.

"We lost on that shot, but there's a lot of stuff," said Markkanen. "We shouldn't be down 20 in the third quarter. We fought back. We did a great job doing that, but we've got to be able to close the game out and execute down the stretch."

It looked like they would this time thanks to LaVine, taking over after the Trailblazers had dedicated their defense all game to double teaming and trapping him. You know, let someone else beat us. They almost did. Patrick Williams had a good start with eight of his 11 points in the first quarter. Coby White mostly abandoned looking for teammates and looked to the basket and had his first game scoring at least 20 points in two weeks with 20 points. Young, with Wendell Carter Jr. out hurt, was brilliant running offense through center with seven offensive rebounds among his 11 and two more charges. It was 115-113 Bulls with a minute left after a Lillard turnover when LaVine went for the knockout.

"I got aggressive and tried to bring it home for us," LaVine said. "Just wasn't enough at the end. I think we played well, though."

LaVine had been patient in the face of the Portland pressure, not even attempting a shot in the first quarter as the Bulls led 34-32. A poor second quarter would give Portland a 64-53 halftime lead before LaVine shook loose after halftime.

In the end, LaVine would score 26 points on just 12 shots, making nine and six for eight on threes. How much more could he do? A frustrated LaVine appeared to stalk off the court as Lillard's miracle shot settled in and Lillard was smothered by teammates with what appeared to be a Covid-inappropriate kiss from Kanter.

Zach LaVine

Zach LaVine started off slowly but finished with 26 points (9-of-12 shooting), 7 rebounds, and 6 assists.

"I don't know what word you used, disgusted, but everybody's disappointed that we lost that game," Markkanen answered in the post game Zoom session. "Obviously, everybody was just out of words with how the game ended. We didn't have that much of a... it was a little bit of silence first. But obviously, it should hurt like it does. But like I said, we can't put our heads down. We've just got to keep grinding and hope to turn it around."

The Bulls' record dropped to 7-11, and talk about your crap.

It just didn't seem like it would come to that when LaVine wove through three Portland players and eased the ball in from practically under the backboard for a 117-113 Bulls lead with 58.8 seconds left. Timeout Portland.

Lillard countered with a driving score after getting Markkanen on a switch, the ball rolling tantalizing on and off and back on the rim and in. I'll see your layup and raise you a three, Zach might have said. He got the ball full court, dribbled up against Lillard, let the clock run down to six seconds and 32 in the game and pulled up for a 30 footer that seemed like he called game: 120-115 Bulls.

Lillard dribbled up to get Markkanen on that switch again. But Markkanen did a great job defensively, forcing Lillard to give up the ball back to Robert Covington, who'd given him the screen. But Covington beat Temple and White didn't help as Covington made a layup to get Portland within 120-117 with 18.1 seconds left. Just make free throws?

White did after springing loose and eschewing a layup to dribble off more time. The Bulls were thinking. He was fouled and made both free throws with 11.5 seconds left for the five-point lead.

You can't lose this one! Right? Right?

"We came back and put ourselves in a very, very good position to win where you're pretty much guaranteed to win."

Zach LaVine

"We were up five points with 11 seconds to go," noted LaVine. "You should win the game. It's not like this is the game where it was like OKC and we lost a 20-point lead and we lost the last minute or so and lost a lead with a 10-point lead. We came back and put ourselves in a very, very good position to win where you're pretty much guaranteed to win. It hurts being on the side of a loss like that where you think you have the game wrapped up and you fought back and put yourself in position to win. You have somebody like Dame come down and do that. It sucks."

Darned that Damian. Which from the Greek, as we know, means to tame. It was no so tame a finish even as much of Dame as there was. And the announcers even got to say how it was a two possession game. It doesn't get better than that.

When White made the second free throw, it seemed Portland players were checking for the lost contact lens. It was heads down. Anyone seen the game that got away? Again. Yes, it was a 20-point deficit recovery earlier this month in Portland in the Bulls best win of the season. Covington, clearly exasperated, laid the ball up into his basket as Portland coach Terry Stotts called yet another timeout. There were a lot of Portland hands on hips. A fine mess the Bulls had gotten them into, it seemed.

