The Bulls battled then faltered in the final minutes of play.
Here's a great idea for a film about this Bulls season. They play well, fall behind, claw back and take a lead or get right there, right on the verge of winning like recently against Toronto, Miami, Orlando, Oklahoma City. And then there's a miss or a lost rebound or someone breaks free for a layup against them and a last chance disappears. Again and again and again on an endless loop, just like in Thursday's 102-98 loss to the Utah Jazz, a game tied with less than two minutes remaining. Maybe even with some Sonny and Cher music and with marmots in the background.
You could call it Groundhog Season.
"I think we played really well tonight," said Zach LaVine, who led the Bulls with 26 points and a team best five assists. "Just a couple of plays away. We have to learn to finish a little better. We've finished games before. We just have to be more consistent with it. They're a good team. They made some really tough shots. I think we forced them into some shots we wanted them to take and they made ‘em.
"We compete with some of the best teams in the league," LaVine repeated. "It might not show in our record, but we are right there pretty much every night. It's a couple of plays where our record flips, a couple of decisions, free throws, whatever it may be because we're in a lot of one possession games in the fourth quarter, the end of the game. It means we're are right there competing."
And now 13-22, the Bulls losing three of their last four after having won four of six.
"Try to get on a roll," said LaVine. "We haven't gotten on a roll yet and we do have a tough January, but we are up for the task."
We've won some close games; we need to win more of them. There are moments when we've gotten over the hump and won close games; tonight we didn't.
Coach Jim Boylen
It's not like it's a team that's given up or given in or doesn't compete.
It's just, you know, a lot of similarities.
"I'm not going to beat our guys up on the aspect we‘ve played in a lot of close games (and lost)," said Bulls coach Jim Boylen. "I think it's a credit to these guys we've competed and battled and now we have to learn to take the next step more consistently. We've won some close games; we need to win more of them. There are moments when we've gotten over the hump and won close games; tonight we didn't.
"We are laying the foundation and the building blocks for this," Boylen added. "We're in a new system with a new team with a new coach. I wanted to be a defensive team and we are. We need to improve our rebounding, we need to improve our defending without fouling and we need to improve offensively."
But when? How? Is it even possible?
It's surely been frustrated because it seems so close at times, so possible, and then…another loss.
This time the Bulls outplayed the 22-12 Jazz in the fourth quarter, fighting back impressively from an 11-point deficit early in the quarter and nine with fewer than five minutes remaining.
The Bulls then got a pair of tough scores from Wendell Carter Jr. who had 18 points and 13 rebounds, a late clock three from Kris Dunn on another LaVine setup and a classic hustle play when Lauri Markkanen, also with 18 points, saved a Dunn airball. Going out of bounds, Markkanen fired it back between the legs of Rudy Gobert to Carter for a dunk that brought the Bulls within 96-93. The Jazz dropped a pass out of bounds and the teams traded misses before LaVine made another of those no-room unlikely pull up threes to tie the game at 96 with 1:43 left.
"My number is called I step up to bat," said LaVine, who limped around late on a twisted ankle. "I feel like I've closed out a lot of games this year and there are some games I haven't. There are times you make the shot and nobody says anything and you miss it and look like the bad guy. I'm going out trying to win games, trying to do everything I can."
LaVine for the most part has, easily the Bulls best player for those occasions. But with the more experienced Jazz, one often sees a team that continues to rely on its patterns of play, more players seemingly adept at finishing games.
And so it would be as first Bojan Bogdanovic backed in LaVine and was fouled, making both free throws for a 98-96 Jazz lead with 1:27 left.
The Bulls declined timeouts late, which seemed reasonable since the Jazz is a good defensive team and a timeout would have enabled them to set up. Tomas Satoransky dribbled up and passed to LaVine coming off the left side. LaVine came open over a stagger screen, but missed a long three trying to go ahead with 1:17 left.
"He's done it before," Boylen said. "He made the play in Washington, dropped it off (to Carter for the wining basket), made one against the Clippers to win the game. We're going to keep putting him in those situations and we're going to keep believing in him. We had the ball in our best player's hand and we trust him in that situation."
