Bulls

Klay Thompson makes history against Bulls: The ball felt 'like it was going in every time'

Klay Thompson makes history against Bulls: The ball felt 'like it was going in every time'

Fred Hoiberg was asked during Monday morning’s shootaround at the Advocate Center where the Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant ranked among the all-time scoring duos in NBA history. Hoiberg’s answer? “Well this is a trio. You’ve got to throw (Klay) Thompson in the mix as well.”

It’s safe to assume no one will be forgetting to include Thompson anymore. The younger of the Splash Brothers took over the United Center on Monday night, setting an NBA record by making 14 3-pointers on his way to 52 points as the Warriors thumped the shorthanded Bulls, 149-125.

It was a night of records for the Warriors, setting franchise records for made 3-pointers (24), made 3-pointers in a half (17 before halftime) and points in a half (92 before halftime). But the night belonged to Thompson, who added another chapter to both his scoring legacy and to the Warriors’ absurd offensive run during their current dynasty.

“I just knew I was due for a big night,” Thompson said after the game.

It was apparent Thompson was in line for the night he felt he was due almost immediately. Though he entered Monday’s tilt against the Bulls mired in one of the worst slumps of his career – he was 5 of 36 (13.9%) from deep in seven games to begin the year – his teammates didn’t seem to notice. After a Kevin Durant midrange jumper got the scoring started Thompson took and made the next four shots he took, extending Golden State’s lead to double digits just 3:20 into the contest.

Thompson missed his next 3-point attempt out of a timeout but came back and made his next four 3-point attempts in a 2-minute span, giving him 22 points in the quarter on 8 of 9 shooting; his season-high entering the game had been 19 points, and the six 3-pointers he made in the first stanza topped his season total.

The Warriors had pushed their lead to 24 early in the second when Thompson subbed back in, and he needed all of 18 seconds to connect on his next shot, a 3-pointer that pushed Golden State’s lead to 61-34. Thompson made two more triples on feeds from Draymond Green midway through the period, and Steve Kerr drew up Thompson’s 10th triple out of a timeout that pushed Golden State over the 80-point mark with 2:50 left in the half. That triple tied Thompson with Chandler Parsons for the most 3-pointers in a half. He added two free throws for good measure before missing what would have been his 11th triple right before halftime.

As the Warriors entered the locker room with a 42-point lead, the largest halftime road lead in NBA history, they had one goal in mind: Get Thompson the record.

Steph Curry, who had 23 points on 7 of 9 shooting in the first half himself, told Thompson to “go get it,” the record that he held until tonight.

Added Kevin Durant: “Everybody was encouraging him to keep shooting.”

With that in mind, and the Warriors leading by 42 against a defenseless Bulls team, they set out to complete the mission. Thompson made a fadeaway midrange jumper to open the third quarter, then made his 11th triple right after Kevin Durant made his first of the evening. Thompson began to shot-hunt, taking and missing shots on the Warriors’ next two possessions. But then he hit his 12th triple from the top of the key, causing Fred Hoiberg to call timeout. That’s when head coach Steve Kerr really began understanding what was at stake.

“I didn’t even realize what was happening record-wise,” Kerr said. “I heard Klay say ‘two more, two more.’ And that’s when I realized. And I didn’t even know who had the record so I asked Steph. I said, ‘Do you have record?’ And he goes, ‘Yeah.’ I’m a little slow on the uptake of this stuff.”

Thompson missed his first triple out of the timeout but connected on his second, giving him 13 for the game to tie Curry’s record set two years ago.

That’s when Thompson said he really began thinking about breaking the record. It likely helped that the Warriors were up 45 points and there was still 20 minutes to go.

“I just wanted it so bad at that point,” he said. “I’ve been in this position before, I’ve had 10 or 11 threes. But never close to 14, so I’m just thankful I was in this position.”

But overthinking it may hurt him in the short-term. He went on a smidgen of a cold streak, missing four consecutive 3-pointers with a made floater sprinkled in to give him 49 points. The United Center began to stir and eventually began rooting for history, groaning with each miss. The Warriors admitted to shot-hunting for Thompson, who took 12 straight shots for the Warriors before he finally connected on the record-breaking shot on the right wing off a pass from Durant.

Thompson stayed in after Hoiberg called timeout again but subbed out less than a minute later, finishing with 52 points on 18 of 29 shooting and 14 of 24 3-pointers in just 26 minutes; he’s the first player in NBA history to score 50 points while playing 28 or fewer minutes.

“It’s one of the best feelings in basketball,” he said, “when you touch the ball and feel like it’s going in every time.”

As if the Warriors needed a reminder of just how spoiled they are, tonight was it. Thompson was mired in the worst slump of the dynasty years, and yet the Warriors were still 6-1. Curry was the Western Conference Player of the Week, scoring 51 points with 11 3-pointers against the Wizards. Durant had scored 41 against the Knicks in New York, including 25 in the final quarter. And on a night when Durant, the greatest scorer in the game, scored 14 points, the Warriors still tallied 149 in a blowout win.

Thompson’s historic shooting led them on this night, adding another chapter to what’s been a remarkable ride for Kerr and the defending champs.

“It feels like Year 5 of coaching the Golden State Warriors. This is what it’s been like. I can’t even tell you how lucky I am and how I feel every night just watching these guys and how unselfish they are, they basically take turns and encourage each other, they want each other to do well.

We have all this talent, but the key is these guys are committed to each other and they play hard for each other and they want each other to have success. That’s why it works.”

