A month ago, a couple of narrow losses to playoff-caliber teams would have been great news for the Chicago Bulls.
Now in the days since everything turned around, it's an awful feeling. The Bulls saw their seven-game home winning streak come to an end Monday night in a 124-120 overtime loss to Portland at the United Center.
"It's tough. It hurts," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "That's the thing about it, when you do have some success in closing out close games. The last two nights we haven't done it. We have not gotten the job done. It hurts, it stings. We'll get back in the film room, we'll try to learn from it."
The Bulls (13-24) are 10-4 since turning things around on Dec. 8. They had seven players score in double figures Monday, led by Kris Dunn with 22 points. Lauri Markkanen added 19 and Nikola Mirotic scored 18 despite not playing late in the game.
It was an unusual decision, since Mirotic has been the team's top scorer since the turnaround began. But Hoiberg decided the Bulls needed a bigger center and Markkanen on the floor.
"I just thought with (Portland center Jusuf) Nurkic out there, we needed to find a way to keep him off the glass," Hoiberg said. "He's too big and strong out there, so we felt we needed Robin (Lopez), who was also playing well tonight."
Asked if Mirotic was healthy enough to play, Hoiberg said, "He's got a little back issue going on. He's pretty sore, but he'll be fine."
Portland (19-17) played without all-star point guard Damian Lillard, who missed his fifth game with a hamstring injury. Guard C.J. McCollum finished with 32 points, while Chicago native Evan Turner added a season-high 22 points.
Maybe the biggest difference-maker for the Blazers was forward Al-Farouq Aminu, who scored 24 points and hit 5 straight 3-pointers in the fourth quarter and overtime.
Denzel Valentine did play down the stretch for the Bulls. He hit as couple of 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, then flipped a behind-the-back pass to Markkanen for a corner 3 that put the Bulls up 106-100 with 3:44 remaining. After a pair of 3-pointers by Aminu, McCollum tied the score with 57.3 seconds left in regulation, and the Bulls missed two chances to regain the lead.
The Bulls played from behind in overtime after Turner and McCollum buried 3-pointers on two of Portland's first three possessions. The Bulls tied the game twice, including at 120-120 with 1:15 left on a Markkanen jumper.
But McCollum hit a runner with 56.5 seconds left to put the Blazers ahead. With two chances to tie, Dunn missed a jumper, then wanted a foul on McCollum on a 12-foot pullup with about 10 seconds on the clock. He didn't get the ball and the Bulls had to foul.
"To be honest, when I came off the screen, I was trying to get RoLo on the pocket pass," Dunn said of the last possession. "They did a good job with that. I was trying to look out for the kick out and credit to them, they got back. I saw I was deep in the paint and I felt like I was bigger than the guy that was guarding me and I tried to rise over him, but I didn't get my legs under me and I didn't shoot the shot correctly. So that's on me.
"I think the coaching staff and my teammates believe in me to make those (late-game) decisions. Today it bit me in the butt, but down the stretch I definitely want to have the ball in my hands. I'm going to look back at the film and see what happened.
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