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4 takeaways from the Chicago Bulls’ escape win, including a last-minute scuffle with the Utah Jazz

SALT LAKE CITY — It’s rare for the result of an NBA game to hinge on the actions of an assistant coach and a player in street clothes on the bench. But in the final 10 seconds of Wednesday’s game against the Utah Jazz, it appeared the Chicago Bulls were about to lose in the clutch over a mindless scuffle.

The Bulls already were on the verge of a collapse, having allowed a 12-point lead to turn into a two-point deficit with 1 minute, 59 seconds left. But they successfully bounced back with their standard clutch-game approach: giving the ball to DeMar DeRozan and entrusting the veteran to slice up the opposing defense.

When DeRozan drew a foul with a one-point lead and 9.3 seconds remaining, the Bulls seemed set to escape with a second consecutive win.

Instead, they chose chaos.

As DeRozan trudged toward the line, injured forward Torrey Craig began to chirp at the Jazz players closest to the Bulls bench. A group led by Jazz center John Collins responded immediately, walking to the sideline to jaw back at Craig. And when assistant coach Chris Fleming attempted to press Collins backward, the center took offense, shoving Fleming with a brief hand to his throat that immediately incited the rest of the Bulls bench to come to the coach’s defense.

The incident ultimately didn’t affect the final score by more than a point. Fleming, Craig and Collins each received a technical foul, which sent Jordan Clarkson to the line for a tying free throw. But DeRozan sank both of his shots from the stripe, the Jazz missed both of their go-ahead 3-point attempts and the Bulls escaped with a 119-117 victory.

After the buzzer neither team seemed particularly flustered by the scuffle, exchanging standard daps and handshakes before heading to their respective locker rooms. But it was still a source of frustration for coach Billy Donovan as his team allowed a game to end dramatically once again.

“I don’t look at it from a Utah situation at all,” Donovan said. “I look at it from our situation and we’ve got to be better in those moments. Not only do we lose a point on a technical foul, we also iced our free-throw shooter. I give DeMar a lot of credit for being mentally tough enough. And I understand the emotion and the intensity of games. But at the same point, whether it’s complaining or being upset or frustrated, it’s not helping anything.”

Here are three other takeaways from the win.

1. Bulls still lead in the clutch.

The Bulls have finished 36 games in the clutch — any game with a margin of five or fewer points in the final five minutes — this season. That accounts for 58% of their total games, the highest percentage of clutch games in the league.

The Bulls also have won more of these clutch games than any other team, going 21-15. But the pattern is becoming concerning for players and coaches as the Bulls struggle to finish off opponents even when they lead — as they did against the Jazz.

And this trend is not improving. The Bulls have finished 12 of their last 15 games in the clutch, going 7-5.

2. Coby White’s shooting streak continues.

The All-Star break might have cooled White’s shooting momentarily, but the hot hand has returned on this West Coast trip.

White opened 5-for-6 from 3-point range in the first half and finished 7-for-11 from deep, leading the Bulls to make 17 3-pointers, just below their season high of 19.

With 179 3s on the season, White is 25 makes from surpassing Zach LaVine for the Bulls’ season record.

3. The Jazz stayed in the game on the boards.

With White hot from 3-point range and the Bulls scorching the Jazz in fast-break points (15-4) and points off turnovers (14-7), Utah stayed in the game through crashing the boards as hard as possible.

The Jazz scored 13 of their 54 points in the first half from second-chance opportunities as they outrebounded the Bulls 9-3 on the offensive boards. The trend continued into the third quarter, when the Jazz scored six more second-chance points.

The Bulls finally turned off the faucet in the fourth, outscoring the Jazz 6-3 on second-chance points. But this disparity highlighted a key focus for the team’s guards, who often control whether the Bulls win or lose on the defensive boards.