Bulls

Bulls stay close but fall late to unbeaten Warriors

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Bulls stay close but fall late to unbeaten Warriors

OAKLAND, CA- Klay Thompson and Jimmy Butler hit the floor for a long loose ball after a Stephen Curry missed triple, a sign the champion Warriors had no designs on ending their season-starting 13-game winning streak.

Thompson cooly pitched it to Curry, who drained a triple, blowing the top off the fanatical Oracle Arena with five minutes remaining — a sign for the visitors an upset would require more than just effort.

It would require more than just keeping the MVP to an off-night and have him commit more turnovers than usual.

Beating the NBA champs means playing a damn near perfect game at this stage and even without Derrick Rose, the Bulls put up a valiant effort but even weary and off their game, the Bulls were just another victim to the Warriors’ march to validation, falling, 106-94, Friday night.

“We gotta always win the 50-50 balls, can’t leak out for shots,” said Butler, the best player on the floor for the second straight night with 28 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. “They hit a lot of threes off offensive rebounds. I’m not gonna say that’s why where we lost the game, but it had something to do with it.”

Butler did all he could on the big stage, but aside from early play from Nikola Mirotic and Pau Gasol, he didn’t have enough help.

Joakim Noah continues to be lost within the offense, going scoreless in 17 minutes with seven rebounds and four turnovers, as it appears he can’t find his place when one more playmaker is all it would’ve taken for the Bulls to pull off an improbable upset.

“I have to be more aggressive offensively and look for my opportunities,” Noah said. “Right now I’m not sure where I can get them but when they come I have to be ready.”

Through 42 minutes it was hard to tell which was the better team, at least until Golden State’s deadly lineup finished the night by not allowing the Bulls to get anything going offensively in the last half of the fourth.

But the Warriors’ offensive rebounding was an Achilles’ heel, giving up 15 as Draymond Green came up with more than his share of loose balls, producing an effect that went beyond his nine-point, nine-rebound night.

“Yeah, loose balls,” Hoiberg said. “Draymond Green, he’s a horse in there. He does a great job watching his body, getting in there for extra ones. Those loose balls, you’ve got to find a way to come up with those.”

They harassed Curry into six turnovers, as Kirk Hinrich gamely put up 17 before fouling out, including eight in the fourth and a triple to tie the game at 89. Hinrich’s scoring was necessary considering the bench, aside from E’Twaun Moore’s nine points, couldn’t produce much offense, placing a lot of pressure on Butler, Mirotic (18 points) and Gasol (14 points, 10 rebounds).

Meanwhile Andre Iguodala scored 12 off the bench to accompany Harrison Barnes scoring 20, a sharp contrast to the Bulls’ production at small forward, with Tony Snell scoring two and Doug McDermott hitting one of his four triples.

Despite that, the Bulls held leads in the second half and had the Oracle Arena crowd sitting on their hands and knees before things got away late.

“I thought we battled, we really competed,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We wanted to hold them to 10 threes or under.”

Then Curry re-entered the fourth midway through hitting just two of his eight triple attempts, then that one fell to break an 89-all game.

Waiting on the inevitable knockout punch that always comes wasn’t part of the plans, as the Bulls kept Curry and Thompson relatively in check, holding them to a 42-point night total.

They controlled tempo, didn’t turn the ball over and refused to be seduced into Golden State’s addictive style of play. It allowed them to shoot just 40 percent from the field to the Warriors’ 49, yet they had a real chance to steal one on the road like the last team that beat them in their building — themselves, last January.

“Nobody’s perfect, man,” Butler said. “I think we had to play really well. I think we did alright. We got away from their shooters at times and they made big shots, that’s what players in this league do.”

But the Warriors’ small ball lineup more than made up for their sluggishness, as Barnes’ two late triples made it a 10-point game with 1:02 left, leaving the Bulls a bit dazed, confused and added to the lot of Golden State victims to start the season.

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

The final 25 games was supposed to be all about the development of the Bulls’ recent acquisitions and securing a record worthy of one of the last three envelopes at the NBA Draft Lottery.

Only Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn seemed to matter, with Cameron Payne and Cristiano Felicio being the perfect window dressing for development as opposed to just saying a team is tanking.

But Bobby Portis is making a case that he isn’t to be forgotten in the big picture, that his worth is more than just being a punchline to the jokes that followed his incident with Nikola Mirotic.

The only thing Portis didn’t do right in the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers was missing a point blank shot that would’ve given the Bulls an improbable and unwanted win, and it would’ve given him 40 points.

Instead he had to settle for a career-high 38 as Joel Embiid was bearing down on Portis when he caught a diagonal pass from Dunn with 1.1 seconds left, having the shorter T.J. McConnell on him and taking a power dribble to gather himself.

“If I could go back I would’ve just went up the first time off the glass like I always do,” Portis said. “We just have to try to close out games better.”

Embiid showed he’s worth all the trouble with his health problems, scoring 30 with 13 rebounds and five rebounds while Ben Simmons put up 32 with 11 assists and seven rebounds as the 76ers improved to 31-25, good enough for seventh place in the East.

