Bulls

Carter-Williams steals the spotlight from Rose, Bulls

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Carter-Williams steals the spotlight from Rose, Bulls

Through four games Michael Carter-Williams had been the other guard in the first round playoff series between the Bucks and Bulls.

Storylines, both positive and negative, revolved around Derrick Rose's play in his first postseason appearance in more than three years. The former MVP scored 23 points in Game 1, nearly triple-doubled in Game 2, added a season-high 34 points in Game 3 before committing eight costly turnovers in a Game 4 loss. He, the measuring stick for a Bulls team with championship aspirations, garnered the attention. And heading into a Game 5, the spotlight again was on Rose to close the series out at home and set up a date with LeBron James and the Cavaliers.

Instead, it was Carter-Williams who stole the show, earning himself a spot at the postgame podium after handily winning his individual matchup with Rose and helping the Bucks stave off elimination in a 94-88 win in Game 5. Carter-Williams scored 22 points on 10-for-15 shooting, added eight rebounds and nine assists and played stifling defense on Rose and Jimmy Butler in a team-high 38 minutes.

"He looked good, like a veteran point guard," said OJ Mayo. "He really kept his poise, quarterback’d the team, made sure that we understood what we were doing on both ends of the floor. He played like an All-Star point guard tonight."

Carter-Williams was the aggressor from the opening tip, scoring on a layup on the game's first possession, the first of what became a 9-0 run for the Bucks to open the contest. Twice more in the opening frame Carter-Williams attacked Rose and finished inside. It became a trend for the night, the Bucks staying a step ahead of the Bulls' pick-and-roll defense, living in the paint and beating rotations with better ball movement and spacing. All 10 of Carter-Williams' field goal makes came in the paint, with the Bucks scoring nearly half of their 94 points as a team inside.

[RELATED: Bulls still can't close out Bucks at home]

A sprained right ankle forced him to the locker room in the opening minutes of the third quarter but he managed to return at the 2:54 mark of the period and didn't sit the rest of the night. It's when he did his best work, too, scoring eight points and handing out a pair of assists in the final stanza. His most impressive sequence came after the Bulls had used a quick 6-0 run to pull within three points at the 4:45 mark. Carter-Williams calmly cut left, received a pass from Mayo and hoisted a floating bank shot in over Rose to quiet the United Center crowd. The next trip down he blocked Jimmy Butler - one of the eight Bucks blocks in the final 12 minutes - and fed John Henson on a beautiful baseline bounce pass for a layup that pushed the lead back to eight with 3 minutes to play.

"I was just trying to get in the lane and find the open guy," he said after the game. "I was just being patient and that opened up the lane a little bit and I was able to score."

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Carter-Williams' offensive aggressiveness was a welcome sign after he had averaged 12.0 points on 39 percent shooting in the first four games, but he made his mark defensively. Kidd has preached the entire series that the Bucks would be as successful as their defense allowed them to be, and on Monday night it was Carter-Williams leading the charger.

He was credited with three blocks and one steal, but his pressure was felt throughout. Rose shot 5-for-20 and the Bulls committed 13 more turnovers, bringing their five-game total to 89 giveaways. Carter-Williams switched between assignments on Rose and Jimmy Butler (5-for-21), with his 6-foot-6 length giving Kidd options to mix and match between Mayo, Bayless and and Khris Middleton at the other guard position.

It's been a turbulent few months in Milwaukee for Carter-Williams, who was acquired in a three-team deal at the trade deadline that sent All-Star caliber point guard Brandon Knight from the Brew City to Phoenix. The transaction, done with eyes on the future - Knight was a free agent at season's end - was met with scrutiny, and the Bucks struggled most of the way with Carter-Williams at the helm; the Bucks went just 10-15 in games he started after the trade, nearly falling out of the No. 6 spot in the process.

But Carter-Williams has righted the ship and has the defensive-minded Bucks back feeling confident after two straight wins. And while his team's success doesn't hinge on his individual play much like it does for Rose and the Bulls, when that other guard is showing the aggressiveness on both ends of the floor like he did Monday night, the Bucks will be in position to win. The next test is Thursday.

"If that’s what we get form him as a player every night," Henson said, "we’re going to be tough to beat."

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.