Executing down the stretch of close games and in crunch time are crucial development points for any rebuilding team. The ability to get a basket when the pressure is at its highest literally flips the balance between winning and losing. Just one shot can change or halt momentum and change the tide of the game. There are going to be moments when you come up with the victory, but other times when you are on the receiving end of a crushing loss. Against the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday, the Chicago Bulls learned another harsh lesson of what happens when you falter late in the fourth quarter.
They looked prime for a key victory against a legitimate playoff team. This would have been a key win for the Bulls by not only beating a team with an over .500 record but also keeping up with the Brooklyn Nets in the race for the eighth seed. Tomas Satoransky hit a jumper with 4:11 left to put Chicago up 100-93. Sadly for the Bulls, that basket would be the last time they scored in regulation.
What happened next was a retread of a movie Bulls fans have seen a lot of this season: Chicago is up in the fourth quarter but the offense suddenly vanishes.
In the next four minutes, the Bulls’ offense couldn’t do anything. Zach LaVine missed two open 3-pointers to get the slump going and it was downhill from there. The Pacers weren’t exactly taking full advantage of Chicago’s slump but every time they hit a basket you could feel the pressure ramping up. Then the turnovers started happening:
With the shot clock winding down this Bulls possession turned into another case of LaVine trying to create something out of nothing. He was all alone at the top of the 3-point line and looking at the rest of the lineup on the floor. The rest of the guys were in prime spots for kick-out situations, but the defense had to collapse on LaVine first. Cristiano Felicio set a screen on his left but Domantas Sabonis stood right there to step up when the defensive switch happened. LaVine tried to pump fake but Sabonis didn’t jump forward, making it a scenario where either a pass or a contested jumper would be the outcome. LaVine chose the first option and tried to rifle a pass to Satoransky, who was all the way on the other side of the court. None of the Bulls were really moving when the first PNR happened, so everyone was so spaced out that defenders could easily jump passing lanes. Malcolm Brogdon saw this, stepped right in front of the ball, and raced toward the other end for an easy dunk.
With about a minute left and the Bulls up three, a basket was much-needed. Going up five in the final minute could have been the final blow to the Pacers’ comeback bid. However, with the recent issues of a turnover and missed 3s, the Bulls decided to not put the ball in the hands of their best player. Instead it was Satoransky who had the ball in his hands:
Like the last time, the Bulls went with Felicio as the screen man, but Satoransky went the other way. Felicio rolled to the rim and looked to be open for a split second and the ball was delivered right to him at the free-throw line. But he fumbled the catch and the ball went on the floor, ending up in the hands of the Pacers. It was another offensive possession wasted away.
The Bulls still had a chance to win at the end of regulation, but a Victor Oladipo foul on LaVine went uncalled (the Last Two Minute Report said this should have been a foul). Then, the Bulls’ energy simply looked zapped in overtime.
With only one consistent shot creator on the team, the Bulls rely heavily on their star player being able to create. When things are going tough and he gets in a slump, things go south quickly. Guys are standing around on offense and turnovers ensue because you’re asking players to create shots when that really isn’t their forte. It’s a stark reminder of how much better the Bulls need to get offensively. Not having Lauri Markkanen nor Wendell Carter Jr. in this game hurt as well.
The drought that plagued Chicago in regulation cost them as they looked prime to close out the game multiple times. The no-call on LaVine at regulation was certainly a bad one, but they shouldn’t have been in position to need that call to begin with. The Pacers still gave the Bulls chances to slam the door shut on a comeback bid, but Chicago couldn’t take advantage. The Bulls finished the final 4:11 of regulation with six missed field goals and two turnovers. It was another painful defeat as Chicago let an opportunity for a key victory slip away.