Bulls cap long week with tight loss to Miami
The Bulls might as well learn to love the grind.
This week has been a trek, with the Bulls playing five games in seven nights, covering several hundred air miles in the process. Then there was Saturday's defensive-oriented grinder against Miami, which the Bulls seemed to enjoy.
They hung around for a while, built a lead early in the fourth quarter, but between dealing with the Heat's zone defense and losing track of 3-point shooters, Miami pulled out a 107-104 victory at the United Center, capping a 2-3 week for the Bulls.
This felt a little like a playoff preview, considering both teams are part of a tightly-packed group at the top of the East standings and this was a slow-moving physical game at times.
"Yeah, to show you how grimy and gritty you've got to be when you go out there and play," said DeMar DeRozan, who led the Bulls with 28 points. "That's a great team over there. They've got a lot of dogs over there that are very experienced in playoffs. That's the type of style, the type of physicality you're going to get. That's a lesson learned for us."
The Bulls were playing the second leg of back-to-back games after returning from Orlando, while the Heat had been waiting for two days, since a Wednesday loss at Minnesota.
The Bulls opened a 6-point lead early in the fourth quarter, but Miami made a quick surge by switching to the zone defense, while Gabe Vincent and Kyle Lowry combined to hit 4 straight 3-pointers in a 14-2 run.
Neither team was great from 3-point range, but Miami made 14, compared to the Bulls' 10, which was a significant difference in this one.
"On a back-to-back, in a game like that, you have to have some momentum going downhill to make it a little easier on your shooters and I thought we were too perimeter oriented," Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. "I thought when we got control and that lead, we were kind of hitting Alex in the pocket, we were playing downhill, we got Derrick (Jones Jr.) on a backdoor dunk. We had some spray-out 3s, but we were playing downhill, putting them in rotation.
"I thought we made it easy for them just basically having to play on the perimeter and we got nothing toward the basket or in the paint."
It was a strange final few minutes, with the Heat leaving Duncan Robinson and center Bam Adebayo on the bench for a long stretch, while sticking with the zone defense for the most part. Lowry and Vincent connected again from long range, while Bulls center Nikola Vucevic jumped out to contest a 3 from Max Strus and ended up giving him 3 free throws.
Trailing by 6, Zach LaVine and Lonzo Ball missed 3-pointers, then Jimmy Butler hit a driving scoop to put Miami in command at 102-94 with 58.9 seconds left.
The Bulls managed one last gasp when DeRozan finished a 3-point play, then hit a layup over former Toronto teammate Lowry to make it 102-99 with 25.9 seconds left. But a Lowry layup and Butler steal put it away.
"I thought they were a little more physical and a little more crisp with their execution, which is Miami Heat basketball," said Alex Caruso, who scored 22 points. "You know they're going to play, not dirty, but they're going to play physical, they're going to play rough. They're going to kind of muck the game up on defense for you. We didn't do as good enough job of executing and putting pressure on the paint, I think."
Early in the fourth quarter, Miami backup center Dewayne Dedmon was ejected after he got upset about something, walked over and kicked a chair at the end of the Heat bench. The force sent a cushion that was resting on the chair about two rows into the seats. Referees went to a video review before sending Dedmon to the locker room.
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