Bulls find another way to lose one

December, 31, 2013
12/31/13
11:05
PM CT
Friedell By Nick Friedell
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Luol Deng's answer as to how the Chicago Bulls allowed a winnable game to slip right through their fingertips on Tuesday night against the Toronto Raptors could have been used at any point during the season. As has been the case all year, the Bulls continue to find ways to lose games -- instead of finding ways to win them.

Luol Deng
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastLuol Deng returned to the lineup for the Bulls, but his presence wasn't enough to send Chicago to a win over Toronto.
This time, the Bulls squandered a five-point lead at the start of the fourth quarter and managed to shoot only 16.7 percent from the field in the final 12 minutes.

"We're disappointed in our fourth quarter tonight," Deng said. "They ended the third quarter well and had a run. They were the better team in the fourth quarter to finish the game."

The story stays the same for this team no matter who it plays. The Bulls can't find a way to create offense down the stretch in games and that lack of execution seeps over to their defense. The frustration is palpable on both ends -- as evidenced by the fact the Bulls were outscored 28-17 in the fourth.

"We weren't executing and we weren't guarding," Bulls guard Jimmy Butler said. "And that can never be good. For us, I think it starts on defense, and then that transition will take over on our offense but we weren't doing either the way that we're capable of."

The Bulls' defense was fine most of the night -- the problem was when they couldn't score points their lack of offense became even more glaring. Deng, playing for the first time in a couple of weeks after missing five games because of an Achilles injury, admitted he tried to force the issue when he saw the rest of his teammates couldn't get things going.

"It's just getting our rhythm," Deng said. "We've shown that there's games we can score. We've shown when we're healthy we move the ball and play well. I just thought tonight we were out of rhythm a little bit. I was definitely out of rhythm. I tried to be more aggressive in the fourth quarter. The first three quarters I tried to just kind of let the game come to me. When they got the lead I tried to force it a little bit, which I shouldn't have done, but it's just how the game goes."

The reality for the Bulls is that their offense was lacking even before Derrick Rose got injured. It's just worse now that he's gone. Kirk Hinrich, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah have all struggled at various points over the last couple of weeks, but they were especially bad on that end of the floor against the Raptors. The trio combined to shoot just 4-for-27 from the field.

That's why all the optimism in the world isn't going to change the fact the Bulls are going to have a hard time racking up points over the next four months -- even if they are the healthiest they've been as a group since Rose went down.

"I don't think there really is a problem offensively," Butler said. "I think if we keep taking the shots that we're taking they're going to fall. I feel like everyone's taking the right shots, nobody's taking bad ones. So I'll take our shot selection any day."

Given the way the Bulls have performed up to this point in the season -- so will their opponents.

Nick Friedell | email

Chicago Bulls beat reporter
Nick Friedell is the Chicago Bulls beat reporter for ESPN Chicago. Friedell is a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and joined ESPNChicago.com for its launch in April 2009.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Derrick Rose
PTS AST STL MIN
15.9 4.3 0.5 31.1
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Noah 11.3
AssistsJ. Noah 5.4
StealsJ. Butler 1.9
BlocksJ. Noah 1.5