MIAMI — If you want a microcosm of this Chicago Bulls season, the last 3 minutes, 46 seconds of their season-ending loss to the Miami Heat is a good place to start.
After Kobe White’s 3-pointer with 3:47 left put them ahead 90-87, the Bulls scored one point the rest of the way.
Zach LaVine, suffering through a nightmare 6-for-21 game with five turnovers, missed three shots. White missed two. DeMar DeRozan and Alex Caruso each missed one.
That’s right: As the season ended, the Bulls went 0-for-7 at the end of a losing streak defined as a game within five points with 5 minutes left. A winnable, winnable game, and the Bulls offense failed to produce a result.
“It hurts. I won’t lie. It’s a (expletive) feeling right now. It sucks. It shouldn’t have ended like this,” DeRozan said. “We gave ourselves a chance to win the game. We were up. We can’t make the mistakes we made. Now we sit in our reality and have nothing to do.”
This is the story of a Bulls season in which individual talent never realized its full collective potential. A team built around three offensive-minded players in DeRozan, LaVine and Nikola Vucevic produced a 24-ranked offense.
And the offense failed in the most crucial part of the season.
“It sucks. I just didn’t shoot the ball well,” said an extremely dejected LaVine. “A lot of good shots that I feel usually go in. It sucks to know we were so close. If I do a few of these, that might be the tipping point. So it hurts a lot.”
The Bulls, predictably, shot 8-for-28 from 3-point range, with LaVine missing all six attempts. They only got to the free throw line 15 times, 17 fewer than the Heat. They scored just six points off turnovers.
Everything was offensive. Kind of like this season.
“Too much talent,” DeRozan said, implying the Bulls shouldn’t have been in that position. “It’s up to us to look in the mirror, reassess and figure out what we can do better.”
“Sometimes it’s not just about talent. It all comes down to understanding the IQ of the game, being better, smarter. We’ve shown flashes of that. But good teams have that mental focus and approach every day, even on tough days. We were kind of up and down with it. We’ve shown flashes of that. It’s up to each player to come back better.”
This season, the Bulls have squandered multiple winning games throughout the season. Three late-game calls went against them, creating an uproar the next day when the NBA’s final two-minute report came out. They also lost six games by 16 or more points.
The Bulls created that hole and played better down the stretch, going 14-9 after the arrival of Patrick Beverley and the All-Star break to create that playmaking opportunity. That’s why you don’t take the chance to extend that momentum into a first-round playoff matchup with the Milwaukee Bucks, who are so stung.
“We were just talking about it. You don’t want to go home, especially after those two games,” LaVine said. “It must hurt. If it doesn’t hurt, you’re not in the right business. I take care of everyone here. I appreciate how much everyone put into it. We really tried to come through after having a season where we didn’t play to our potential.
“It’s disappointing. Everyone individually has a lot of talent. We have a lot of high level players in this team. But somehow you have to make it work. From top to bottom, we have to do a better job of thinking about the next guy and finding a way to win no matter what. We let too many things go early in the year and then had to pick it up in the second half of the season in desperation mode. If you go out that way, I think it’s a whole different season.
LaVine acknowledged his poor shooting night, saying that no one judges themselves more harshly than he does. His disappointment at the missed opportunity was palpable.
But in the end, Bulls have no one to blame but themselves. A team built around three highly paid offensive linemen didn’t even make the playoffs.
“Look at yourself first and see what you can do better,” LaVine said. “Go through there and try to understand why we had those missed opportunities. When we were close and let them slip early in the season, you don’t want to put yourself in a position where you have to win two games in a row. Because anything can happen.”
And whatever, in the form of another offensive collapse, this one at the worst possible time.
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