Bulls

Bulls incensed by late call, blow lead in regulation in overtime loss to Rockets

Bulls incensed by late call, blow lead in regulation in overtime loss to Rockets

HOUSTON — Michael Carter-Williams found himself in an unlikely position at the most unlikely time against the likely Most Valuable Player front-runner, not giving up any space on a crucial possession.

Being called upon in the absence of Jimmy Butler, the adrenaline was flowing after scoring four straight on one possession to tie the game against the Houston Rockets in overtime.

Jostling for position, James Harden appeared to throw himself on top of Carter-Williams, an awkward looking play that sent the league-leader in free throws attempted to the line and Carter-Williams to the bench permanently with a sixth foul.

It wasn't the deciding play, but certainly a definitive one as the Bulls let a winnable game slip away in overtime, falling 121-117 to the Houston Rockets as Harden scored 42 points with 12 rebounds and nine assists.

Taj Gibson joked the Bulls were going to "call the referee hotline" while Rajon Rondo quipped to Gibson not to say anything that would make his next paycheck lighter with a fine.

"He gets so many calls his way, it's ridiculous sometimes," Gibson said. "It was some rough calls late, but we had some guys who learned a lot tonight."

"That was a big call, a tough call. But we had a chance to win the game. The game goes on. The refs can't overturn it. James blatantly jumped on his back."

"That's a great question," said Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg, diplomatically living up to his nickname of "The Mayor" as he wanted no part of criticizing the refs but the frustration was obvious.

"I'll have to go back and look at it. It looked like they were both fighting for position and Harden ended up on Michael's back. I don't know."

The Bulls were incredulous, both with the call and themselves as they let an eight-point lead in regulation slip away after clawing back from a 17-point deficit in the first half.

In other words, the game and finish was similar to their topsy-turvy, unpredictable, inspiring and maddening season to date.

"I was proud of the way our guys went out and fought with Jimmy out of the lineup," Hoiberg said.

[MORE BULLS: Bulls inquiring about 76ers big man and Chicago native Jahlil Okafor, per sources]

Clearly, having Butler on the floor would've meant things going a lot smoother late when the Bulls needed a closer, and especially in overtime when their offense went through fits and spurts as they scrambled through possessions to get open shots.

It's almost a wonder they were in it through the overtime period because they were left to lean on Wade, who played 36 minutes, to make every play. Wade didn't hesitate when asked about how the team looks without Butler on the floor.

"Everything," Wade said. "Everything is centered around Jimmy. He guards the team's best player. We go to him on the offensive end. A lot changes. But that's not the reason we lost tonight. We gotta find a way to win that."

The foul occurred with 2:02 left in overtime, and the Bulls took a 117-116 lead on a Dwyane Wade jumper the next time down. But with a team playing on a slim margin for error with their best player out, their chance to win flew out the window when Carter-Williams sauntered in frustration to the bench after a surprising performance, scoring 23 points with nine rebounds and six assists in 35 minutes — many of them shadowing Harden to varying degrees of success.

"I felt confident enough to start him against Harden," Hoiberg said. "And I thought he battled and made him work for everything he got. Obviously, he's a heck of a player and made big plays down the stretch and overtime."

Taj Gibson scored 20 with six rebounds, Wade scored 19 as the Bulls shot 48 percent from the field and had 23 assists, taking advantage of the Rockets' defensive mishaps before things got hairy late.

But the Bulls had their opportunities to close the game before Harden used some chicanery to get Carter-Williams fouled out, and before his step-back jumper and fall earned a foul call on Paul Zipser with 36 seconds left in overtime, giving the Rockets a 119-117 lead.

Holding an 84-79 lead to start the fourth quarter, the Bulls' ball movement and opportunistic play turned into a 106-98 lead when Wade hit a step-back triple over a reaching Trevor Ariza with 3:19 left.

On the previous possession, Wade went baseline for a reverse dunk that harkened back to the player who would've went play-for-play with Harden years ago.

But Ariza got his revenge, stripping Wade on the next possession and getting a layup with two minutes left, making it a winnable game for either side.

"We had it, the opportunity," Wade said.

They kept the other Rockets' shooters in check, with Ryan Anderson missing his six 3-pointers and Ariza going two for six. Harden went five for 13 as the Rockets hit 16 of their 43 attempts.

Eric Gordon came off the bench to hit five triples, scoring 21 in 33 minutes, as the Rockets took a 50-33 lead before the Bulls stomed back.

Gibson, Paul Zipser and the Bulls bench helped them get back into the game, trailing by 11 at the half and storming the Rockets in the third, 32-19, looking as if they would take advantage of another team on a back-to-back.

But Harden scored 13 in the fourth and almost ended it in regulation with a step-back jumper after the Bulls squandered a possession with 27 seconds left.

What looked like opportunity only gave the Bulls five more minutes of false hope and a little regret, letting one slip away, putting them back below .500.

