Bulls' comeback, DeRozan buzzer beater fall short vs. Cavaliers

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10 observations: Bulls' comeback falls short vs. Cavs originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

The Chicago Bulls concluded a home back-to-back on Saturday night with a 103-102 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers when DeMar DeRozan’s baseline runner at the buzzer rimmed out.

Despite playing without two starters in Darius Garland and Evan Mobley, the Cavaliers improved to 2-0 in this Central Division matchup on the season. Back in October, the Cavaliers ruined the Bulls’ home opener with a 32-point blowout victory.

With the loss, the Bulls dropped to 16-20 in advance of an extremely difficult schedule week that features a rematch against the Cavaliers in Cleveland on Monday, a home game on Wednesday against the red-hot Brooklyn Nets, and a tough back-to-back on Friday in Philadelphia against the 76ers and at home on Saturday against Lauri Markkanen and the Utah Jazz.

Here are 10 observations:

1. The Bulls started in fine fashion offensively. The ball moved quickly and with purpose. All five starters scored by the 4 minute, 42 second mark of the first quarter, with three starters posting assists.

Coach Billy Donovan has called for less isolation and more random reads all season, and the first 6 minutes, in particular, realized that vision to near perfection. Fourteen of the first 18 points came in the paint, including the Bulls' first six points, which came from Patrick Williams on two layups and dunk. All of this led to a 30-28 advantage after the opening stanza, including 22 points in the paint.

2. One night after the Bulls’ bench took one on the chin by getting badly outscored by Pistons’ reserves, Javonte Green tried to take matters into his own hands. (And that’s not to diminish timely reserve contributions from Andre Drummond and Alex Caruso against the Detroit.) Green sank a 3-pointer and powered home a dunk within a minute of checking in and actually led the Bulls in scoring after the first period with eight points. He also blocked two shots in his first rotational stint, which stretched to 8 minutes even though Derrick Jones Jr. was available after missing the last five games with a sprained ankle.

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Jones Jr. did not end up playing, and the Cavaliers ultimately enjoyed a 37-27 bench scoring advantage with Cedi Osman scoring 12 points with three 3-pointers.

3. The Bulls lost contact with the Cavaliers in the second quarter, mostly by losing track of the always slippery Caris LeVert. A 13-0 Cavaliers run featured eight points from LeVert, including two 3-pointers.

Worse, one of those triples came off an offensive rebound, which has been an Achilles heel of the Bulls lately. The Cavaliers piled up 11 second-chance points by halftime.

The run also featured an extremely rare NBA turnover: Patrick Williams got whistled for traveling trying to inbound the ball following a timeout, running along the baseline when he couldn’t.

Some timely defense, much of it from Ayo Dosunmu, helped the Bulls hang around, though. They trailed 60-55 at halftime, although the troubling trends of losing the second-chance and 3-point battle had already started blooming. The Bulls sank just 1-of-9 3-pointers in the first half.

4. The Bulls survived a scoring drought of 4:21 in the third but the Cavaliers didn’t run away and hide. A Dosunmu 3-pointer ended the dry spell, pulling the Bulls within the same two-point deficit it faced when the drought started after Dosunmu’s driving layup.

But this respite proved short-lived as the Bulls followed with a dreadful stretch at both ends. The Cavaliers took advantage of four Bulls’ turnovers and multiple missed boxouts to rip off a 14-2 run to take their biggest lead to that point at 82-68. The Cavaliers finished with a 25-2 edge in second-chance points. It’s the fifth time in 10 games the Bulls have allowed 20 or more second-chance points.

5. Green and Dosunmu entered double-figure scoring before either of the Bulls’ All-Stars. A DeRozan 6-footer with 1:13 left in the third pushed him to 10 points, while Zach LaVine didn’t arrive until the 6:38 mark of the fourth quarter.

That the Bulls even had a chance in the final period with their Big Three shooting just 2-for-10 in the third quarter seemed fortunate. Coby White’s extremely difficult finish over Jarrett Allen narrowly beat the third-quarter buzzer, pulling the Bulls to within 84-77 entering the fourth.

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6. DeRozan reminded all of his fourth-quarter prowess early. He scored 14 seconds into the period and posted seven points in the first 3:31. He finished with 11 points in the fourth but couldn’t reprise his New Year’s Eve magic from 2021. That’s when he sank an improbable, one-legged 3-pointer to beat the buzzer and the Indiana Pacers. This time, his running attempt over LeVert and Donovan Mitchell rimmed out on a play where coach Billy Donovan said he didn’t like his team’s spacing.

7. That the Bulls even had a chance to win was largely because of stout defense down the stretch from Caruso and Dosunmu. The Bulls finished with a season-high 14 steals. Caruso attached himself all over Mitchell down the stretch, forcing a turnover and a miss. On the possession before DeRozan’s final attempt, the Bulls doubled Mitchell, forcing a kickout and 24-second violation. Dosunmu had five steals. Caruso finished with two.

8. Old friend Robin Lopez finished with nine points, narrowly missing just his second double-figure scoring effort of the season. The first? Against one of his many former teams in the Bulls in that home opener in October. Lopez even broke out his “drinking tea” celebration after a made 3-pointer, making Vucevic laugh as he explained it to him during a deadball situation. Lopez arrived at the United Center wearing shorts, a T-shirt and flip flops. Never change, RoLo.

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9. The Cavaliers entered leading the NBA in defensive rating and third in net rating. Pregame, Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff talked about needing to return to their identity in an attempt to snap a three-game skid.

Even without LeVert starting for Garland and Kevin Love, who sank five 3-pointers en route to 20 points, starting for Mobley, mission accomplished. The Cavaliers entered allowing a league-best 106.3 points per game and kept the Bulls below that despite committing 21 turnovers, which the Bulls turned into 20 points.

Overall, the Bulls tried to play with pace, particularly LaVine. They finished with 21 fast-break points. But they sputtered down the stretch, enduring another scoreless drought in the fourth similar to the one they experienced in the third. They failed to score for 3:35.

10. The Bulls played their second “clutch game” in as many nights, a contest defined by being within five points with 5 minutes to play. The Bulls began 0-7 in such games but had righted the ship with seven wins in their last 11 such games, including Friday’s home victory over the Pistons. But they are now 7-12 in such games on the season. An 18-point deficit from the 3-point line and the staggering 25-2 deficit in second-chance points proved too much to overcome.

Next up for the Bulls: At the Cavaliers on Monday.

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