Fourth-Quarter Failures Holding Bulls Back


Every win is important in the Eastern Conference this season. Only three games separate the four seed and the nine seed.

With a 19-27 record, the Chicago Bulls are currently the ten seed in the Eastern Conference. However, the Bulls would be higher in the standings if they’d found a way to avoid the issue that’s been plaguing them all season– their propensity to blow leads in the fourth quarter.

There have been numerous games this year that Chicago probably should have won:

  • Against the Golden State Warriors in December, the Bulls were up by nine points in the fourth quarter. Damion Lee (not Stephen Curry) hit a game-winning three-pointer.
  • Chicago had a 22-point lead against the Oklahoma City Thunder in January and held a 16-point lead in the fourth quarter. They ended up losing in overtime.
  • The Bulls were up by five points with 11 seconds to go against the Portland Trail Blazers at the end of January. They eventually lost to a Damian Lillard buzzer-beater.
  • In a loss to the Phoenix Suns in February, Chicago were outscored 32-16 in the fourth quarter. Phoenix were down seven to start the period.
  • The Bulls were up by 13 points at the start of the fourth quarter against the San Antonio Spurs in mid-March. San Antonio went on a 17-0 run and eventually came away with the victory.
  • Chicago had a 14-point lead with seven minutes remaining against the Denver Nuggets last weekend. Denver won in overtime.


Chicago has the second-worst fourth-quarter Net Rating in the NBA. This is thanks in part to their poor ball security.

The Bulls lead the league in turnovers per game, and only four teams in the entire NBA turn the ball over more in fourth quarters. For example, Chicago committed ten turnovers in the final period against Phoenix. Those lost possessions led to ten Suns points.

The team’s ball movement also appears to suffer in fourth quarters. The Bulls are 10th in the league in first-quarter assists. They’re top five in both second and third-quarter assists. But they’re 20th in fourth-quarter assists. Against Denver, Bulls’ analyst Stacey King commented on the number of offensive trips that ended in one-on-one possessions.

Some of the blame has to fall on Billy Donovan’s shoulders. The Bulls’ head coach has been praised for the job he’s done in Chicago this year. But despite constantly reminding the young team about what it takes to win, Donovan can’t seem to get through.

Some of the blame also has to fall on the player’s shoulders. Thaddeus Young left Jamal Murray alone behind the three-point line, to help on Nikola Jokic inside, when the Bulls were up by three with four seconds left against the Nuggets. In the same game, Coby White committed a costly turnover, stepping out of bounds when the Bulls were up by four with one minute left. The players are also the ones fouling three-point shooters.


The solutions to the Bulls’ fourth-quarter problems have been well-discussed. The team is in desperate need of a new point guard. This would, presumably, reduce the number of turnovers and prevent the offense from stagnating late in games.

The Bulls have been heavily linked to Lonzo Ball, and reportedly made an offer for the New Orleans Pelicans’ point guard that included Tomáš Satoranský and second-round picks. Although Lonzo remains in New Orleans, the acquisition of center Nikola Vučević will undoubtedly boost the team’s offense in the clutch, thanks to the big man’s scoring and passing abilities.

But it’s not as if Chicago can’t score in the clutch. They’re fourth in the league in clutch scoring. The issue is that so much of it is dependent on Zach LaVine – who’s eighth in the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring. LaVine has a track record of stepping up when needed, but the team can’t rely on him to bail them out whenever the ball stops moving.

The Bulls have won close games. They beat the Indiana Pacers in overtime in February, thanks to some clutch shots from LaVine and Denzel Valentine. Plus, they’ve won games coming from behind. Chicago overcame a 25-point deficit to beat the Detroit Pistons later in that same month, and Coby White and Patrick Williams both hit clutch three-pointers late in the fourth quarter.

These wins have delivered great moments, but they’ve been few and far between. Chicago is 4-10 in games decided by four points or fewer, and are 3-18 against teams with winning records. Games will be tighter against better opposition, especially later in the season with more at stake. The Eastern Conference is starting to take shape, but no team wants to be in the play-in places when the four seed is still attainable.

This Chicago Bulls team could — and should — make the postseason. But they need to learn how to win. And they need to learn how to manage fourth quarters. Because the fourth quarter is winning time.

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About Charlie Liptrott

Charlie writes about the Chicago Bulls, and is a UK based NBA fan and freelance sports journalist.

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