"If we continue that focus and continue that as a unit," Wade said. "The last 31 games will be fine."

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: LaVine turns in an All Star performance as the Bulls beat the Clippers

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Bulls Outsiders Podcast: LaVine turns in an All Star performance as the Bulls beat the Clippers

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, See Red Fred joins Big Dave and Matt Peck. The guys talk about some big plays down the stretch by Zach LaVine and Denzel Valentine. Plus a great defensive job by Kris Dunn on Paul George. (1:30) See Red Fred states his case for more playing time for Denzel Valentine. (4:00) Plus what's going to happen when Otto Porter and Chandler Hutchison come back. (8:00) The guys share some concerns about Coby White in the short term. (10:30) See Red Fred tells you about 3 players who have exceeded expectations this year. (13:00) Plus the guys debate whether Zach LaVine should compete in the dunk contest or 3 point competition. (18:00) They discuss the impact that Kris Dunn has had on the defensive end of the floor. (20:30) Plus See Red Fred lays out his blueprint for the Bulls to make the playoffs. (23:30) Plus the guys make a wager regarding the rest of the season. (25:00)
 

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

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Bulls down Clippers, post 1st victory over winning team with strong finish

Bulls down Clippers, post 1st victory over winning team with strong finish

Just over two hours before tipoff, in his first public comments since Media Day, executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson talked about how Jim Boylen’s teaching and coaching hasn’t always translated from the practice floor and film room to games.

Could the Bulls’ first victory this season over a winning team be a step?

And don’t mention that the Clippers played without Kawhi Leonard, Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams in the Bulls’ 109-106 victory, secured on Zach LaVine’s three-point play with 2 seconds to play.

“Well, we didn’t have (Otto Porter Jr.) or Hutch (Chandler Hutchison) or (Daniel) Gafford,” Boylen said. “So we can ‘Yeah, but’ it a little bit too.”

Bravado aside, there’s stuff on which the Bulls can build here.

LaVine posted his sixth 30-point game and ended a week filled with closing misses with a game-winner in which he powered through a Montrezl Harrell foul on a nice misdirection play involving Kris Dunn. Lauri Markkanen tied his season-high with 17 rebounds while posting his third double-double of the season. Denzel Valentine, playing all but two seconds of the fourth, hit a huge tying 3-pointer in the final minute and scored a season-high 16 points. Thad Young tied his season-high with 17 points.

And Dunn was everywhere, relishing the challenge of guarding Paul George down the stretch and winning a crucial battle for a 50-50 ball that led to Valentine’s tying shot.

“That was a huge moment,” Boylen said.

So was Valentine closing a game.

“I just thought we needed some more shooting on the floor,” Boylen said. “We’ve wrestled with defensive lineups, offensive lineups. We try to mingle them a little bit. I just thought we needed someone to make a big shot. And he did.”

Valentine has now scored in double figures off the bench in five of six games.

“I’m very confident in my abilities,” Valentine said. “I was just waiting for the ball to come my way. Zach is our best player. So the ball’s going to be in his hands. But shoot, I’m ready for it. I love those moments. I love to make those shots.”

Dunn, who finished a plus-22, defended George as he missed a good look for a tying 3-pointer. George scored 10 points in just over 7 minutes in the fourth but missed all three attempts following Valentine’s tying shot.

“I love it,” Dunn said of guarding great players. “I know my niche on this team is to guard. And I take pride in that. It feels good to go against a big-time player and be able to get stops towards the end.”

Markkanen actually received credit for the rebound that Dunn kept alive to lead to Valentine’s tying shot, which Dunn said Markkanen teased him about. Dunn finished with nine points, nine rebounds, four assists, three blocks and two steals.

But his two biggest plays didn’t even crash the box score. He won the 50-50 ball to lead to Valentine’s tying shot and then confused the Clippers’ defense by slipping a screen on LaVine’s game-winner.

“I knew Zach was going to get downhill,” Dunn said. “Because once I did it, I saw Paul George look at me.”

LaVine couldn’t believe how much space he had to operate.

“I’ll take it,” he said. “Once I saw the lane open up, I think there were like 5 seconds left. We were trying to get the last shot. But once the lane opened up, I tried to get a one-on-one. He’s a tough dude. I knew I could attack his body.”

LaVine missed game-winning attempts on an isolation 3-pointer against the Warriors and over a double-team against the Raptors. His three-point play offered a dose of redemption for a player who is never afraid to fail.

“You’re not going to be perfect. As much as people are going to show more of the bad than the good, I’ve had a lot of good times in the clutch as well,” LaVine said. “I try to make the right play for us to win. And I did that tonight.”

For one night, matters were more positive. The Bulls closed out a game against a good team and received multiple contributions while doing so.

Heck, Boylen even downplayed Paxson’s vote of confidence.

“We understand what we’re trying to do. We’re in step on what we’re asking our guys to do and play like and work like and care like,” the coach said. “I’m thankful for it. But I wouldn’t expect anything less.”