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The Bulls’ fourth quarter performance continues to be a huge problem

The Bulls are one of the worst teams in the NBA in the most important quarter.

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Detroit Pistons Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Bulls showed plenty of resilience last night in Detroit by fighting back from a 17-point deficit. They could’ve easily packed it in given it was their fourth game in five nights, but Jimmy Butler put the team on his back and got them back in it.

However, right after the Bulls went up by four points early in the fourth quarter and it looked like they may steal a win, things fell apart. And that’s been an all-too-familiar refrain early in the season as the Bulls continue to struggle when it matters most.

This game turned early in the fourth quarter right after Nikola Mirotic gave the Bulls that four-point lead. Tobias Harris buried a triple and Dwyane Wade missed one of his own, and a stoppage in play included a Rajon Rondo sub for Jimmy Butler.

The Pistons scored six straight points with Butler on the bench, and the Bulls’ three possessions during that time included two missed shots right at the basket and a pair of missed free throws for Rondo. With the game slipping away, Hoiberg went right back to Butler, meaning he’d wind up playing 43 minutes on the SEGABABA (dang it, Thibs). But a missed Butler jumper turned into a Darrun Hilliard trey on the other end, giving the Pistons a comfortable eight-point lead to cap off a 12-0 run.

Jimmy tried again to put the Bulls on his back and had a nice run of tough buckets, but it was all for naught. The Bulls’ complete ineffectiveness from three (2-of-15 for the game) made the margin for error during the comeback even slimmer, and the defense failed to get the necessary stops to even seriously threaten Detroit.

The Bulls were ultimately outscored 31-19 in the fourth quarter, dropping their fourth-quarter net rating to a putrid -10.7, which ranks 27th in the NBA, per Their defense has certainly been problematic in the final frame (106.8 DRtg, 18th), which is something Butler has harped on time and time again, and did again last night.

But Butler doesn’t seem to think there’s much of an issue with the team’s offense, and that’s flat out wrong:

Chicago has scored just 96.2 points per 100 possessions in the fourth quarter this season, which is 28th in the league, and the 36.2 percent mark from the field is BY FAR the worst mark in the NBA.

The picture is much, much uglier if we look at the last nine games (since the win in Utah), in which the Bulls are 3-6. In those nine games, Chicago posted a fourth-quarter offensive rating under 83, also by far the worst mark in the league. Not surprisingly, their 34.9 eFG% and 41.4 TS% are also by far the worst in the league over that span.

So why have the Bulls been so bad in the fourth quarter this season, and especially during this recent rough patch? There are a few explanations:

  • The Bulls’ lack of three-point shooting is coming back to bite them. While the Bulls are literally at the bottom of the league in all three traditional three-point stats overall, they’re middle of the pack in attempts in the fourth quarter. The problem is they’re making just 26.9 percent of those attempts, worst in the NBA. And in the last nine games? 21.5 percent. The amount of attempts would suggest teams are giving them the shot and that they’re settling at times.
  • The Bulls don’t have a lot of good shooters, but being THAT bad from three late in games probably has something to do with tired legs. The rotation has been shortened with Doug McDermott and Michael Carter-Williams out, forcing Jimmy into huge minutes and some other players into bigger minutes than you’d like. Also, the bench stinking up the joint certainly contributes to the fourth-quarter woes when there are heavy bench lineups early in the frame.
  • The prior two points likely play a role in Butler’s rather poor fourth-quarter shooting percentage of just over 37. He’s worn down by the end of games because of the heavy burden, and the shrunken floor plus a slowed-down game against defenses keyed on him means more difficult shots. His decision-making has been notably spotty at times in the clutch, and part of that is due to some of the different looks he’s been getting from defenses.
  • The Bulls’ massive offensive rebounding advantage has been mitigated in the fourth quarters of late. They’re just 11th in offensive rebound percentage over the last nine, and that’s a huge part of how they’re effective. They also don’t have as much of a free throw advantage in the fourth quarter.
  • Rondo has been an absolute dumpster fire. The Bulls have been outscored by 15.8 points per 100 possessions in the fourth quarter with Rondo on the floor (Robin Lopez’s number is somehow worse), and the point guard is shooting just over 27 percent from the field. The Rondo/Wade/Butler trio has been outscored by 14.7 points per 100 possessions in 47 fourth-quarter minutes. That’s still a small sample size, but it downright stinks.

I could keep going and going here with some of these ghastly stats, but I think you get the point. The Bulls are bad in the fourth quarter and should feel bad. Getting healthy should help some of these issues, but this team still has fundamental problems on both sides of the ball that’ll affect them when the game is on the line. They’ll need to figure those out if they want to make any serious noise.