What to watch for when the Bulls and Bucks face off again

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USA Today

What to watch for when the Bulls and Bucks face off again

After narrowly falling to Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks in Milwaukee last Thursday, the Bulls welcome them to the United Center Monday night. The game tips off on NBC Sports Chicago at 7 p.m. CT — until then, here’s what to watch for: 

1. Regression to the mean — on both sides

The Bulls knew in the moment that their “frustrating” 124-115 loss to the Bucks last Thursday represented a massive missed opportunity. Sure, there were positives to take away: In the game, the Bulls shot 18-of-43 (41.9%) from 3-point range to the Bucks’ 6-of-33 (18.2%) and turned Milwaukee over 22 times.

The downside? All of those figures are (or are tied for) single-game worsts for the Bucks this season and aren’t likely to repeat. Granted, there are areas where the Bulls might see positive regression, as well. The 20 turnovers they committed in that game — for instance — is their season-high, Wendell Carter only played 20 minutes due to persistent foul trouble and the Bucks’ 70-32 points-in-the-paint advantage remains downright unfathomable, even for an elite interior team. 

But if the extremes from their last meeting even marginally level out, the Bucks will probably have the edge. To keep this one competitive, the Bulls will need to stay out of foul trouble (good luck), rotate and close out decisively, and hope for better 3-point luck than in Saturday’s game against the Nets, when they shot 9-for-39 (23.1%) from distance.

2. “Basketball karma”

Remember this?

 

The Bulls will.

“It is what it is,” Thad Young said in reference to Eric Bledsoe’s post-buzzer dunk Thursday night after the game. “It happened. We just have to be ready when we play them in four or five days. We gotta be ready to get a win.”

When asked about the play, Kyle Korver confessed to believing in, “basketball karma.”

Monday night, the Bulls will have to make their own karma on their home floor. Each of their last two losses have featured a litany of untimely turnovers, lost loose balls and defensive breakdowns, especially late in the game. If Young is to be believed, the Bulls — a team that typically takes care of the rock and ranks well in most hustle stats — should come into this one laser-focused and ready to compete against a (still) undermanned Bucks squad. 

Avoiding the second-half swoon

Key in that last point, though, will be not over-exerting themselves out of the gate. At the risk of stating the obvious: These Bulls are a bad second-half team, and at the heart of that issue has been the defense. These (select) first/second half splits are… illustrative:

First half: 98.7 Def Rtg, 43.7 opp FG% (28.7 3P%), 73.7 Def Reb%, +1.5 point differential

Second half: 114.0 Def Rtg, 48.5 opp FG% (36.7 3P%), 69.7 Def Reb%, -4.8 point differential

That dissonance was on full display on Thursday, as the Bucks flipped a one-point halftime deficit into a nine-point victory. The bright side for Chicago is that, even in running away with that game, the Bucks weren’t devastatingly efficient shooting or distributing the ball — the contest flipped in the paint and at the charity stripe. An extra burst of energy from playing on their home floor, combined with a focus on defensive discipline, could turn the Bulls’ fortunes in the rematch.

4. Finding fluidity on offense

Even in a disappointing defeat, that first matchup against the Bucks was one of the Bulls more impressive — albeit streaky — offensive performances of the season. In it, they racked up 25 assists, hoisted 43 3-point attempts and utilized a lot of movement off screens and dribble-drives to generate good looks:

They clawed their way back into Saturday’s game against the Nets on the back of a 36-point night from Zach LaVine, but the team’s offense often stagnated. Their 15 assists against Brooklyn was a season-low.

The Bulls know their best offense comes when they’re moving the ball, moving themselves and playing together. Against one of the top defenses in the league in Milwaukee, it will be worth monitoring if the Bulls devolve into iso-heavy offense when times are tough, or if they can draw upon past successes and fully lean into the offense Jim Boylen wants them to run.

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NBA Power Rankings: Heat surging with Jimmy Butler

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USA TODAY

NBA Power Rankings: Heat surging with Jimmy Butler

It’s homecoming week at the United Center with Robin Lopez, Kyle Korver and the Bucks visiting Monday, followed by Derrick Rose, Tony Snell and the Pistons on Wednesday and then Jimmy Butler’s Miami Heat come to town Friday night. 

Miami has been one of the big surprises of the opening month, matching the best start in franchise history with a 9-3 record through 12 games. That’s even more remarkable considering the back-to-back championship teams led by LeBron, D-Wade and Chris Bosh, and those strong Miami teams in the mid-90s led by Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway.

Erik Spoelstra has done an excellent job of juggling his early season rotations, still searching for the best lineup combinations. Miami has been very effective at the offensive end, averaging 111.2 points and 26.3 assists per game, while shooting just under 48% from the field as a team.

Butler has been content to play more of a facilitator role, especially early in games. The four-time All-Star is averaging a career best 7.2 assists per game, setting the tone for the Heat’s unselfish play. But he still can score when needed, as evidenced by a 30-point first half in Phoenix on Nov. 7.

Third-year center Bam Adebayo has come back a much improved offensive player this season, averaging a double-double in points and rebounds, while rookie backcourt players Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro have emerged as instant contributors. 

Miami also has some solid vets to call on in Goran Dragic, Kelly Olynyk, Meyers Leonard and James Johnson. If the Heat are still among the top four teams in the East at the end of January, don’t be surprised if Pat Riley looks to swing a trade for Chris Paul or some other veteran difference maker.

Where do the Heat rank this week? Check out the latest power rankings here.