Although their 22 point lead had fizzled down to five, the Chicago Bulls were still in control of the Thunder with 1:47 left. They were leading for much of this contest and had gotten another big game from Zach LaVine, who scored 35 points.
However, crunch time proved to be a struggle for Chicago once again.
LaVine and his team went scoreless the final 2:09 of regulation, allowing OKC to come back and force overtime. In the extra period, the Bulls nearly won the game on the last possession but LaVine’s straight away three bounced off the rim in the 127-125 loss.
This should have won in regulation quite easily, given how much they were up by in the fourth quarter. But the Bulls made crucial mistakes with the game on the line and saw another win slip through their hands. It’s a crushing loss, especially how Chicago looked to have this one all wrapped up until the final minutes.
The Bulls were up to a 99.1% chance to win up 10 with 1:56 left in regulation before they lost to the Thunder in OT— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 16, 2021
Teams were 1-2,930 when trailing by 10+ points in the final 2 min of regulation over the last 5 seasons. The only other win was by the Kings on January 27, 2020. pic.twitter.com/vK84WPUjKF
Protecting the ball has been a problem for Chicago all season and it was no different against the Thunder. They turned the ball over 24 times and it resulted in 33 points for Oklahoma City. It wasn’t just the fault of one player for this problem. The starting lineup themselves combined for 17 of them while Garrett Temple was the only active Bull to not commit one.
The timing of the sloppiness came at the worst time too. They had a stretch of three straight turnovers during OKC’s scoring run at the end of the game. To make matters worse, it came from three of their biggest scoring options.
Despite having a brilliant game, the final minutes of the fourth were a rough one for LaVine. During Chicago’s scoreless drought he missed two threes, including the game-winner, while also turning the ball over with a minute to go in the game.
To make matters worse, this mistake is capitalized on by OKC as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander finds Williams for a dunk on the very next possession.
At this point the Bulls could’ve still taken control of the game with a good offensive possession. But they couldn’t even inbound the ball.
Above, there are two main options for Garrett Temple as the in-bounds man: Coby White is initially the closest to him while LaVine is at the three-point line and guarded by Dort. White, who is guarded by Williams, does a spin towards Temple but his cut off. Next he runs towards LaVine with the intention to screen Dort and free LaVine open for the catch near the corner. White would then turn back towards Temple as an option to receive the inbound. OKC sees LaVine going to the corner and all three players rush over there, especially Dort who is step for step with him. As soon as Dort gets near the free-throw line, White tries to screen from out of nowhere and it catches the Thunder defender off guard. In real time it looks like a combination of a simple collision between players and maybe a push from White. But either way, Dort feels the contact and gets bumped off his pursuit of LaVine. The referees see that contact and whistle Coby for the offense foul, turning the ball over for Chicago before their possession even began.
The turnover this time doesn’t burn them as a missed three by Dort gives them another chance to seal the game. Once again, the ball is in LaVine’s hands with 15 seconds left on the shot clock and 30 on the game clock.
The play design looks to be a pick and roll between Lauri Markkanen and LaVine in order to get the latter some space around the perimeter. From there LaVine can either go downhill, pick out a teammate or pull up from three. After getting the screen, LaVine sees White cutting towards the basket and tries a risky pass in the paint. White doesn’t see the pass till too late and it is picked off by Dort near the restricted area. It was a tough pass to make by LaVine but by then the whistle had already blown. The foul came when Markkanen set the screen on Williams. The defender sensed it coming at the top of the three-point line and continued to shift his feet. So when Markkanen came over, he couldn’t set a proper pick and instead delivered a hip check, bumping Williams and sending him into LaVine in the process.
So just like that in the matter of about 40 seconds the Bulls had managed to turn the ball over three times, effectively keeping Oklahoma City in the game. This contest shouldn’t have been this tight in the final minute but mistakes by Chicago made it possible. Two offensive fouls plus a ball dribbled off of a foot are all mistakes that can be prevented.
Chicago needs to do a lot better at cutting down the mistakes on offense. They lead the league in turnovers with 18.3 per game and this wasn’t the first time that this problem has prevented them from winning. Turnovers can kill offensive flow, cause big runs by the opposition, and flip the momentum of the game. All three of those things happened to the Bulls during their disastrous stretch of offensive basketball in crunch time.