The Chicago Bulls received a hollow vindication Tuesday when the NBA’s Last Two Minute report confirmed two missed calls in the final 13 seconds of regulation in Monday’s overtime loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Cavaliers center Jarrett Allen traveled with 12.1 seconds remaining and guard Donovan Mitchell committed a lane violation with 4.6 seconds left on his way to a putback that tied the game and forced overtime. Neither violation was called.
The lack of the lane violation call stung for the Bulls after guard Alex Caruso was called for back-to-back lane violations in the third quarter, giving Mitchell two extra attempts to make his 20th free throw of the night. Mitchell finished with a career-high 71 points in the Cavaliers’ 145-134 comeback victory in Cleveland.
The no-calls also frustrated the Bulls after a similar officiating mistake cost them in a home loss to the Cavaliers two nights earlier.
“It’s been two games in a row,” coach Billy Donovan said Monday. “(The L2M report) doesn’t do anything. It could be three games now and that’s unfortunate because I felt our guys battled and competed.”
Bemoaning the L2M report has become a familiar and frustrating refrain this season for the Bulls, who have been on the receiving end of three game-changing no-calls that were later deemed incorrect.
DeMar DeRozan should have been awarded trips to the line for potential game-winning free throws twice this season. The first missed call came in the Bulls’ second game of the season against the Washington Wizards. The second was in Saturday’s loss to the Cavaliers, when Caris LeVert fouled DeRozan with 2.6 seconds left.
“I’d rather them just keep it to themselves honestly,” DeRozan said in October after the report from the loss in Washington was issued. “Because what can we do? I’m not Marty McFly or anything where I can go back to the future and replay it.”
Outside of the final two minutes, Donovan raised questions about a perceived disparity in foul calls from Monday’s officiating team, which consisted of Tony Brothers, JB DeRosa and Suyash Mehta.
The Bulls were called for 33 fouls, 12 in the third quarter alone. The Cavaliers were called for 27. DeRozan reached the line with his typical frequency — taking 12 free throws — but the rest of the Bulls totaled only 22. In comparison, Mitchell took 25 free throws.
Donovan described the game as “hard to watch at times” as play continually ground to a halt for more free throws.
“The thing I’m anxious to see is the consistency of the fouls,” Donovan said. “I very, very rarely argue a call for another team, but when our guys are getting fouled, I’m going to try to fight for them.
“I think the free throw was a huge, huge factor in the game. We clearly didn’t get to the free-throw line as much as Mitchell. That was a big issue.”
The Bulls haven’t always been on the receiving end of incorrect calls. Two mistakes listed on the L2M report from last Wednesday’s overtime win over the Milwaukee Bucks could have swayed the game against the Bulls.
That report said referees missed a foul by Patrick Williams on a made layup by Giannis Antetokounmpo that put the Bucks ahead by eight with 1:39 remaining in regulation, then incorrectly called a shooting foul on Wesley Matthews with 53 seconds left in overtime. DeRozan made both free throws for a 113-110 Bulls lead.
It’s not too surprising that so many Bulls games this season have been affected by officiating errors in the last two minutes. Of their 37 games, 20 have had a margin of five or fewer points in the final five minutes, with the Bulls going 7-13 in those clutch situations.
Despite his frustration with the continued pattern of L2M report decisions, Donovan emphasized the importance of execution for the Bulls to avoid leaving their games up to chance — or the referee’s whistle.
“We have to control what we can control,” Donovan said. “Obviously, we’ve got to block out better regardless of the situation. We know they’re going to miss. We’ve got to go in there and get it done.
“Whatever it is in the last game, we have to overcome things. I’m just a big believer in that. I think a lot of times you can look around and look at what everyone else is doing wrong rather than looking at yourself and what we can do better. Clearly, there’s a lot we can do better.”