Bulls

Carter's strange journey puts him on Game 2 throne

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Carter's strange journey puts him on Game 2 throne

NEWARK, N.J. Every life has its strange, tumultuous twists. Jeff Carters had plenty of his own in just one year, one in which he went from Philadelphia to Columbus to Los Angeles.

So when the good moments come, theyre savored. And after scoring one of the biggest goals of his career on Saturday night, Carter gets the chance to do that now.

Carter scored his first career overtime playoff goal as the Los Angeles Kings beat the New Jersey Devils 2-1 in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals. The Kings take a 2-0 lead in the series and have now won 10 straight road playoff games. Theyve won 12 in a row dating back to last postseason.

For Carter, it was especially sweet. A year of tumult and team moves landed him in Los Angeles, where he could get a fresh start and the Kings could get an offensive boost. Its worked out for both, and Carter came through with a big one on Saturday night.

You just want to put it on net as much as you can. (Dustin Penner) did a great job to get in front of Marty (Brodeur). I dont know if he saw the shot, Carter said. Its a pretty special moment. Obviously any time you play in the finals its exciting. But scoring an overtime goal to get up 2-0 is pretty special.

Drew Doughty put the Kings up in the first period, darting through the Devils on a move that was highlight-reel worthy. But Ryan Carter redirected a Marek Zidlicky shot to tie in the third period, setting up overtime. The Kings outshot the Devils 11-3 in the extra frame. On the game-winner, Carter came from behind the net and circled wide as the Devils converged down in front. It looked like Carter was going to pass it off at first but instead took the shot, which beat Brodeur low, stick side.

Our defensemen were open, too. But you could tell he wanted to shoot that, and hes got a great shot. Beauty shot, low blocker and found a hole, Jarret Stoll said. Hes been in the media a lot, lot of story lines, but hes been a great addition to our team. Hes solidified our lineup and made us a lot better. Thats a big goal, a huge goal for him.

Carter now has 10 points this postseason.

That was a huge effort on that goal, defenseman Matt Greene said. Its good to get a guy like him going. He scores in bunches. Hopefully he gets hot and we ride him a little bit.

Carter has found a good niche with the Kings. He scored, arguably, the biggest goal of his career on Saturday night. And hes gotten the Kings that much closer to their ultimate goal.

I think this is by far the biggest for sure, Carter said of his goal. Its a huge one, a big one for the team. We get this to where we wanted it to be.

Bulls observations: Zach LaVine and Coby White nearly lead epic comeback

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USA TODAY

Bulls observations: Zach LaVine and Coby White nearly lead epic comeback

After a lackluster first half, the Bulls nearly staged the comeback of the season behind 76 points from Zach LaVine and Coby White. But ultimately, the Thunder prevailed 124-122. Observations:

Daniel Gafford needs to stay out of foul trouble

Jim Boylen again stressed at shootaround this morning the importance of the Bulls defending without fouling. As a team, they entered play dead last in the NBA in opponent free throw rate, and conceded 28 charity stripe trips to the Thunder when they met on Dec. 16. 

Daniel Gafford has been among the biggest culprits in that area. Since re-entering the regular rotation (from injury) after the All-Star break, Gafford has averaged 4.8 fouls per game, including a foul-out in 16 minutes against Charlotte in his first game back. Tonight, he picked up two in the first three minutes of the game and a third early in the second quarter en route to just five first-half minutes (and 14 total). He finished the night with four personals. 

That’s a problem for a Bulls team thin on the front line and struggling defensively. In Gafford’s stead, Cristiano Felicio played 33 minutes, and though he posted an admirable six points and nine rebounds, most would agree — for the sake of both development and staying competitive — Gafford minutes are preferable. As a team, the Bulls committed 25 fouls and sent the Thunder to the line 30 times, though that was boosted by having to play the foul game late.

The sweet life of Zach and Coby rolls on

Another game, another torrid combined performance from Zach LaVine and Coby White. This one was especially fun.

LaVine poured in 41 points on 19-for-35 shooting, White a new career-high 35 points on 13-for-21 (6-for-9 from 3-point range). As the Thunder rained hellfire from long-range and otherwise picked the Bulls’ defense apart early, those two kept the team afloat on the other end. Then, they keyed a whirlwind of a comeback in the third. 

