Bulls

Bulls fight but come up short in series-turning loss to Cavs

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Bulls fight but come up short in series-turning loss to Cavs

At some point the powder keg was going to explode, after four games of “almosts” and “maybes," the Bulls and Cavs were bound for a meeting of the minds and bodies.

And LeBron James was due for an explosion, with the only question for the Bulls being could they absorb the haymaker and fight back.

Well, James took his shots and the Bulls buckled but didn’t fall, standing emboldened yet undermanned in a hostile atmosphere in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

Bodies were thrown, legs were used as weapons of defense and aggression as tempers reached an all-time high for this series.

[MORE BULLS: Bulls' Nikola Mirotic hits half-court buzzer beater]

When the dust settled and the feet were planted firmly back on solid ground, the Bulls found themselves not able to do enough down the stretch in a 106-101 loss, putting them down in the series, 3-2, and 48 minutes away from elimination.

James emerged from his inefficient slumber, putting up 38 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, three blocks, three steals and no turnovers in a tour-de-force 40-minute performance.

It was expected he wouldn’t continue the trend that had him on track for his third-worst shooting playoff series of his career, and he attacked the Bulls, seemingly all night long.

“The guy’s a great player,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “You can defend a great player very well, and he can still make (shots). I thought we were a step late with our help (defense) today. We’ve got to correct it.”

[WATCH BULLS: Derrick Rose: 'I love the way we fought back']

Jimmy Butler, James’ primary defender, rebounded from a foul-plagued first half to score 29, including a triple with 1:18 left to cut the Cavaliers lead to 101-99.

And after resiliently fighting from a 17-point deficit with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Bulls had a chance to take the lead as both of their big guns had chances to apply serious pressure to the buckling Cavaliers.

But Derrick Rose, in the midst of missing 11 straight and 15 of his last 17 shots, saw his fast break layup blocked out of bounds by James with 48.8 seconds left, and Butler’s open triple off an inbounds pass came up short when play resumed.

“I love the way we fought back,” said Rose, who started off hitting five of seven but finished 7-of-24. “I think we had a crack at it, we just didn’t execute right. We had a couple chances to tie and didn’t knock shots down.”

[WATCH BULLS: Thibodeau: We gotta play for 48 minutes]

Even then, they allowed an old bugaboo to emerge on the ensuing possessions, not finishing defensive possessions and giving up turnovers at the most inopportune times.

Iman Shumpert came up with an offensive rebound off a James miss with 19.9 seconds left and the Bulls trailing by two, as the Bulls’ best chance at completing a rousing comeback ended at the most fundamental of mistakes — controlling the glass.

“Big play, big play,” Thibodeau said. “When you look at the same, it comes down to the rebound there, the open shot.”

On the Bulls’ final meaningful possession trailing by four, Joakim Noah tried to thread the needle to Butler with James guarding him, passing it out of Butler’s outstretched arms and out of bounds with 11.9 seconds left.

[WATCH BULLS: Bulls Postgame Live crew reacts to the Bulls' Game 5 loss vs. Cavs]

James and Kyrie Irving, who though supposedly battling injuries to his right foot and left knee looked healthy as ever on the way to scoring 25 points with five assists, helped kick start the Cavaliers to big leads in the first half — and then the Bulls kicked back.

Early in the fourth quarter, Cavaliers reserve Matthew Dellavedova and Taj Gibson got tangled up on the floor, and Gibson took exception to Dellavedova locking Gibson’s foot with his legs. Gibson kicked out, angrily, starting a scrum that brought all participants on the floor to break it up.

The officials ejected Gibson, and his presence was sorely missed on that final defensive possession, but it helped put the Bulls back in gear after a couple disastrous stretches in the second quarter where the bench again came up lame.

Without Pau Gasol, who missed his second straight game with a strained left hamstring, opportunities opened up for Nikola Mirotic, Aaron Brooks and Kirk Hinrich, but none truly had an impact, leading to more droughts.

