WASHINGTON — With DeMar DeRozan missing his first game of the season, Zach LaVine scored 35 points or more for the third time in four games. That included a difficult, game-tying 3-pointer with 30.1 seconds left on an inbounds play with 1 second left on the shot clock.
But after Kyle Kuzma pushed the shorthanded Washington Wizards ahead with his own difficult 3-pointer with 6.2 seconds left, LaVine found himself having to explain his decision to take a 16-foot jumper with 2.3 seconds left rather than attempting another 3-pointer.
“We were just trying to get a 3 off. And then when I went in to go pullup, I think it was Delon Wright fouled me. My instinct was to go up and try to get a 3-point play,” LaVine said. “I was going for a pullup when he fouled me. I shot it. They didn’t call it. And that’s how it is.”
Replays showed Wright appearing to point to lead official Rodney Mott that his apparent uncalled foul was on the floor rather than during LaVine’s shooting motion. The Wizards had a foul to give before entering the penalty. LaVine pointed back to both Wright and Mott after his shot missed without a call and the buzzer sounded, signaling the Wizards’ 100-97 victory.
LaVine said afterward that Wright told him that he fouled him and that Mott told him that he missed the call. When asked whether that meant Mott didn’t see the foul or made an erroneous call, LaVine said he didn’t know.
“Rodney just said he missed it. And that’s how it is,” LaVine said. “I could’ve up pulled up deep from 3. But once I walked into it and (Wright) tried to grab me, I just tried to throw the ball up.
“I went in to pullup on the 3. And then when he went to grab me, I just took that hopstep to try to get the contact.
“They were intentionally trying to foul. (Wright) looked at me and said, ‘I got you.’ So. But you leave it up to the stuff in the air now and for that stuff to be called. You don’t want to be in that position.”
Indeed, both LaVine and Chicago Bulls coach Billy Donovan pointed to multiple breakdowns, particularly in a third quarter in which the Wizards outscored the Bulls 41-21, as more specifically why the Bulls lost to a team playing without Bradley Beal, Kristaps Porzingis and Daniel Gafford.
Overall, the Wizards scored 19 points off turnovers, 15 points off second chances and enjoyed a 21-9 advantage from the free-throw line.
“I just think we gotta put them away when we have them,” LaVine said. “I think we gave them confidence. They did a good job of sticking with the game. Give them credit obviously for making shots and making plays. But with them missing a lot of their guys and us missing one of ours, we should be able to put that game away.
“We let them hang around too long. They got hot, made some stops. And then we left it up to Kyle hitting a big shot at the end. And then you gotta be perfect.”
The Bulls definitely weren’t that. LaVine committed a costly turnover with 1 minute, 45 seconds left, throwing the ball to the scorer’s table after Coby White cut and LaVine passed it to where White had been.
In the third quarter, the Bulls failed to rotate defensively on several poor possessions, committed three straight turnovers for empty possessions and then somehow allowed a home-run pass from Anthony Gill to Wright for a layup with 0.6 seconds left after a made LaVine free throw .
Such lapses bit them in the end.
“Obviously, the game came down to a last shot. But it shouldn’t have. We had a big lead at the half and the third quarter was really poor by us on both ends of the floor,” Nikola Vucevic said of the Bulls’ 59-46 halftime lead. “You can’t count on a last shot every time to try and win.”
Donovan is about as even-keeled as they come in explaining losses. But he grew increasingly animated during his postgame news conference while discussing this one.
“What happened in that third quarter is not a standard of play that is going to put you in position to win,” Donovan said.
Perhaps making matters worse, Donovan said he addressed the team pregame about not taking the shorthanded Wizards lightly because the remaining players would be extra aggressive. And then Donovan noted that players stepped up during his halftime session and reminded all to take the first 5 minutes of the second half to build on their 13-point lead.
Instead, the Bulls played poorly.
“I feel like it’s my responsibility to bring light to our inconsistencies, to expose them and for us all collectively to try to get them corrected. It’s a mentality we have to have,” Donovan said. “I think it’s what we have to develop.
“Coming out of the third quarter, let’s try to make them call the first timeout. Let’s get some stops. Let’s not foul. Let’s not have breakdowns. Let’s not do things that are going to beat ourselves. What’s going to beat ourselves? Turning the ball over. Giving up second chance points. Bad possessions on offense. And fouling.
“We’ve got to be able to move past those things. I addressed before the game about the mentality that they were going to have. They were going to be aggressive with some players being out. The last two times we played them, the games were incredibly close. I don’t think we have the luxury as a team to look at who’s in and who’s out. We just don’t.”
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