Like their previous game the day before, the Bulls made some really poor decisions late in their loss to the Blazers. All around, it was another game Chicago probably could have won if they had managed it well. Some of those decisions can be placed on Fred Hoiberg, and others can pointed at the players.
One of the first mistakes was Nikola Mirotic not playing for the last 13 minutes of the game. Despite playing only 19 minutes overall, Mirotic dropped a double double with 18 points on 6 of 13 shooting along with 10 rebounds. But the most baffling part of the game was him not seeing the floor in the crucial parts of the 4th quarter and overtime. Hoiberg was rightly asked about the decision to keep Robin Lopez in and Mirotic out after the game:
Hoiberg said Mirotic has "a little back issue going on" but said he played Lopez to match Nurkic.— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) January 2, 2018
Although Hoiberg is right in the fact of having a guy like Lopez on the floor can help minimize Jusuf Nurkic’s impact inside and on the glass, there were better options he could have gone with. One of them being a lineup where Mirotic is matched up against Nurkic. Despite the questions on how he can matchup defensively, Mirotic could have had a real advantage offensively by forcing the big Bosnian to guard out in space. It would have really helped the Bulls and forced Portland with a decision on whether to keep the big man in or not (an idea also argued by Will Gottlieb of the Athletic). We don’t exactly know the whole situation about the Mirotic injury and how severe it was but it’s still tough to justify not playing him for the last 13 minutes of a game.
Another total miscalculation was Chicago’s time management in the final minute of regulation. After CJ McCollum missed a layup with 37 seconds left and Chicago securing the rebound, this was the perfect time for the Bulls to execute a classic “2 for 1” situation. The ideal scenario would have been Chicago taking a very quick shot with more than 24 seconds left on the clock, hence allowing themselves to be the team which likely takes the final shot of the game. What happened was exactly the opposite: from the time they rebounded the ball, Chicago took 20 seconds to get up a shot which was a missed three-pointer. So instead of getting the ball back with some reasonable time left, the last shot Chicago got in regulation was a Denzel Valentine heave from half court.
In the final minutes of basketball games, all possessions are extremely valuable and crucial. So when you have the chance at getting an extra opportunity to score, you should take it right away. I’m not saying Chicago should have just launched an immediate pull-up three, but they should have been a lot more smarter about handling the situation.
It was also the play of CJ McCollum which ultimately killed the Bulls. McCollum had a monster game, scoring 32 points and knocked down 5 three-pointers. But it was one of his 8 assists which was key to Portland’s success in the overtime frame. This was a simple pick and roll between McCollum and Al-Farouq Aminu, who had 5 three-pointers for Portland. With 3:35 left in OT and the Blazers up 1, they ran it to perfection.
Here Portland attacks Lauri Markkanen, either to open up shots for Aminu or get McCollum in a favorable matchup after a switch. In this edition of the play, there is a little wrinkle in it in which Nurkic sets a screen on Markkanen at the free throw line as Aminu is running towards McCollum to set a pick of his own. This already puts Markkanen behind in terms of being ready to switch or to help Justin Holiday, who is guarding McCollum. By the time Markkanen gets through the screen of Nurkic, Aminu already set his pick and is sprinting off towards the corner. McCollum takes the pick and moves to his right but is greeted by Markkanen, who stops him in his tracks. Facing a double team, McCollum makes the smart play and swings it to the corner to a wide open Aminu. Markkanen is too far away to contest and with all the time in the world, Aminu rises up and knocks down a crucial triple to give Portland a four point lead.
Another mismanaged incident was when the game was all-but-decided, but the Bulls still having a slight chance down two points if able to foul and extend the game. After a Kris Dunn miss, he complained to the officials and his teammates didn’t do much else as the Blazers were allowed to dribble out crucial seconds off the clock.
Haha the Bulls just stopped playing. Hoiberg and Randy Brown looked like they were going to commit the intentional foul themselves pic.twitter.com/daUxiAhBEh— Stephen Noh (@StephNoh) January 2, 2018
Although it was frustrating to see the Bulls falter down the stretch, these are teachable moments for everyone. This season is all about development so as long as the young guys continue to learn how to play better in late game situations, it’s all that matters.