For those wondering, Andres Nocioni can be mellow in critical moments.
Of course, it took the manic Nocioni to be in street clothes for that to happen. But the injured forward watched calmly Monday night as the Bulls blew a winnable game down the stretch, falling 100-95 to Utah.
Trailing 88-79 with 3 minutes 24 seconds remaining, the Bulls went to an even smaller small lineup than usual with Nocioni sidelined by plantar fasciitis. The lineup both succeeded and, ultimately, doomed the Bulls, who are now 2-2 on this seven-game trip.
"I thought we really played hard," coach Scott Skiles said. "We just didn't play smart."
Chris Duhon, solid again with 14 points, shook off a bruised left thumb to drain back-to-back three-pointers to pull the Bulls within 93-90 with 80 seconds remaining.
But Mehmet Okur swished a three-pointer with 61 seconds remaining and then, following a Luol Deng dunk, stepped back and made a fallaway 21-footer over Kirk Hinrich with 26.3 seconds remaining to seal the deal.
The last basket gave Okur, who was guarded down the stretch by Deng and led Utah with 20 points, 10 straight points.
"He got the post, and I should've denied him," Deng said. "But after he got it, he was basically too big."
Said Skiles: "We tried to go small to see if we could steal it. We just relaxed on him. Of the three key plays he made, two we should've done something about."
The Bulls trailed 82-78 with 4:39 remaining when Deron Williams, huge with 18 points and 13 assists, drained a jumper over Hinrich. A Deng turnover led to Williams finding a cutting Matt Harpring for a layup. Then following a Ben Gordon miss, Okur's jumper with 3:33 to play pushed Utah's lead to 88-78.
The Bulls, who shot a whopping 47 free throws, drained four straight to pull within 88-82. But Okur's three-point play after a foul on Deng held off that charge.
Utah is now 3-1 without Carlos Boozer, out with a fractured left fibula.
Utah's biggest lead was 16, but Hinrich scored seven of his game-high 26 points in the Bulls' 9-0 third-quarter run that brought them to within seven. Both Gordon and Hinrich drew their fourth fouls in the quarter and sat for long stretches.
Gordon's 11 points marked his lowest output since Dec. 4. He also drew the first flagrant foul of his career for elbowing Gordan Giricek as he tried to clear space for an offensive drive.
"I thought Ben was just very slow," Skiles said. "He really struggled with [Derek] Fisher."
Fisher scored a season-high 19 points.
X-rays taken on Duhon afterward were negative, and the guard emphatically said he'd play Thursday in Sacramento. Ben Wallace's three-pointer after the game was decided was the fifth of his career and his first since 2004-05 with Detroit. Skiles called Williams "a top-five point guard right now."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times