SALT LAKE CITY -- Jimmy Butler sat inside his locker stall with ice on both of his knees, staring at a box score laying at his feet. A few seats over, Taj Gibson kept a towel over his head as he pondered what had just transpired.
The Bulls' locker room was close to silent after a gut-crushing 105-96 overtime loss to the Utah Jazz on Monday night. On his way to the shower, Pau Gasol tapped Gibson and Butler on the knees, trying to keep the veterans' spirits up. But that's easier said than done when a team blows a three-point lead in the final 18.9 seconds in regulation, then manages just three points in an overtime period in which it does not register a single field goal.
"Obviously a very tough way to lose that one," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said during his postgame news conference, which lasted just more than a minute. "Felt we gave it away."
That's because they did.
After Derrick Rose took a pass from Butler and hit the biggest shot of his season to date with 18.9 seconds left, the easygoing Rose did something he rarely does: He showed emotion on the floor, racing to center court to take a bow that was supposed to seal a much-needed win.
Only problem was that the curtain call came too soon. The Bulls did what they have done all year -- they refused to close the game down. They allowed an opponent to hang around and failed to make the extra play they needed. The inconsistencies remain the same for a group that can't find its way.
"Just being careless with the ball," Butler said of the final five minutes. "Weren't doing what we were supposed to do. That's how we've been playing ... that's the way it's been going. And the same outcome is what we've gotten every time."
The Bulls' offense fell apart in the final minutes. Rose and Butler each missed a pair of shots. Butler looked exhausted after racking up 45 minutes on the second night of a back-to-back. The ball movement that was supposed to define the Hoiberg system has yet to materialize on a consistent basis. As has been the case many times this year, when the going gets tough down the stretch, the ball movement stalls. After Butler's nice look to Rose for what was supposed to be the game-clincher in regulation, the tired Bulls went into overtime and Butler and Rose alternated by looking for their own shots.
"Nobody cares how I feel," Butler said. "I'm supposed to help us win games. Minutes, no minutes, I didn't do my job."
Butler can try to push away talk about the added minutes all he wants, but he leads the league averaging 38.1 minutes a night and has shown to be human late in games recently, as evidenced by his two missed free throws late in Monday's overtime. As he walked back from the shower, the All-Star swingman wore the look of a physically and emotionally tired man as he rubbed his aching knees and tried to look up from underneath a swollen right eye.
The larger issue for the Bulls -- aside from the lack of offensive rhythm and the extra minutes for Butler -- is the same one that has hampered the group all season. They seem to fall apart when things go bad. The mental toughness that defined this team for years has gone missing.
The lack of communication on and off the floor has been a problem all year. Players don't seem to enjoy playing with one another, and they don't seem to talk to each other much, as was the case during a few timeouts against the Jazz. They wait for instructions from Hoiberg or assistant coach Jim Boylen, but there isn't much chatter within the group.
Rose didn't sound too concerned when asked if a team meeting was necessary in the wake of the latest emotional defeat, but said he would take the idea "into consideration."
"Everybody loves everybody in this locker room," Butler said. "Everybody wants everybody to be successful. I think that's how you stay positive, you continually have each other's back and you stay in this together. When you do, it's going to turn around. We're going to figure it out. We've got a good team. We've just got to keep doing what we're doing and change this thing around."
Talk has become very cheap for a group that felt it could contend for a title this season. The problems the Bulls are having now are the same ones they've been dealing with all year. They just don't seem to know how to fix what ails them.