A little defensive grind seemed to be exactly what the Bulls needed to end their run of bad luck.
After trailing by 17 points in the third quarter and by 8 with 3:42 left, the Bulls kept the Orlando Magic scoreless for the next six possessions. Trailing by 2 points with 6.8 seconds on the clock, they executed a well-designed play right until it was time to convert the tying layup.
Luol Deng missed a point-blank shot with 1.7 seconds left and the Bulls lost again, this time an 83-82 defensive struggle Monday night at the United Center.
The fateful play began with an inbounds pass to Joakim Noah. After a brief hesitation, Deng put a move on Magic rookie Victor Oladipo and got a big jump on a cut to the basket. Noah hit him with the pass, but Deng bounced it too hard off the backboard.
Orlando's Glen Davis grabbed the rebound, was fouled and hit 2 free throws. Mike Dunleavy drained a 3-pointer from midcourt at the buzzer, but it brought the Bulls only within 1.
"When it left my hand, I knew I missed it," Deng said in the locker room. "I couldn't really grab it back. I was falling and couldn't get the offensive rebound. Just a bad, bad miss. My fault."
There were plenty of reasons beyond Deng's miss why the Bulls failed to win this game. Deng led the Bulls with 26 points and added 8 rebounds.
Once again, scoring points was a monumental challenge for the Bulls, who shot 34.6 percent from the field as a team. After jumping to a quick 6-0 lead in the first quarter, they hit 2 of 16 shots through the rest of the first quarter.
"We just missed a layup. Sometimes that happens," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "But there were a lot of plays before that that put us in that position. We missed a lot of layups right now as a team and that is on me. We have to work harder in practice on that."
With Kirk Hinrich out for a second straight game with a sore back, the Bulls again started second-year guard Marquis Teague. To start the third quarter, though, Thibodeau turned to newcomer D.J. Augustin, who finished with 14 points and 8 assists.
"I missed a lot of open shots that I wish I would have made and I felt like I should have made," Augustin said. "But that happens sometimes and I just try to play defense and do something else to help the team out. It's the third game, so I think I know the plays pretty well now."
The Bulls (9-14) are 3-10 since losing Derrick Rose to a knee injury. They trailed Orlando by as many as 11 points in the fourth quarter, then got back into the game by scoring 11 of 13 points at the foul line.
Augustin's 3-pointer brought the Bulls within 80-77 with 1:16 left, then a running bank by Joakim Noah made it a 1-point game with 19.4 seconds on the clock. The Bulls let the clock run while trying to get a steal, then fouled Arron Afflalo (23 points) with 6.8 seconds left. He split the free throws to keep the lead at 2.
"We played hard enough to win the game," Deng added. "I missed a layup and it's on me. Jo made a great play. Coach drew a great play and trusted me to take that shot and I make it most of the time. I missed it today."