Bulls melt in the Heat, 100-93
The Bulls fought through adversity, but couldn't make plays when needed
If you can't stand the Heat, well, then make a few more shots, as Harry Truman likely would have counseled the Bulls Sunday in their 100-93 loss to Miami. The Bulls stopped here in the United Center to drop to 3-15 on the season.
"Obviously, we don't like moral victories," acknowledged Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg. "But I thought our guys came out and competed the right way. It's a tough first game to come back (Saturday from a Western Conference road trip), play an afternoon game; very difficult game to play. I know that from playing in this league. Can't use as an excuse. But the guys were positive in there. They were bright eyed, lot of eye contact. Hopefully, come out and play well the rest of this week."
For our guys to come out and respond, I thought, after two very disappointing games at the end of trip, was a positive. There are some positives.
With 10 losses in their last 11 games and a five-game losing streak a team begins to look for signs of surrender. Are the players becoming disengaged? Have they stopped listening? Are they playing selfishly and indifferently?
Are they tweeting during defensive transition?
Actually, not really as the Bulls coming off a season worst 49-point devastation from the defending champion Golden State Warriors had their most assists since defeating Charlotte before the road trip. They out rebounded the Heat, held them to one offensive rebound despite the presence of center Hassan Whiteside and to a seven-point first quarter.
"I thought we did a better job tonight sharing the ball," agreed Hoiberg. "We came out with the right mentality in the third quarter (after trailing 45-42 at halftime). For our guys to come out and respond, I thought, after two very disappointing games at the end of trip, was a positive. There are some positives."
But not enough as the Bulls scored just 13 points in that wretched first quarter, both teams shooting below 20 percent.
"If the game would've kept on going like that, I think everyone would've wanted a refund, and we probably would have paid for it as an organization," quipped Miami coach Erik Spoelstra. "That was ugly in that first quarter for both teams; 13-7. It looks like a misprint. Some of the energy the second unit came out with, it changed the energy on both sides of the floor. It's amazing how that works sometimes."
Both teams had their alarm finally go off, but it was Miami with 68 percent shooting and 38 points in the second quarter that assumed the lead and mostly hung onto it the rest of the game, if not by much.
The Bulls trailed just 83-81 with under six minutes left, but they were unable to stop crucial plays from Goran Dragic and former Bull James Johnson and a hot Miami left the Bulls feeling like they had coconut oil on their hands as the game slipped away.
"Didn't make the plays when we needed to the second half; they hit big shots," lamented Denzel Valentine, who had another impressive all around game with 14 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists and four of six on threes. "I think we played well, but we have to learn how to finish games. It took a little while for the game to get going, but it was a good game. I thought we took a step forward, at least. The last few games we started well and then when adversity hit, we shut down. Today, we fought through some adversity. We just didn't make the plays when we needed to. At least tonight, you can say that you went out and you competed."
It's not an answer so much as another step toward where the Bulls hope to go with this evolving team.
Jerian Grant set his second straight career high with 24 points off the bench. Grant playing as a reserve has been able to play more as a driver and scorer, which is more natural for him. Starting previously, Grant played hesitantly trying to be a facilitator, thus ineffective at two positions, the one he was playing and the one he wasn't.
"I feel like when I'm out there with the second unit guys, I have that opportunity more," said Grant, who had 21 points against the Warriors, though most late in the game. "Coming off the bench I have to be aggressive and I feel like that helps our team. Being out there with that lineup, it's the punch I can give them."
Justin Holiday added 15 points. Lauri Markkanen had 11 points and 10 rebounds and Bobby Portis off the bench also had 11 points. Robin Lopez had 10 points and seven rebounds.
Dunn was overwhelmed for the second straight game, shooting zero for six Sunday and benched for the fourth quarter. Hoiberg said Dunn would remain the starter.
"Keep doing what you've been doing; don't get off course," said Dunn. "I've had bad games wherever I went, high school, college. I found a way to get out of it. That's what I'm going to do, keep playing hard. I'm getting the shots I want. Playing good defense certain times. I'm going to go in and attack harder (in response to Hoiberg recommending that). We have to understand we are young; we are trying to improve individually and as a team trying to build that chemistry. There are other teams in this league at one time went through a bad start and eventually through the years became great. That's what we are trying to do, too.
"Just have to be positive," Dunn added. "The only thing you can do, individually, and as a team. I think the coaching staff is doing a good job keeping everybody together."
After that first quarter in which it looked like everyone was still in the kitchen for brunch, Miami moved ahead in a half with 14 leads changes and eight ties. The Bulls corralled Miami's shooters again in the third quarter and maintained the three-point deficit entering the fourth quarter.
It was Grant with a huge fourth quarter, scoring 15 points that buoyed the Bulls.
But two crucial sequences doomed the Bulls as Dragic was the only Miami starter to play in the fourth quarter.
First, James Johnson appeared to experience an epiphany seeing Paul Zipser defending him. Zipser had fallen out of the rotation on the road trip. But with the Bulls poor shooting to start, Hoiberg gave him a look. So did Johnson with the Bulls trailing 74-72 with 7:49 left after an Antonio Blakeney driving layup.
Johnson practically walked to the basket with three layups against Zipser before the Bulls could get Portis back. Johnson finished with 11 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter.
The Bulls weathered that and got back within 84-81 with 5:23 left on a Markkanen three and a Grant driving score. But Dragic beat Grant on a give and go for an open layup and then Grant committed a pair of turnovers, one traveling. Dragic had 16 of his game high 24 points in the fourth quarter. When the Bulls yet again lost Wayne Ellington for a three, Miami was suddenly up 10 with two minutes left and having burned the Bulls.
"The Heat are a great team," said Valentine. "They beat the Celtics and ended their winning streak. So, to come out and play that way against a good team like the Heat is pretty good. It just sucks when we have the lead and we couldn't finish it out, get the win back home. But I thought we played hard and competed."
Now they just have to give them a little more hell.
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