The Bulls had the opportunity to move into a tie for the No. 8 seed with a win over the Magic to finish out a four-game road trip. Instead, an ugly 14-point fourth quarter resulted in a 103-95 loss to give them a 2-2 trip.
The Bulls initially carried their momentum over from the last two wins with a hot start, going up 20-11 midway through the first quarter. The Magic quickly reeled the Bulls in, though, thanks to the hot shooting of Terrence Ross, who made it rain all night with 26 points and six 3-pointers off the bench.
The Bulls went back up by seven points late in the first half thanks to making five consecutive 3-point attempts of their own, but the lead was just three at halftime and the Magic pulled ahead in the third quarter, never to trail again. The Bulls managed to stay close thanks to 13 free-throw attempts (10 makes) after attempting just two in the first half, but the Magic were able to stay ahead thanks to a 32-point quarter that shockingly featured zero turnovers.
While Coby White tied the game at 83-83 at the start of the fourth quarter, the Magic quickly scored seven straight points and held the lead the rest of the way. The Bulls had their chances to cut into the deficit when the Magic started turning the ball over with more regularity, but they just couldn’t get anything going offensively. The Magic’s length bothered the Bulls all over the court, leading to a lot of disjointed possessions and ugly shots.
Zach LaVine led the Bulls with 26 points, but he wasn’t able to save them in this game as he struggled down the stretch and finished with a 8-of-26 shooting line after a hot start. LaVine shot 2-of-10 in the fourth quarter, which was part of a 6-of-25 showing for the team. A bunch of these attempts weren’t even close, with not only the Magic’s defense but the tired legs at the end of the trip likely affecting the shots.
The Bulls’ last field goal was a LaVine dunk with 2:36 to play to make it a four-point game, but they promptly blew a defensive coverage on Markelle Fultz on the other end, and an Aaron Gordon putback dunk with 36.4 seconds left finished the scoring for the game.
The awful fourth quarter dropped the Bulls to under 40% shooting for the game. They shot 13-of-37 from 3-point range and forced up some bad ones in the second half. They also had 17 turnovers while only forcing 12 of their own, a rarity this season. The Magic blocked 13 shots on the night, with Mo Bamba leading the way with four off the bench. Gordon and Jonathan Isaac, who’s a true defensive menace, each had three.
Only two other Bulls scored in double figures outside of LaVine. Tomas Satoransky was generally terrific with 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting (4-of-5 from 3), but he was just 1-of-4 in the fourth quarter. Lauri Markkanen had 10 points, but he shot 4-of-11 from the field and was invisible in the second half (two points).
The struggles of the Bulls’ bench continued, with Denzel Valentine playing a hilariously bad five minutes in the first half that resulted in zero minutes in the second half. He missed all four of his attempts (three triples), with multiple shots catching nothing but air. Even though the Bulls have been more competitive lately, the bench has been a minus for a bit now after some impressive performances earlier in the season.
The Bulls now move two games back of the No. 8 seed with this loss, and they don’t play again until Saturday when they welcome the awful Hawks back to the United Center. The Bulls have owned the Hawks this season, but the return of John Collins may make things a bit tougher than they were in the prior two games.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, Blog a Bull.