Jazz star Donovan Mitchell didn't score a basket in the fourth quarter, so with Dunn blanketing Mitchell, Joe Ingles threw to a rolling Gobert for a slam dunk and four-point lead with a minute remaining. It has been a flaw in the Bulls' fine defense, which relies on steals and deflections. Trapping the ball screen too often allows a flash to the basket by the screener. With the corner three-point threats, the Bulls generally tend to be late to help. Gobert's basket gave the Jazz a 100-96 lead.
The question for the Bulls is who else. The ball generally finds its way back to LaVine.
"It's on us making the right reads down the stretch," said Carter. "That's something we have to work on, being a better, high IQ team."
So, again, it's not always clear. Are the plays not there? Or do the players defer to someone else?
Satoransky took the in bounds pass and dribbled into the lane. He often doesn't look to score, and he was cut off by Bogdanovic with defensive star Gobert lurking. Satoransky threw back to Carter open at the top of the three-point circle. Carter took a glance down to see where he was, looked like he might shoot, but then tossed to Dunn. Dunn dribbled left over Carter's screen and then drove toward the basket and threw an interior pass to Carter. It was low, but Carter did a good job retrieving it and was fouled, making two free throws to get the Bulls within 100-98 with 47.6 seconds left.
The Jazz went to the same Ingles/Gobert pick and roll. But Ingles reversed course and beat Satoransky going left. The Jazz rotate the ball well in the half court, the first pass to Bogdanovic in the right corner and then to Mitchell on the wing. He missed a three and Dunn got the long rebound, the Bulls with an overall 45-42 rebounding edge. No timeout again as Boylen said they had discussed pushing in the flow.
LaVine caught the ball running ahead on the left wing, got a Carter screen and turned the left corner going for the tie. Gobert was there. LaVine's layup attempt came up short. Mitchell rebounded and was fouled.
"Rudy sitting in the back of the paint, two time Defensive Player of the Year, tough going up against," LaVine observed. "I thought I had him out of position. I hit him with the body, so did the best I could. Just didn't want to settle for a three; we were down two. Go in and tie it up. I thought I was getting a lot of contact, but you can't leave it (short). You have to go out and make plays. Just didn't make enough plays tonight and I don't think we did as a group, either. Like the closing pitcher; give up a home run, but you've got a game the next day. So you have to go out there and do your job."
Mitchell made two for a 102-98 lead with 19 seconds left. The Bulls called time and got LaVine open on top for a three that missed. Gobert got the rebound, but Carter tied him up for a jump ball. Gobert directed it out of bounds with 10.8 seconds left. Bulls ball. Satoransky appeared to be throwing an inbounds lob to Markkanen, who had post position, but Markkanen moved away. LaVine scrambled to get the ball and put up a layup attempt that Gobert blocked.
Coby White in for Dunn got the block. He drove right and passed to Carter. Gobert recovered and knocked the ball out of bounds. But there now were just 3.5 seconds left with the Bulls trailing by four. Markkanen got a loose ball and fired a miss at the buzzer.
It was difficult to second guess too much or fault the Bulls too much.
Lauri gives the ball a good home.
Markkanen signed a poster slam dunk slashing on a LaVine pass in the first quarter as the Jazz led 25-22. Led by Bogdanovic with 19 points as Dunn thwarted Mitchell, Utah began to excel with sharp ball swings and a 40-33 lead before the Bulls closed the second quarter with an 8-0 run. The Bulls then started the third with a Markkanen three and a drive for a 15-0 overall streak and a 58-47 lead. But as so often has happened in third quarters, the Jazz scored seven straight points immediately and with a 24-4 run led 76-70 after three quarters. The Bulls got their steals, as usual, and 21 points off turnovers playing the lanes and trapping the ball. And then despite seemingly being out of it with five minutes left, the Bulls got back in it again. Played hard again, matched up well again against a quality opponent. Lost again.
"We battled," said Boylen, "down 10 in the fourth, we battled; we were right there. I thought we played really hard. It's disappointing. To say we're going to change this, look at changes in personnel, that's not my mindset right now and I'm going to keep coaching these guys. I like this group of men. They work and they care and they try to represent the city and play hard. I think they play really hard and we are going to keep working at it."
Bulls vs Jazz recap