In a game that featured remarkable resolve from a purposely undermanned Bulls team as they sat Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday, they put themselves in position to win after trailing by 18 early. After leading by five courtesy of a LaVine walk-down triple with 1:02 left, they made a couple critical errors that allowed the 76ers to steal a game the Bulls won’t mind them taking at the end of 82.

Denzel Valentine’s inbounds pass with 5.9 seconds left was intended for LaVine, but Embiid stepped in front for a steal as they were in position to make it a free-throw game the rest of the way.

Similar to the Bulls’ unlikely win over the Orlando Magic before the All-Star break, they returned the favor as 76ers rookie Ben Simmons made free throws after the steal to give the visitors a one-point lead, setting the stage for the final play.

If learning lessons is what the last 100 quarters of basketball is supposed to be about, the Bulls got a big-time lesson in a game that ultimately means nothing.

“These are learning opportunities for our team,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I couldn’t be happier, the way we went out and competed. We dug ourselves an 18-point hold and (fought) our way back—have complete control of the game.”

Control was wrestled from the 76ers by Portis’ able and quick hands. Taking more of a scoring posture since Mirotic’s departure, Portis has never been shy about being aggressive.

But now he’s being encouraged in that department, playing a big part in the Bulls’ tying their franchise record of 18 triples with six of his own, scoring 21 in the first half and not backing down one step from the massive Embiid.

“I kind of struggled from (three) in the last six, seven games,” said Portis, who didn’t take much time off during the All-Star break. “I think I’ve shown this entire year, trying to stay consistent and be a spark off the bench.”

Counting the last two games before the break, Portis has been on the best scoring binge of his career—cementing his place in the league when just a few months ago, many were questioning if the Bulls should’ve actually picked up his player option following the Mirotic incident.

His 25.0 points in the last three, along with scoring in double figures for seven straight games are career-bests. With every flex, every energetic plea to the crowd and resourceful score underneath the rim, Portis is becoming a player the Bulls can’t afford to plan without.

The stage was set for a Portis breakout shortly after the incident, when he was serving his suspension to start the season. When the Bulls traveled to Miami and Orlando, he flew on his own to Orlando for dinner with his mentor, former NBA veteran and Magic assistant coach Corliss Williamson.

Williamson, a player who was not to be trifled with during his career, told Portis essentially, “this too shall pass”.

“Just play your game,” Williamson told NBCSportsChicago.com recently. “Don’t put any pressure on yourself about what’s gonna happen after this year. What’s got him here is hard work, how hard he plays in the game. He continues to do that, he’ll be successful.”

Portis recalled the dinner where he was finally able to confide and unleash after weeks of frustration. Calling Williamson a father figure dating back to their Arkansas roots, where Portis played on Williamson’s AAU teams in middle school, Portis put his trust in him and came back reinvigorated.

“We talked for hours about the whole situation,” Portis told NBCSportsChicago.com “He told me when I come back to come 10 times harder. When people play this game and play the right way, they forget about the other stuff. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Scoring 38 tends to remake a narrative.

“Bobby just continues to improve,” Hoiberg said. “He’s a confident kid that goes out and plays with a ton of swagger and toughness. You need that, to go out and play with that type of effort. He’s tenacious on the glass. He’s getting the crowd into the game.”

When speaking of Portis, Hoiberg’s face went from flush to beaming, knowing how far Portis has come in his three years—being a player who wouldn’t take 3-pointers with confidence to now unleashing them whenever a defender’s feet shows the slightest hint of leaning back.

No hesitation.

“Regardless if I’m making shots, I try to leave it all out on the floor,” Portis said. “It felt good making shots, being able to help the team. I wanted the win tonight.”

Portis helped make up for the Bulls not getting their usual production from Dunn, who struggled guarding the bigger Simmons and Lauri Markkanen, who missed all five of his 3-pointers and made just one field goal in 32 minutes.

“You can put he and Lauri together,” Hoiberg said. “It gives you two guys that can stretch the floor and space it, two guys that can rebound, two that can put it on the floor. It’s exciting to think about when Kris gets his rhythm back.”

And now, Williamson’s words have proven to be prophetic for his pupil, because if the Bulls aren’t seeing Portis as a key part of their future, there’s about 25 other teams who’ll be lining up for his services this summer.

“I told him don’t even worry about it,” Williamson said. “Let your game speak for itself. People who really know you, know what type of person you are. You start producing people will forget about it and love you for what you do on the court.”

His game is talking, even if the Bulls’ loss was one they’d rather have taken in silence.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

In the latest edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski, Will Perdue and Kendall Gill recap the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, look at the continued growth of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn, and discuss if Bobby Portis is part of the Bulls’ long term future.

They also check in on LeBron James and the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers, discuss whether or not the Golden State Warriors can make another title run and the latest on the status of San Antonio Spurs guard Kawhi Leonard. The guys also discuss how Oklahoma guard Trae Young could look in a Bulls uniform if he’s available for them in the draft.

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.