Covington inbounded to Lillard. White switched and got to Lillard, who faced him up as Lillard took one dribble astride the Bulls horn on the center court logo. White was in his face. To no avail as this Bulls got gored with the Lillard 37 footer. So it was a one possession game, 122-120 Bulls with 8.2 seconds left.

Young grabbed the ball to inbound. But Markkanen, White and Temple all seemed to stick to their defenders. Only LaVine flashed toward the ball and Young gave it to him sandwiched by Trent and Rodney Hood. They both reached for the ball that LaVine said he had cradled.

"I didn't think it was a jump ball," said LaVine. "I didn't think they had their hands on the ball. But it was called. So that's the way the game goes."

Donovan was sure it wasn't a jump ball.

"I thought it was a very, very quick jump ball call in that situation," said Donovan. "It was about as quick of a jump ball as I've ever seen. And you can't challenge that. I didn't think it was really a good call at that point in time. Like I get tie ups, but they just kinda like grabbed the ball and then she just called jump ball, Dannica (Mosher, official) did. But listen, we've gotta be stronger in those situations. I could have helped a little bit more. I think maybe possibly calling timeout, trying to advance the ball."

Donovan isn't particularly emotional. But you could tell he was upset about passing on the timeout. It just seemed like they were going to foul, and Zach makes free throws. Donovan mentioned four separate times in his post game remarks that he should have used that timeout.

Though that's what happens when the inexplicable happens. Sometimes, like LaVine said, it's out of your control even as you try to control everything.

"I saw the ball get inbounded to Zach," said Donovan. "I thought we were in pretty good shape. Zach, who's a great free throw shooter. But obviously from my perspective, that's probably one (timeout) I would have liked to have used. Hindsight, I probably should have called a timeout. I feel bad about that.

"I can call timeout and we can advance the ball and then not get it in and it can be a five-second count," Donovan calculated. "We could turn the ball over. A lot of things could happen.There was a loose ball we probably should have; somebody should have just dove on it. If I had to do it all over again, even though it got inbounded quickly, it may have been better when the shot was made just to call timeout."

But, seriously, who makes that play, that shot? And Markkanen was right in Lillard's face looking like the seven footer he is.

Lauri Markkanen

Markkanen scored over 30 points for the first time this season in the defeat.

Trent won the jump from LaVine and guided the ball toward Covingon. He fumbled it, but tapped it with his left hard to Lillard. Lillard gathered it in with Markkanen up on him and stepped right with one dribble and pulled up from the right wing, Markkanen reaching desperately for the shot. Seriously! That went in? The clock read zeros as the ball went into the net and LaVine immediately walked off the court.

"This is the NBA, man," said LaVine. "Incredible players in this league. We've done this to other teams. It happens to you sometimes. It just sucks. You try to figure out how not to let it happen and what you could've did better."

It's one of those sleepless nights. Because for all the great things the Bulls did—LaVine's clutch scoring and all around play, a Big Three with 77 points, all the assists and clutch defensive plays, Donovan's third quarter mad scientist substituting, adjustments and strategy after halftime that energized the team, Young's hustle and playmaking, Temple's clutch threes, heck even Cristiano Felicio with a strong cameo—and there were many more than usual, the end left everyone thinking about one more thing they could have done.

"I made some shots, but I think in the first half I could have been more active on both ends of the floor," said Markkanen. "So I look at that as having more energy and, like I said, being more active from the jump. Obviously the shot was feeling better today. That helps. There's a couple of shots I could have made, and so I'm disappointed in that. I think those could have helped us a lot (for) the ending of that game. Obviously, in that kind of situation you start thinking after the game about small things that you could've done better so we wouldn't even be in that spot. That's a tough loss, man. We've just got to bounce back from it."

It just makes you sick.

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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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