(670 The Score) In the aftermath of the Bulls’ most stunning loss of the season, coach Billy Donovan seemed to be in half-denial, turning the focus inward instead of entertaining a question about how crazy Blazers star Damian Lillard’s heroics were. Having had the best seat of anyone in the house as Lillard’s legend grew, Bulls big man Lauri Markkanen was a mix of shock and awe.
“I mean, I haven’t seen that shot before,” Markkanen said.
Few had. Capping a wild final sequence of events, the 6-foot-2 Lillard hit a side-stepping fallaway 3-pointer from the right wing over the outstretched arms of the 7-foot Markkanen at the buzzer – after Portland won a jump ball, no less – to lift the Blazers to a 123-122 win against the Bulls at the United Center on Saturday night. They were the last of Lillard’s 44 points and came after he had, in perhaps an equally ridiculous shot, hit a 37-foot 3-pointer to pull the Blazers within 122-120 with 8.9 seconds left.
“He’s one of the few players in the league who can make that shot consistently,” Markkanen said of Lillard’s game-winner at the buzzer. “He’s a heckuva player, obviously. I thought I jumped before him and had both of my arms up.”
In between Lillard’s 3-pointers was a play that left the Bulls with shaking their heads in disgust. Guard Zach LaVine received the inbounds pass with 8.9 seconds left with his momentum carrying him toward the corner. He was quickly met by two Blazers upon turning, and official Dannica Mosher called a jump ball, giving Portland new life. LaVine and Donovan were both displeased with the call upon further review. LaVine called it a “quick whistle” and “didn’t think it was a jump ball.” Donovan also thought the whistle was blown too soon.
“I thought it was a very, very quick jump-ball call in that situation,” Donovan said.
Blazers guard Gary Trent Jr. won the tip against LaVine, and Lillard corralled it after it was loose on the floor for a second. Markkanen recovered to contest the shot as well as he could, but it didn’t matter.
Further reflecting on the final seconds, Donovan wished he had called his final timeout after Lillard’s penultimate 3-pointer, which would’ve allowed the Bulls to move the ball into the frontcourt with 8.9 seconds left. But in covering every angle, Donovan also split blame upon himself, LaVine and the official’s call.
“Thad (Young) did a good job getting the ball out, and he got it inbounds,” Donovan said. “We’ve got to anticipate a trap. Even if we advance the ball (into frontcourt), we have to anticipate that. There’s enough time to get a quick trap, then you have to foul. You know, the ball comes into Zach and I don’t even know if he necessarily ended up even looking for anybody because there was such a quick jump-ball called. It was about as quick of a jump ball as I’ve ever seen, and you can’t challenge that. I didn’t think it was really a good call at that point in time. I get tie-ups, but they just kind of like grabbed the ball, and she called jumped ball, Dannica did. But listen, we’ve got to be stronger in those situations.
“I liked the fact that we got the ball inbounded to Zach. I liked the fact that Zach broke and got it. I did think he had space, looking at it. I looked at it after the game. It wasn’t like he caught it in the dead corner and didn’t have any room. He broke and he got it in a pretty good area of the floor and that was unfortunate. But I think with a timeout there, if I had to do it all over again, even though it got inbounded quickly, it may have been better when the shot was made just to call timeout.”
The ending ruined what had was set to be one of the Bulls’ best halves and finishes of the season. Chicago trailed by as many as 19 early in the third quarter but rallied back to take control late in the game with strong team play that featured 31 assists as a group and 31 points from Markkanen, 26 points from LaVine and a near triple-double from Young (eight points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists).
Instead, all the Bulls had to show for it was a heartbreaking loss that dropped them to 7-11.
"We’ve got a great group of guys who stick together and fight for each other,” Markkanen said. “So that’s what we just got to keep doing – stick together and not go on our own ways and just keep grinding, man. We’re going to turn it around."