[SHOP BULLS: Get your Bulls gear right here]

The Bulls shot just 39.5 percent from the field compared to the Cavs shooting 50 percent, yet made eight more free throws and didn’t turn the ball over much (11 times).

Mike Dunleavy took advantage of having a hobbled Irving guard him after Rose exploited Irving at every chance early in the game, with his triple and 3-point play pulling the Bulls to within six with 4:55 left.

“There’s a bunch of weird mismatches going on in this series because LeBron’s playing the four,” Dunleavy said. “When you get a point guard on you, you want to take a little advantage of it.”

The Bulls made Cleveland sweat after it appeared the Cavs would run away with it, but it’s the Bulls now 48 minutes away from another offseason full of “what ifs” and “what could’ve beens” if they don’t turn things around Thursday.

Zach LaVine improving his chances for Eastern Conference All-Star spot

Zach LaVine improving his chances for Eastern Conference All-Star spot

Zach LaVine let it be known the moment the NBA announced the All-Star game was coming to Chicago in 2020 that he would love to represent the Bulls in the Sunday night main event.

LaVine’s chances looked pretty slim when both he and the team got out of the gates slowly this season. LaVine averaged 20.2 points as the Bulls finished October with a 1-4 record, and he shot just 42.6% from the field in a 5-10 November.

But since that time, LaVine has picked up his offensive output, averaging 25.1 points in December and 30 points so far in January. He’s also had two of the best fourth-quarter performances of the season, carrying the Bulls to come-from-behind wins at Charlotte and vs. Cleveland at the United Center last Saturday.

In that road game against the Hornets, LaVine scored a career-high 49 points, making 13 of his 17 attempts from 3-point range, including the game-winner at the buzzer. LaVine finished one shy of the NBA record of 14 3-point makes, set by Klay Thompson against the Bulls last season.

Against the Cavaliers, LaVine scored 21 of his 42 points in the 4th quarter to help the home team erase a 15-point deficit heading into the final 12 minutes. Plus, he outdueled All-Star reserve candidate Bradley Beal earlier this month, outscoring the Wizards’ guard 30-23 in a 115-106 Bulls win.

LaVine faces a lot of competition for the four reserve spots that are potentially available for guards (three frontcourt, two backcourt, and two wild card players will be selected by conference coaches), and it could come down to whether the coaches put more emphasis on win-loss record or individual statistics. 

If Atlanta’s Trae Young and Boston’s Kemba Walker get the starting spots, LaVine will be competing with the likes of Beal, Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, Brooklyn’s Spencer Dinwiddie, Detroit’s Derrick Rose, Boston’s Jaylen Brown and Indiana’s Malcolm Brogdon for anywhere between two and four spots, depending on how the wild card selections fall.

Given the recent history of coaches’ votes, you can expect Simmons and Lowry to get the nod for the two reserve backcourt spots, with LaVine and Beal the top candidates for one or both wild card selections. Plus, there’s always the chance NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will have to replace one of the 12 Eastern Conference All-Stars because of injury, with LaVine the likely top choice to represent the home city.

Zach has told reporters he’s more likely to do the Slam Dunk contest Saturday night if he’s selected for the Eastern Conference squad, so a lot could be riding on the announcement of All-Star reserves on January 30th.

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Bulls Talk Podcast: Who makes it to the All-Star Game?

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Who makes it to the All-Star Game?

The NBA All-Star Game voting is almost up and the biggest question is if Zach Lavine make the cut. Jason Goff is joined by Will Perdue, and Kendall Gill as they give their official East and West All-Stars for this season.

(2:05) - If Zach Lavine makes the ASG, who doesn't go?

(3:54) - Eastern Conference selections

(8:12) - Debate on if Trae Young should go to the ASG

(13:48) - Does the League have influence on who makes the ASG?

(15:38) - Should Lavine use Dunk Contest as leverage for the ASG?

(18:23) - How Chicago will react to having All-Star Weekend

(19:15) - Chance that Derrick Rose will make the ASG

(20:51) - Western Conference selections

(22:26) - Fan voting needs to be gone

Listen to the episode here or in the embedded player below.

Bulls Talk Podcast

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