A punch in the gut: Mavericks 100, Bulls 98

When Luol Deng nailed a three-pointer to give the Bulls a 97-85 lead with 4:07 left in the game, it honestly looked like the Bulls had this game pretty much wrapped up.

As it turns out, not so much.

Dallas closed out the game on a 15-1 run as Chicago’s offense — which had been pretty darn good all game long — went into a coma. Here’s a breakdown of what happened over those final minutes:

3:40: Nate Robinson turnover (bad pass)
3:15: Kirk Hinrich missed three-pointer
2:48: Luol Deng missed three-pointer
2:47: Offensive rebound by Jimmy Butler
2:28: Hinrich turnover (traveling)
1:51: Deng missed 18-footer
1:28: Butler missed layup
1:08: Deng missed layup
0:41: Robinson missed layup
0:41: Offensive rebound by Carlos Boozer
0:41: Foul drawn by Boozer
0:41: Boozer 1-for-2 from the free throw line
0:15: Vince Carter is forced to foul Butler
0:15: Butler 0-f0r-2 at the free throw line
0:01: Robinson missed three-pointer

Turnovers. Missed jumpers. Missed layups. Missed free throws.

In summary: everything that could have gone wrong…did go wrong.

And while the Bulls were struggling to find the rim, Dirk Nowitzki was giving them the superstar treatment.

After missing a three-pointer with exactly one minute remaining, Nowitzki drilled a corner three seven seconds later to draw the Mavs to within 97-95. It was a dagger. A tired-looking Luol Deng — he played 41 minutes — went around a screen instead of fighting through it. That was all the daylight Nowitzki needed. You can’t go around a screen on somebody like Dirk Nowtizki. I’m pretty sure Lu knows that. But fatigue can affect decision making. It sure seemed to in this case.

After Boozer missed one of his two foul shots, Nowitzki spun baseline and knocked down a 12-footer over Butler to move Dallas to within 98-97.

As noted above, Butler could have given the Bulls a two or three-point lead had he just knocked down one or both of his free throws. But he didn’t. Obviously, that had a major effect on how the Bulls defended the Maverick’s final offensive possession.

Dallas was rotating the ball and the Bulls were switching like crazy. Nowtizki — who was stationed outside the three-point line but to the left of center — found Carter at the top of the key. Robinson had to run all the way over from the left side of the court to try and contain Carter’s drive, only little Nate slipped and fell. Carter took a few clunky steps in the direction of the basket, which forced a mini-collapse by Deng. Carter made the right move, hitting a suddenly open Nowitzki, who naturally hit the three.

Said Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau: “We had a slip, and we were in a scramble. I thought there may have been a travel there, but that’s the way it goes.”

Now the Bulls were down two points with 2.9 seconds left. And we all know how that turned out.

Of course, had Butler hit both free throws, the Bulls could have simply defended the three at all costs. That would have been the only shot that could have beaten them…and this squad is pretty darn good at defending the three (currently fourth in opponents three-point percentage). Even if Butler had knocked down only one of his foul shots, the Bulls could have covered the long-range shooters, forced Dallas to hit a contested two, and the worst-case scenario would have been overtime.

But things didn’t work out that way. And Butler was crushed.

Said Butler: “I’m not going to say I was nervous, because I was really confident. I’m supposed to be a good free throw shooter, [but I] missed two. I don’t care what anybody says; that’s the reason we lost that game. I don’t care what my teammates say; I know better. If I would have made those two, we would have been up three, and then we just make them go to the basket. This one’s on me without a doubt, and that’s that.”

I feel for the kid. But you know, it’ll make him stronger. I bet next time he’s in this situation, he knocks ’em down.

Still, this loss wasted a terrific offensive performance by a Bulls team that doesn’t have many of those. They finished with an Effective Field Goal Percentage of 55.0 and scored at a rate of 112.5 points per 100 possessions (per Basketball-Reference). Carlos Boozer (25 points, 11-for-16, 11 rebounds), Luol Deng (25 points, 10-for-17, 7 boards) and Nate Robinson (25 points, 7-for-7 on threes, 6 assists) were all on fire.

Unfortunately, Nowtizki (35 points, 14-for-17, 5-for-6 from downtown, 7 rebounds, 7 assists) was absolutely unstoppable.

Said Robinson: “He was on fire. It was like a video game.”

There’s no time to rue the one that got away though. The Bulls face the Pistons tonight.

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