 

In that third quarter, LaVine notched 19 points on a preposterous 9-for-11 shooting; White had three timely 3-pointers — each eliciting exponentially louder roars from the United Center crowd. Play them together as many minutes as humanly possible down the stretch of the season… When they’re ‘on’ in unison, it’s downright electric.

Also worth mentioning is this is White’s third 30-point game in a row. He’s set, matched, then re-set his career-high scoring totals in each of the last three games. That type of momentum is immensely encouraging in what had been a tumultuous rookie season. 

This time, it was the Bulls’ turn for a comeback

The Thunder put on an absolute offensive clinic in the first half — canning 11 of their first 15 3-pointers, assisting on 19 of 26 made buckets and committing just five turnovers. Danilo Gallinari was en route to a career night (he had 17 points on 5-for-5 from 3 in the game’s first six-and-a-half minutes) and the Bulls’ defense again looked woefully undermanned. 

But that third quarter swung the game for a bit. The Bulls won the period 38-19 behind the aforementioned contributions from LaVine and White, and also four Oklahoma City turnovers. The hosts held the Thunder to 36.8% shooting from the field (1-for-8 from deep) in the period after they shot 63.4% in the first half.

In these teams’ first meetup of the season, the Bulls coughed up a 26-point lead late on the Thunder’s home floor. Tonight, it was their turn to flip the script — that is, until the end.

Ultimately, not a bad loss

The Thunder eventually ground out a nail-biter of a 124-122 win behind a litany of crucial plays by Chris Paul (19 points, nine assists) down the stretch. With the loss, the Bulls drop to 20-39 on the season and 1-9 in their last ten. But against a really good Thunder team — they’re now 36-22 and have won nine straight on the road — this isn’t one to hang heads about.

LaVine catching fire — and nearly pulling off a Charlotte-esque barrage in the game's final minute — another scorcher of a game from White, and clawing back after such a lackluster first half is enough to take solace in given where we are with this team. Let’s enjoy the ones we can and take the silver linings as they come.

Next up: The Knicks in New York on Saturday.

Ryan Pace says Bears are 'exploring every avenue' to upgrade tight end

Ryan Pace says Bears are 'exploring every avenue' to upgrade tight end

Bears general manager Ryan Pace didn't come across as a guy willing to go down in flames with his decision to sign tight end Trey Burton back in 2018 when he met with the media at the NFL Combine on Tuesday. Instead, he confirmed the Bears will be heavily invested in the tight end market this offseason, both in free agency and the 2020 NFL draft.

"We’re looking at it in free agency and the draft," Pace said of this year's available tight ends. "It’s deep in different areas. That’s an area of focus for us, I don’t think that’s a secret. This offense, a lot of it goes through the tight end, so we’re exploring every avenue."

It's hard to envision a scenario where Pace would be willing to travel down the big-money free-agent path again, but Falcons pass-catcher Austin Hooper could be too tempting to pass up.

Atlanta confirmed on Tuesday Hooper will be allowed to test the open market, and if he ranks high enough on Pace's wish list, we could be setting up to see a $10 million per year offer. It may seem like a waste of resources to tie that much money up in the tight end position (he and Burton would cost the Bears close to $20 million in 2020), but they experienced just how limited Matt Nagy's offense is without a capable playmaker at the position. Hooper would fix that.

The cheaper alternative for Pace to upgrade at tight end would be the draft, where several quality prospects will be on the board when the Bears pick at No. 43 and No. 50 overall. Players like Purdue's Brycen Hopkins, FAU's Harrison Bryant and Notre Dame's Cole Kmet could all be available when the Bears are on the clock, and all three of them would represent a marked uptick in talent for the depth chart.

Pace is being logical and rational when it comes to his evaluation of the tight end group. It's especially impressive considering the top two options currently on the roster -- Burton and Adam Shaheen -- were hand-picked by him and cost Chicago a top-of-the-market free-agent deal and a high draft pick (second round, 2017). 

Pace has a great opportunity to right his wrongs at tight end over the next couple of months.