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Bulls' failed inbounds play emblematic of struggles


Billy Donovan cut right to the point.

“We didn’t execute the play very well,” the Chicago Bulls’ coach said after the latest gut-punch loss.

DeMar DeRozan added his thought.

“We were just all over the place,” he said.

Zach LaVine chimed in as well.

“Alex (Caruso) made the right play,” LaVine said.

And Caruso offered his take.

“Zach had a little angle so I tried to lead him to a spot. I think there was probably just a little miscommunication on our part on who the ball was intended for,” Caruso said. “We ran the play I was supposed to run. We maybe just didn’t execute the screening aspect on how they were guarding it because they were switching everything. So maybe we could’ve screened our own better or broke open better. But for the most part, it was pretty much what we drew up.”

If you’re as confused as the Bulls looked in committing their 20th turnover in their disappointing 108-103 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, you’re probably not alone.

For the second time in a week, the Bulls failed to execute an inbounds play at the most crucial time. And just like their failure to do so twice in a row late in a road loss to the Indiana Pacers, Caruso’s inbounds pass to LaVine with 5.2 seconds left that led to a Kawhi Leonard steal and turnover charged to LaVine led to a loss.

“We need to be better there. It’s something we’ve worked on,” Donovan said. “I think it’s something we can learn from.”

But the fact it’s happening in Game No. 50, and for the second time in a week, may suggest otherwise. Especially at the tail end of a winnable game in which the Bulls placed six players in double figures, recorded 26 assists and defended well more often than not.

The Bulls blew a 19-point lead, the fourth time in January they coughed up a lead of 16 points or more. They also blew another clutch game, defined by being within five points with 5 minutes to play.

These are the games the Bulls closed out last season. They’re not this season.

“We gotta give ourselves a chance at that point to at least get a shot up,” LaVine said. “It’s frustrating.”

Donovan said the Bulls had three options on the inbounds play that came with the Bulls down by 3 but that the cutting execution was poor so poor spacing followed. Replays showed Nicolas Batum switching near the top of the key to take away a possible LaVine catch-and-shoot 3-pointer.

LaVine then cut to the wing, where DeRozan also had cut.

“I just tried to break my cut off because I think Batum switched out off the inbounders,” LaVine said. “They switch a lot. We could’ve did something that was a little different.

“I think Alex was just trying to throw it to an open spot. We had to get the ball inbounds. Pin for me to go up to the top but they were switching, so I just tried to make a cut and get open. Me and DeMar cut to the same area. And you just try to make a play.”

Instead, the Bulls, who have been a low-turnover team most of this season, found another way to lose.

DeRozan committed a career-high eight turnovers and took full ownership of what he called “carelessness” afterward. But he also rued a no-call that came with 36 seconds left when he drove on Reggie Jackson with the Bulls down by one point.

“I got fouled. What went wrong is they didn’t call it. Simple as that. It’s frustrating being in that situation,” DeRozan said. “I didn’t want to settle for a jumpshot. As soon as I spun, his arm was reaching in and I couldn’t fully spin. It doesn’t make any sense to me. Try to be aggressive. Try to get downhill. Clearly it was a foul. It just sucks that you wake up tomorrow and read the Last Two Minute report and something else will be missed that possibly could’ve cost us the game.”

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