Bulls barely avoid another blown lead in OKC
The Bulls should know by now not to take any lead for granted in Oklahoma.
They raced to a seemingly comfortable 84-56 advantage midway through the third quarter Monday. But Oklahoma City is the best comeback team in the NBA, and the Bulls have a history of nightmarish finishes in this arena.
The Thunder used an aggressive defense to battle back until Shai Gilgeous-Alexander finally missed a step-back 3-pointer that could have tied the game with just over a second remaining. After a free throw, Mike Muscala's 3-pointer at the buzzer was inconsequential and the Bulls barely held on for a 111-110 victory.
"They've done that plenty of times to many teams, they did it to us last year. They don't stop playing," Zach LaVine said after playing his first game since Jan. 14. "Down the stretch I missed some shots I usually make in the fourth, but we held on to get the win."
Besides the return of LaVine and Javonte Green from injuries, Ayo Dosunmu and Nikola Vucevic had bounce-back performances.
Dosunmu hit his first 9 shots and scored a career-high 24 points before fouling out in the fourth quarter. After a tough night in Orlando, Vucevic piled up 26 points and 15 rebounds.
LaVine was pretty much his normal self with 23 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists, though he hit just 6 of 19 shots. Green played 25 minutes and came up with the game-saving defensive rebound and clinching free throw.
The Bulls' history of blowing leads in Oklahoma City is very real. Last season, they led by 22 in the third quarter and by 16 with 4:40 left before the Thunder rallied to win in overtime. On Dec. 16, 2019, with Donovan coaching the Thunder, the Bulls squandered a 26-point lead in the second quarter.
Monday's 28-point edge dwindled quickly. Oklahoma City pulled within 11 late in the third quarter until Dosunmu drained a half-court shot at the buzzer. Vucevic temporarily stretched the cushion by scoring 8 straight points for the Bulls, putting the lead at 105-88 with 5:50 left.
Coby White hit a big 3-pointer with 2:30 left, but otherwise the Bulls went ice cold. The Thunder (14-33) kept coming back until a driving layup by rookie Josh Giddey trimmed the lead to 108-107 with 14.8 seconds left.
LaVine hit 2 free throws, Gilgeous-Alexander (31 points) missed the potential tying 3-pointer over LaVine and, after the rebound, Green's free throw sealed the win.
LaVine talked about the injury that happened early in the Golden State game, when he felt pain in his left knee after grabbing a rebound.
"Over the last month or so I've been dealing with a little bit of swelling and bone bruise in my left knee, just playing through it because this is a big-time season for all of us," LaVine said. "I try to play through a lot, not complain about it.
"When I went up and I grabbed that rebound it just didn't feel right when I landed. Luckily it was nothing structural, but I don't like messing around with knee injuries, especially on my left side. Just gave it some time to rest, I didn't want to keep playing through it because obviously something bad could happen."
LaVine tore the ACL in his left knee in 2017 while playing for Minnesota. He was still recovering from that injury when he was traded to the Bulls.
LaVine suffered a cut on the side of his head in the third quarter and went to the locker room, but did not get stitches. He said the decision to return in OKC wasn't difficult.
"I just didn't want to wait any longer," he said. "I've been working out at home and just saying it's about as healthy as my knee is going to get. I felt fine. I just got tired of watching the games.
"The guys have been fighting hard, played really hard against (Milwaukee) and then had a really tough loss against Orlando and I was like, "I'm just going to come out here and do what I can to help us win."