Bulls

Bulls cap 1-3 West Coast trip with close loss to Clippers

Bulls

The Bulls capped their four-game West Coast road trip with a hard-fought loss, this one 130-127 to the Los Angeles Clippers. They end the swing 1-3, and head back to Chicago 4-7 on the season.

Here's what stood out:

Patrick Williams: Really good

Patrick Williams embraced another tough defensive assignment in this one, guarding Kawhi Leonard early and often, and checking Paul George and Lou Williams on a few possessions too.

The 19-year-old continued to impress in just his 11th NBA game (and start). Leonard got his to the tune of 35 points, but Williams’ steadiness and compete level again belied his age. The highlight of the night was him sparking one of the most fun sequences in recent memory for the Bulls with a deflection and steal on Leonard in the second quarter:

He ripped him again in the third, and forced a few misses guarding him down the stretch, as he did LeBron James on Friday. Williams ended the afternoon with two steals. Leonard… Well, we’ll get to Leonard shortly.

"On the court, you really don’t get a chance to look at him as your idol or the guy that you look up to. He’s just the guy that I have to guard," Williams said after the game. "But for sure probably on the plane ride back I’ll probably start thinking, ‘Man, I really played against Kawhi Leonard, a guy that I’ve seen on film for so many years.’"

 

RELATED: Patrick Williams reflects on matchup with 'idol' Kawhi Leonard

What’s more, Williams enjoyed the best offensive performance of his young career. In the first half, he splashed three catch-and-shoot 3s on four attempts (even through only two quarters, both career highs). He finished 3-for-5 from deep, moving his season-long mark to 11-for-24 on a limited sample. Three splashed pull-up mid-range jumpers -- almost his signature shot at this point -- contributed to a career-high 17 points on 6-for-9 shooting.

"It's just reps," said the rookie of his long-range shooting, adding that veterans on the team, especially Garrett Temple, have helped him along the way.

And, for the second game in a row, Williams eclipsed 30 minutes played with Otto Porter Jr. out with a lower back strain (Temple started in his place, scoring 18 with three 3s) and closed out the contest. In fact, Williams' 36 minutes played marked another career high.

If you're not already, get excited about him.

LaVine and Leonard traded haymakers

Zach LaVine entered Friday’s matchup with the Lakers shooting just 29.7 percent from 3, well below his career mark of 37.3 percent. You knew that would tick up. 

Against the Lakers, he canned four of seven triples. Against the Clippers, he finished 10-for-16 from deep, including 5-for-8 in a third quarter that saw him trade haymakers with Leonard.

In that period, in which the Clippers outscored the Bulls 42-35 to pull even entering the fourth, Leonard (21 points) and LaVine (15) combined for 36 points and 10 3s. 

LaVine put up another 14 in the fourth, including an unconscionable stepback over Marcus Morris with 17.3 seconds left that improbably pulled the Bulls within 126-125 and breathed life into a contest that looked finished. An air-balled jumper that would have tied the game -- and completed a seven-point comeback in the final 49 seconds -- followed.

“I got 10 threes," LaVine said. "I’m going to come down and try and make a play. I got a clean look. I just didn’t get enough legs onto it."

All in all, his night ended with 45 points, his third consecutive 30-point outing and first 40-pointer of the season. He averaged 33.5 points in the four-game West Coast swing, shooting 53.3 percent from the floor and 45.5 percent from 3.

 

Two times in Bulls franchise history has a player canned 10 or more 3s in a game. Both occasions were authored by LaVine. He's also the sixth player in NBA history to clear that benchmark multiple times in his career.

Turnovers mar offensive progress

Again, the Bulls offense showed signs of promise in this one. As a team, the visitors leveraged some ludicrous shotmaking and solid ball movement (30 assists) to score 127 points on 61 percent shooting.

Leading the way in the dime department was Coby White, with a career high 13. Another step in his development as a point guard, though he also committed five turnovers. On an off shooting night, he affected the game there and by nabbing eight rebounds.

The inescapable blemish: 23 team turnovers, off of which the Clippers turned into 31 points. The dagger was a Lou Williams cookie-grab from White that turned into a fastbreak layup, and a 124-119 Clippers lead with a minute-and-a-half remaining.

"The turnovers are a major, major factor and a major problem," said Billy Donovan.

Indeed, ball security continues to riddle the Bulls, and mar their progress. The growth from having the 29th-rated offense in basketball last season is notable. But they now sit 29th in the league in turnover rate.

What could have been

Another day, another competitive loss for the Bulls. Moral victories don’t mean much at this level, but after watching the four games of this West Coast swing, they clearly outperformed their 1-3 record (which felt a reasonable prediction coming in) against top competition.

Multiple core players, too, found their footing during the trip. Williams' career night, and embracing of all-time defensive assignments, stands out. So, too, does Wendell Carter Jr. exhibiting some offensive assertiveness, facilitating chops and defensive progress (he contributed in a big way to the Clippers 12-for-22 restricted area shooting, even without a block). Coby White and Zach LaVine, of course, caught fire. And this is with four players still gone to COVID-19 protocols.

Donovan wants execution now. Especially in the departments of rebounding (Clippers won the offensive glass 12-3 and second-chance points 22-8), cutting out turnovers and the defensive end (the Clippers out-attempted the Bulls by eight at the free-throw line).

"I think we have a lot to build off but we’re going to have to make the strides," Donovan said. "We're going to have to become a consistent team that takes care of the basketball, that defends without fouling and rebounds. If we cant do those three things on a regular nightly basis it’s really really hard to win."

 

The wins aren't piling. Donovan and the Bulls won't be satisfied until they do. But through 11 games, this group is giving more reason to believe they one day will than any Bulls team in a while.

Next up: Home for the Boston Celtics Tuesday.