10 observations: Shorthanded Bulls fall short vs. Celtics


Saturday night’s hard-fought 114-112 loss to the Celtics dropped the Chicago Bulls to 27-14 and continued a now-season-long three-game losing streak.

But head coach Billy Donovan said after the final buzzer he saw more positives in this defeat than in some victories his team has pulled off this season.

“We didn’t get the result we wanted,” he said. “But I liked the way we played maybe better than some games we won to be quite honest.”

That’s a commentary on the scratch-and-claw nature the Bulls played with, on the road, despite being severely shorthanded. It also doesn’t absolve a gutting loss, which featured a jarring collapse in the final two minutes.

Here are 10 observations:

1. Down Zach LaVine, Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso and four power forwards (Javonte Green, Derrick Jones Jr., Patrick Williams and Tyler Cook), the Bulls trotted out a new starting lineup: Coby White, Ayo Dosunmu, DeMar DeRozan, Alfonzo McKinnie and Nikola Vučević.

That left Dosunmu to check Jayson Tatum and McKinnie to check Jaylen Brown, difficult matchups to say the least. While McKinnie looked a bit over-extended at both ends, Dosunmu fared admirably on Tatum, which we’ll get to further down.

2. With so much offensive firepower on the shelf, the Bulls badly need Vučević to get back to his All-Star form for the upcoming stretch of games. For the first 46 minutes of this one, he stepped up.

His 27 points came on a diet of pick-and-pop jumpshots, which the Celtics were often multiple steps slow to defend, and post-up bullying, the latter of which shined most down the stretch of the third quarter, when he viciously dunked on Enes Freedom, then backed him down for an and-one hook moments later:

His six assists derived from drawing help on post touches, and, when necessary, swinging around the perimeter to keep the Celtics’ closeout defenders scrambling. He even notched a smothering block on an Al Horford drive in the third quarter as the Bulls were initially flipping momentum.

But Vučević was also party to multiple mistakes that cost the Bulls as they squandered a six-point lead in the final 1 minute, 57 seconds.

3. With 72 seconds to play, and the Bulls ahead 112-108, Vučević mishandled a pass from Dosunmu, leading to a possession that ended in a Brown jumper to make the score 112-110. With 9.7 seconds left, and the game tied 112-112, he committed a loose-ball foul jockeying for rebounding position with Robert Williams, which led to free throws that gave the Celtics a 114-112 advantage.

And, of course, in the game’s final seconds, he was just short on a 3-point attempt that could have won it – as good a look as the Bulls could have hoped for.

“We were able to get a really good look,” Vučević said. “They both went with DeMar and I was able to pop to the 3 and he made the right play. Just missed the shot. Really good look. It’s a shot I feel confident taking. Just came up short.”

The big picture for Vučević is a strong, all-encompassing effort. He even scored six points in the fourth quarter to keep Boston at bay for a time. But those sequences marred the result.

4. The starting backcourt of Dosunmu and White were instrumental to the Bulls nearly pulling this one out as well.

Dosunmu matched career-highs with 18 points and eight assists through three quarters, then tacked on another three points and two dimes in the fourth to finish with a 21-and-10 double-double, the first of his young career.

Among many impressive traits Dosunmu has displayed in his standout rookie season is his ability to play within himself. In this one, he deftly oscillated between off-ball shooter and slasher – shooting an efficient 9-for-10 – and on-ball facilitator. He made every big shot the Bulls asked of him, including a 3 at the 6:45 mark of the fourth that gave the Bulls a 100-95 lead.

Plus, while Tatum played over the Bulls’ smaller perimeter consort at times, Dosunmu bothered the Celtics’ star enough to contribute to his 8-for-24 shooting night. It was another big-time two-way performance that, in just his third NBA start, belies his experience level. And he achieved a bit of history process:

5. White, meanwhile, scored 19 points and shot 5-for-10 from 3-point range – good for his 11th straight double-figure scoring output. He also, despite committing four fouls, provided solid on-ball defense and blocked a fastbreak layup by Jaylen Brown that, in the moment, appeared as if it could stymie the Celtics’ offensive momentum down the stretch.

For as long as Ball remains out, expect White to be leaned upon in the starting point guard role. He hasn’t let down in that capacity yet, averaging 17.5 points on 54.3 percent shooting in his last 11 appearances.

6. The Celtics’ perimeter defenders – primarily, Tatum and Josh Richardson – did a pretty good job making life difficult for DeMar DeRozan in the midrange area in quarters one through three. DeRozan didn’t score his first points of the night, or take his second field-goal attempt, until the 11:05 mark of the second quarter, and he entered the fourth with nine points on 3-for-10 shooting.

In the fourth, he awoke, scoring 14 points on a combination of four pull-up midrange jumpers and six free throws. As DeRozan tends to in winning time, he looked unstoppable for stretches.

But the game ended with a fallaway miss after DeRozan grabbed Vučević’s errant attempt for his eighth rebound. He also rimmed out a stepback jumper out of isolation over Tatum on the Bulls' second-to-last possession — a shot he's made this season, but that didn't drop in this one. That miss preceded the aforementioned Vučević foul on Williams.

7. A 19-foot pull-up by DeRozan at the 1:57 mark, which put the Bulls ahead 112-106, proved their last points of the game. The Celtics outscored them 8-0 down the stretch, buoyed by four free throws from Robert Williams (who is a career 63.5 percent foul shooter) and a string of empty offensive possessions by the Bulls.

The Celtics entered play with the NBA’s worst record in “clutch” games, 8-16, while the Bulls were 12-6 in such contests before Saturday. In that sense, even playing so shorthanded, the loss was a bit jarring.

8. The next-man-up star of the night distinction unequivocally goes to Malcolm Hill.

Hill, who signed to a 10-day contract via hardship exception on Friday, played 18 minutes, including closing time. Though he shot just 1-for-5, he provided a ton in the positive plays department:

  • In a six-minute second-quarter stint, he made two of three free throws after Payton Pritchard fouled him on a 3-point attempt, then drew an offensive foul on Al Horford
  • In the closing seconds of the third quarter, he drilled a 3 to cut the Bulls’ deficit to 84-83
  • In the fourth quarter, he drew a charge on Jayson Tatum with 2:57 to play and the Bulls ahead 110-104; then, up 112-106 at the 1:49 mark, he stayed solid on a Jaylen Brown drive and forced a travel after the Celtics star jumped in the air without a plan

“He’s been here for a day-and-a-half,” Donovan said of Hill, “and he did a good job defensively.”

9. The Bulls handed out 31 assists against just six turnovers, shooting 50.6 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from 3. In all, it was a solid, ball-pinging offensive performance that was good enough to win until the final two minutes.

10. But the Celtics’ size hurt them in key moments. Boston pulled down 17 offensive rebounds, tallied 17 second-chance points, and scored 58 points in the paint on the evening.

Those have been common themes in the Bulls’ recent downturn, and the defining play of the night was Williams’ activity on the glass generating the charity-stripe trip that put his side ahead for good.

Next up for the Bulls: At Memphis for a matchup with the red-hot Grizzlies on Monday.

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