10 observations: Griffin breaks Bulls hearts at OT buzzer


The Chicago Bulls entered Atlanta Sunday night trying for their first three-game win streak of the season. It was a chance to continue momentum after home wins over the Washington Wizards and Dallas Mavericks.

Instead, they fell 123-122 in overtime to the Hawks in about as gut-wrenching a fashion as you could script.

The defeat drops the Bulls to 11-15 on the season and 3-10 in "clutch" contests, defined by NBA.com as games that fall within a five-point margin with five minutes or less to play — a statistic that is beginning to define the season.

Here are 10 observations:

1. Both sides competed through injury or schedule-related adversity in this one. The Hawks played without Dejounte Murray and John Collins (both have left ankle sprains), while the Bulls jetted into town for the second leg of a back-to-back without Alex Caruso, who suffered a tailbone contusion in the first quarter of their win over the Mavericks on Saturday.

2. Javonte Green, meanwhile, returned from a three-game absence with a bone bruise in his right knee. But contrary to Billy Donovan previously saying he intended to return the 6-foot-4 forward to the starting lineup upon his return, the Bulls' coach stuck with Patrick Williams in the first unit, at least for one night.

Ayo Dosunmu, of course, started for Caruso.

Green first checked in two minutes into the second quarter for a four-minute stint, a sign the Bulls initially intended to ease him back into the rotation. But he ended up starting the second half — and checking Trae Young, for a time — after Dosunmu exited with an injury.

3. That injury occurred after Dosunmu took a hard fall on a drive in the second quarter. During the play, Young slid in front of Dosunmu to successfully draw a charge, but as each player toppled to the floor, Dosunmu's midsection appeared to ram straight into Young's knee. The Bulls' second-year guard did not return to the game with an abdominal contusion, a tough blow in conjunction with Caruso's injury.

4. The Hawks pulled ahead by as many as 12 in the second half. But the Bulls' second unit made a massive impact as a collective and helped rally them back into the contest. Some notes from their contributions:

  • A lineup of DeMar DeRozan staggered alongside second-stringers Goran Dragić, Coby White, Derrick Jones Jr. and Andre Drummond changed the complexion of the game between the late third and early fourth quarter; between the 2:45 mark of the third quarter and 8:01 mark of the fourth, that group trimmed an 80-70 Hawks lead to 93-90.
  • Drummond posted his second strong performance in a row following a three-game streak of his playing time dwindling into the single-minutes range. He put up 14 points, nine rebounds and five steals in 16 minutes.
  • White and Jones Jr. closed the contest with Caruso and Dosunmu out, and each contributed gutsy plays. With the Bulls trailing 110-109 in the final seconds of regulation, White punched a pass out of AJ Griffin's hands for a steal, which was initially whistled for a foul, but eventually overturned after Billy Donovan shrewdly deployed his coach's challenge. On the ensuing possession, which began with just under nine seconds to play, DeRozan missed a midrange jumper, but Jones Jr. skied for an offensive rebound and was fouled on a putback attempt, sending him to the free throw line with a chance to win the game. He made the first but missed the second, sending the game to overtime, where White again came up big with a 3-pointer to tie the contest 119-119 after the Bulls fell behind by five earlier in the period.

5. Unfortunately, Jones Jr. was also party to the Bulls' most devastating defensive error of the night.

To set the scene: Young, with one second to play in overtime and the game tied, drilled a stepback jumper to give the Hawks a 121-119 lead. But on the Bulls' ensuing possession, Bogdan Bogdanović committed a brutal blunder by fouling DeRozan on an off-balance 3-point attempt. DeRozan made all three free throws — giving him 17 points between the fourth quarter and overtime — to put the Bulls ahead 122-121 with 0.5 seconds to play.

The Hawks then advanced the ball with a timeout, and actually had to burn a second one because the Bulls defended the initial inbounds play well. But on Atlanta's second attempt, Young found Griffin cutting baseline on Jones Jr., and lobbed it towards him. The rookie wing jumped, caught the pass, and flipped the ball in in one motion, giving the Hawks the victory:

Funny enough, this is not the first time this play — engineered by former Milwaukee Bucks assistant/interim coach and current Hawks assistant Joe Prunty — has sunk the Bulls. It is a well-design action, intended to draw help defenders out of the paint and create a one-on-one back-cut on the baseline. Give the Hawks credit for executing it in improbable fashion.

6. Griffin, son of former Bulls player and assistant coach Adrian Griffin, looks like a player. He had 17 points in the game, and although he shot just 2-for-11 from 3-point range, entered play a respectable 34.7 percent from distance this season given his volume of attempts (8.1 per 36 minutes). Considering his NBA readiness and specific skill set, it could wind up haunting that he was picked just two picks before the Bulls' 18th overall selection in the 2022 draft.

7. Back to Bogdanović: He nearly handed the Bulls a victory, but was a thorn in their side all night long, scoring 28 points and draining six 3-pointers off the bench. Five of those points came in overtime, including this back-breaking circus shot from behind the basket:

8. Although the Bulls routinely lost Bogdanović on the back end of rotations, they did a solid job throwing waves of bodies Young's way. As you would expect, he sliced up that defensive attention to the tune of 14 assists, but finished just 5-for-18 from the field and 2-for-8 from 3-point range. The problem was — from the 30-footer he hit with 50 seconds left in regulation to give the Hawks a 110-107 lead, to the stepback jumper in overtime — he stepped up when it mattered most.

9. Coming off their best performance of the season in every offensive phase against Dallas, the Bulls regressed at that end of the floor Sunday night. The worse offenses were committing a whopping 19 turnovers and allowing 23 Hawks points off of them, and after making a season-high 19 3-pointers on Saturday (and shooting a season-high 55.9 percent on those 3-pointers) shooting just 7-for-27 from that distance in this one.

10. The Bulls' worst offender in the ball security department was  LaVine, who committed four turnovers in the first quarter and seven on the game. Completing just his second back-to-back of the season, he looked well enough physically, finishing with 21 points on 9-for-16 shooting. But he also, despite slashing to the rim for four important points in overtime, also took two ill-advised 3-pointers in the extra period, both of which glanced off iron.

Next up for the Bulls: Back home to face the New York Knicks on Wednesday.

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