The Chicago Bulls fell to the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday afternoon 107-106 after a terrible start to the game, a renewed effort in the second half, and a total collapse over the final four minutes of the contest. The collapse in question came at the hands of Fred Hoiberg allowing his team to go totally off the rails on both ends of the court in the final four minutes of the game with a nine point lead. Even against the lottery-bound Nets, the Bulls proved once again that two straight minutes of hero ball usually isn’t enough to beat any team in a close game.
Now I’ll admit, the weird-as-hell Saturday matinee start time caught me completely off guard, so I missed a good chunk of the first quarter. However, that turned out to be a blessing because the Bulls similarly appeared caught off guard by the awkward timing of the game early on. They started out shooting only 4-15 from the field, 0-4 from the perimeter, generated only two freethrow attempts, and they let the Nets race out to a fifteen point lead at one point in the first quarter. Were it not for three ridiculous bail-out three pointers in the final minute (one from Michael Carter-Williams and two from Jimmy Butler, including a buzzer-beater off glass), the Bulls would have scored merely 19 points in the first quarter. Fortunately, the late spurt from distance cut the lead greatly, and Chicago ended the quarter down only 32-25.
The second quarter was almost just as bad offensively, but the Bulls at least appeared to step it up on defense a bit. While the Nets struggled to put the ball in the basket, none of Butler’s teammates could capitalize enough to fully close the gap. Nikola Mirotic played particularly awful, scoring zero points on 0-5 shooting from the field, and Dwyane Wade played very passively with only four points on four shots. Meanwhile, the bench stunk it up even worse, as Paul Zipser, Denzel Valentine, and Anthony Morrow combined to score zero points in 19 total minutes. Elsewhere, Joffrey Lauvergne and MCW shot 2-10 combined and scored a mere five points. In total, the Nets’ lowly bench outscored that of the Bulls 21-13 in the first half, which stood out as a big reason why the Bulls went into the locker room down 51-45.
Chicago’s team-effort finally showed up to start the third quarter. The Bulls kicked off the first four minutes of the second half with a 10-4 run to finally tie the game, and then took the their first lead of the game a little over halfway through the period on this beautiful three-man offensive possession:
And just like that, it's a tie ball game! 55-55 pic.twitter.com/I5XBtohfY3— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) April 8, 2017
Great hustle from everyone on the court led to some easy baskets for Bobby Portis and Robin Lopez, and some hot shooting from Jerian Grant suddenly opened up the Bulls’ offense tremendously. The Nets had to start committing guys to defending all of the floor, and that allowed Jimmy Butler more room to operate and overpower his matchups. But even when the Nets committed to doubling Butler, Jimmy Buckets was just too in the zone to care:
Jimmy Butler over two defenders pic.twitter.com/ZvvOrppZiF— Chicago Sports News (@ChiSportUpdates) April 8, 2017
The Bulls went on to score 37 points in the third quarter, and the team entered the final twelve minutes of play with an 82-75 lead.
Fred Hoiberg tasked Dwyane Wade with operating the offense to open the fourth quarter while Butler rested for the home stretch, and he did a passable job. The Bulls’ scored 12 points during the six minutes before Butler re-entered the game to the Nets’ 13, but given how poorly the bench played for almost the entirety of the game other than Portis, it was a welcome result.
Chicago entered the final four minutes of play up nine points, and then the Bulls just completely collapsed. After several lazy shooting fouls by Robin Lopez to give Brooklyn some free points, Mirotic had a two-on-one fastbreak with Butler that saw him throw a line-drive pass at the net instead of a lob, and the Nets corraled the rebound and fired a pass down court to Caris LeVert for a three to make it a one possession game. Then, on back to back possessions, the Bulls allowed Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to drive the ball the length of the court with little resistance, and two easy lay-ins at the rim suddenly gave the Nets back the lead with a little over two minutes remaining.
The next two minutes were as follows: every offensive possession for the Bulls became a Jimmy Butler isolation fest, and every offensive possession for the Nets became a poorly-defended drive to the rim that resulted in a foul and two freethrows. The two teams traded scoring in this fashion until Butler had to force up a long two (off of a laughably bad Hoiberg inbounds play) over Brook Lopez that missed long and the Nets snagged the rebound. Spencer Dinwiddie iced the game with two freethrows, and then Hoiberg decided to draw up a play that gave Butler a remarkably better look from the perimeter when the game was already decided, which Jimmy promptly made to cut the lead to one as the final buzzer sounded to give the Nets a 107-106 victory.
Butler finished with 33 points on 12-22 shooting and hit all five of his three point attempts to go along with seven rebounds and four assists in a losing effort. Dwyane Wade scored 14 points on 5-11 shooting and grabbed seven rebounds in his return (playing 25 minutes), but also committed five turnovers that he was quick to blame on other teammates while on the court. Jerian Grant played extremely well in his second start in as many games since only playing 30 minutes over the previous twelve contests, scoring 15 points on 6-8 shooting (3-4 from distance) and adding five assists with only one turnover in 30 minutes. The Zipser/Valentine/Morrow trio that failed to score in the first half remained scoreless for the remainder of the game, and MCW finished the game shooting 2-10 from the field in 21 minutes.
However, I’m blaming the late collapse at the end of the game squarely on Fred Hoiberg. Hoiberg had several opportunites during the last four minutes of the game to proactively call a timeout, which would have helped prevent the Bulls from making the litany of bone-headed plays on both ends of the court that ultimately gave the Nets back the lead. Instead, Hoiberg waited until after the Bulls’ nine point lead had evaporated completely and after the Nets completed a 7-0 run to call a timeout and address his troops. Then, rather than have the Bulls run any sort of half court sets against the worst team in the league, Hoiberg forced the Bulls to run Jimmy Butler hero-ball for the final two minutes of the game. Also, as previously mentioned, Hoiberg drew up a better inbounds play for a Butler three WHEN THE GAME WAS ALREADY OUT OF REACH BY FOUR POINTS WITH TWO SECONDS LEFT IN THE GAME than when the Bulls had an opportunity to tie or take the lead with 13 seconds remaining in the game. Whatever magic tricks Fred pulled off in the locker room during half time to wake the Bulls up for a 37 point third quarter got completely cancelled out by his absolute fumbling of what should have been an incredibly simple victory late.
This is a disgusting and infuriating loss for a team that is desperately fighting to clinch one of the final playoff spots in the East. It’s hard to watch how the Bulls started and finished this game today and conclude that this is a team worthy of making the postseason, let alone one that can compete once it gets there. The Bulls have two games remaining on the schedule, with their next contest coming at home against the Magic on Monday before another final meeting with the now-officially-league-worst Nets on Wednesday.
PLAYOFFS STANDINGS UPDATE: The Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers both won tonight, which vaults the Pacers into the 7th seed and ties the Bulls with the Heat for the 8th seed. The Bulls own the tiebreaker, and the Heat have two games remaining versus the Cavs and Wiz at home.