The Bulls Are Starting to Figure Things Out in Crunch-Time Again

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The Bulls Are Starting to Figure Things Out in Crunch-Time Again

Chicago Bulls

The Chicago Bulls have plenty of blemishes on their 2022-23 resume, but arguably none stands out more than their disastrous record in close games.

Despite finishing last season with the NBA’s 3rd-most clutch wins and 4th-best clutch record, the Chicago Bulls started this season 3-11 in such situations (clutch games are those within at least 5 points with 5 minutes remaining). This was single-handedly the worst clutch record in the league – firmly planted behind rebuilding squads like Charlotte, Orlando, and Detroit.

At least some of this felt like dumb and/or bad luck. For example, the refs shared in the L2M after the Bulls’ 102-100 loss to the Washington Wizards that DeMar DeRozan should have gone to the free-throw line after getting fouled on his game-winning 3-point attempt. There was also that miraculous Jalen Suggs 3-pointer and seemingly impossible A.J. Griffin layup that put the Bulls on the wrong side of the scoreboard at the buzzer.

Still, even if opponents needed a little luck to pull off the win on more than one occasion, the Bulls put themselves in a position to let luck dictate the outcome of the game. They were the ones who were either playing catch-up or letting the other team sneak back into the game. They were the ones allowing their opponents to shoot 48.7 percent from the field and go to the free-throw line the third most of any team. In other words, it was still their fault.

Again, for a team that’s identity was built largely around being one of the NBA’s most clutch squads last year, their inability to finish out close games was an eyesore. It also only further damaged the front office’s idea of continuity. If familiarity isn’t leading to improved play in crunch time … what’s the point?

Patience is a virtue, my friends.

While we can’t officially declare the Bulls’ clutch woes a thing of the past, we’re on our way. Since starting the year 3-11 in such games, the Bulls have gone 4-1 since Dec. 18. Ayo Dosunmu’s buzzer-beater against Atlanta may have been what first scared the boogieman away. After that, DeMar DeRozan hit his own last-second shot against New York and both Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic sank some huge 3s in an OT win over Milwaukee.

Since the Bulls’ blowout loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, they are tied for appearing in the most clutch games and have won the most clutch games. They also hold the NBA’s third-best net rating in clutch performances, which comes largely thanks to holding teams to just 33.3 percent shooting.

Even in their one clutch loss since that embarrassing T-Wolves game, the Bulls didn’t revert to their old ways. Chicago held the Cavaliers to just two buckets in the final 5:00 minutes of play thanks to great team defense. Meanwhile, they sent three players to the free-throw line to put them in a position to steal the game. DeRozan’s game-winning attempt, unfortunately, rimmed out (but the refs say he should have gotten the foul).

The Bulls still have a long way to go before they can convince anyone that they truly belong back in the postseason conversation. However, continuing this newfound sense of urgency, cohesion, and execution down the stretch of games could be an awfully good start. We’ll see if they can keep it up against arguably their toughest stretch left on this season’s calendar.

More on that here …

Author: Elias Schuster

Elias Schuster is the Lead Bulls Writer at Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @Schuster_Elias.