The Bulls Thursday did just about everything they could, but win. And now their season is on the brink of being lost as they are a game from being eliminated from the playoffs after 106-98 loss to the Miami Heat.
The Bulls played the Heat tough, hard and mostly even throughout. But they could not produce a finishing kick as Miami pulled away in the last three minutes behind strong inside play from Hassan Whiteside on the boards with second shots.
They fell to 39-40. They cannot pass the Pistons, 42-37, and now are one loss or one Indiana win from being eliminated by the Pacers. The Pacers are 42-36.
The Bulls were led by Jimmy Butler with 25 points. Pau Gasol had 21 points and 12 rebounds and Derrick Rose had 17 points. Dwyane Wade led Miami with 21. Whiteside off the bench had 16 points and 12 rebounds.
The Bulls were without Taj Gibson and E’Twaun Moore again. Nikola Mirotic took over at power forward for Bobby Portis, who had been starting. The Bulls got ahead to begin, as coach Fred Hoiberg hoped, with Gasol and Rose active, scoring 12 of the team’s first 14 points. Rose did so with drives while Gasol was aggressive in the post. The Bulls held a 14-11 lead at the first break, extending that out to 20-15 with a pair of Justin Holiday scores and better attention to the defensive boards. Rose’s also drew a charge with Dwyane Wade on the fast break. But Goran Dragic slithered through for a pair of scores to draw Miami within 22-21 after one. The Bulls’ continued to be aggressive on the defensive boards with the reserves as Portis and Cristiano Felicio did a good job boxing out and guiding rebounds to teammates. The Bulls held onto a 30-27 lead with 8:16 left in the half. The Bulls pulled ahead 35-28 with Rose picking up a loose ball and zig zagging through the entire Heat defense for a score and Portis with a tough finish on an offensive rebound. But Wade remained elusive on a pair of driving scores as Miami was within 40-38 with 2:13 left in the half. Butler finished the half with a pull up for a 46-40 Bulls lead as Gasol had 13 and Rose had 11.
The Bulls again had a sputtering start to the second half as the Heat began pushing the ball, moving into a 52-52 tie with 8:12 left on three Luol Deng scores. The Heat continued to make shots and with a Joe Johnson three went ahead 65-60. Portis then had a big offensive rebound and pass back to Justin Holiday for a three to stop the run and the Bulls tied the game at 69 on a Butler pull up three. But Doug McDermott was called for a flagrant foul on hard contact with Whiteside and the Heat went on to take a 75-69 lead into the fourth quarter. The Heat with six second chance point in the quarter testified to their increased hustle.
Goran Dragic put back his own miss and Josh Richardson had a driving slam over Portis and Cristiano Felicio as Miami maintained a 79-74 lead with 8:54 left. Felicio then had a tough tipin of a Holiday miss and Butler stripped Wade and finished a two-on-one with Rose for an 82-81 Bulls lead with seven minutes remaining. It was big play and then mistake, big play and mistake as Butler blocked a seemingly easy layup but then threw the ball away on the fast break as the Heat took an 85-84 lead with 4:59 left. The Bulls were within 90-88 when Whiteside rebounded his own putback attempt for a three-point play and then Wade stole a Butler pass for a fast break score and 95-88 Miami lead with 2:34 left.