Bulls seemed to fall apart when Mavs faced desperation

DALLAS -- Fifteen miles west of American Airlines Center stands Cowboys Stadium, which hosted an amazing comeback game Friday night. In the last three minutes of the Kansas-Michigan NCAA tournament game, the Wolverines overcame a 10-point deficit, tied the game and won it in overtime.

On Saturday afternoon, the Chicago Bulls had a 12-point lead with less than four minutes left in their game with the Dallas Mavericks and also managed to lose.

The only difference was the Mavericks didn’t need overtime.

In their first game since ending Miami’s 27-game winning streak Wednesday, the Bulls were equal parts excellent and inept. Twice in the second half, they seemed to take over the game as they built double-digit leads in the third and fourth quarter. Each time, they could neither match the Mavericks’ toughness nor their focus and seemed to crumble when the Mavericks played with desperation.

After building an 97-85 lead on Luol Deng 3-point shot with 4:07 left, the Bulls scored exactly one point the remainder of the game. Afterward, they were sensitive when asked about their effort and about a possible letdown.

“I don’t think we ever let down,” Deng said. “It was just great players -- great players that made great plays. I’ve been in a game [like this] where we’ve won.

“This was similar to the Kansas game last night. I felt like we controlled the game, and we lost it in the last three minutes.”

The final blow was delivered by Dirk Nowitzki with 2.9 seconds left when he buried a 3-point shot as the Bulls gave him the slightest opening that he needed. Nowitzki never hesitated.

“We had a slip, and we were in a scramble,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I thought there may have been a travel there, but that’s the way it goes.”

The Bulls wasted an excellent offensive effort by Deng, Carlos Boozer and Nate Robinson, each of whom scored 25 points. Robinson was spectacular in the final period, scoring 14 points and hitting a 32-foot 3-pointer that barely beat the shot clock with a little more than six minutes left.

After beating the NBA’s best, the Bulls lost to a team that is 10th in the Western Conference standings. And they lost a chance to make up ground on Brooklyn in the battle for fourth place in the East and a first-round home-court advantage.

“This was definitely a tough loss,” guard Kirk Hinrich said. “We knew this was going to be a tough game coming in, because they are fighting for a playoff spot.

“I thought we played with high intensity most of the game, but we just didn’t finish it out. They have a lot of guys with lots of experience, and I give them credit.”