The Chicago Bulls had the win in the bag.
With three minutes left in the third quarter of Saturday’s road game against the Orlando Magic, they held an 89-64 lead and every ounce of momentum.
But Bulls fans have seen this film before. They know how quickly the ending can change.
The Bulls let a 25-point lead evaporate to five. But after back-to-back losses done in by leads lost in the third quarter, the Bulls won 128-109 despite their second-half lapse, salvaging the finale of a three-game trip.
- The momentum seemed poised to swing in the final minutes of the first half when DeMar DeRozan was called for an offensive foul for pushing off on Moe Wagner. DeRozan took immediate grievance with the call, palming the ball in one hand as he raced to argue with the referee — and picked up a technical foul. DeRozan had to be pulled away from the officiating team twice before heading to the locker room, but the frustration only fueled DeRozan, who finished with 32 points and eight assists.
- Zach LaVine appears to be returning to form after struggling through several games with swelling in a knuckle on his right hand. LaVine played without any tape on his hand for the first time against the Charlotte Hornets on Thursday and played without it again Saturday, scoring 32 points on 11-for-18 shooting.
- With DeRozan fired up, LaVine shooting more efficiently and Nikola Vučević back in his Orlando comfort zone, the Bulls offense was set for a high-powered night. The star trio combined for 90 points on 66% shooting, and Patrick Williams provided an additional boost with 16 points on 7-for-11 shooting.
- Goran Dragić returned after missing the last three games because of a non-COVID illness. He scored seven points and made 2 of 5 3-pointers.
- Wendell Carter Jr. set a habit of massive performances against his former team in prior meetings, but the Bulls kept him quiet Saturday. Carter finished with 11 points and five rebounds. Instead, the Magic bench hurt the Bulls most. Cole Anthony scored 21 points and Moe Wagner added 27.
- The Bulls held a 25-point lead in the third quarter but allowed the Magic to finish the quarter with a 17-6 run to spark a monstrous comeback. Anthony cut the lead to 111-106 in the final five minutes before the Bulls froze the rally.
- The Bulls turned the ball over eight times in the first half and only once in the third quarter but coughed up three turnovers in the fourth quarter to help fuel the Magic’s comeback. The Magic scored 22 points off 12 Bulls turnovers.
Quote of the night
This trip was defined by one trend — the Bulls building a confident lead in the first half only to let it waste away in the second.
While the Bulls continued that trend in Orlando, they never let the lead drop back under five points, which prevented them from fully losing control of the game.
It’s hard to gauge the significance of this improvement against a team with the third-worst record in the Eastern Conference. But the second half was still a welcome change for the Bulls compared with their collapses in Indiana and Charlotte.
“This was different,” Donovan said. “I thought the intensity of the game the last couple games — especially in Indiana when the intensity went way up — we never responded. I didn’t think that was the case tonight.”
With the return of Dragić, the Bulls were missing only Javonte Green, who is sidelined for at least two more weeks as he recovers from an arthroscopic debridement in his right knee.
Where they stand
The Bulls improved to 23-26 and are tied for 10th in the Eastern Conference.
The Bulls return home to play the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday at the United Center.