Fred Hoiberg tossed as Bulls blow 19-point lead in loss to Clippers

Fred Hoiberg tossed as Bulls blow 19-point lead in loss to Clippers

LOS ANGELES — It was a battle of validation at Staples Center, as the Los Angeles Clippers sought to fight against the narrative that time has passed them by while the Bulls were out to prove they were as good as their record suggests and that this pattern is sustainable.

Dwyane Wade’s shooting was somewhat sustainable, as the Bulls jumped out to a 19-point lead but the Clippers roared back on the second night of a back-to-back to pull away late with a 102-95 win that the Bulls and maybe even Fred Hoiberg will kick themselves over.

“This is a great team that’s playing the best basketball in the league. We fought them and gave ourselves a chance,” Hoiberg said.

Jimmy Butler bodied up on Blake Griffin with 20.8 seconds left to force an awkward jumper at the top of the key but Griffin seemed to flail his legs to earn the attention of the officials to force a foul call.

The ensuing free throws made it a four-point game, and after the Bulls failed to convert on the next possession, Hoiberg was so incensed with the call he was ejected for the first time in his career as a coach — although he barely raised his voice.

[RELATED: Bulls shocked at Fred Hoiberg ejection]

It completed a night that began promising but ended terribly as Griffin scored 26 points with 13 rebounds and five assists while Chris Paul scored 19 with eight assists.

The fourth quarter was disastrous, as the Clippers played like a team that’s been together for years and the Bulls played like a jumbled bunch with little direction. The effort was present, but the execution was lacking.

“We had a lot of fight, we didn’t give up,” Butler said. “The Clippers are playing extremely well right now. I liked the way we played. I don’t like the outcome but we can’t win them all.”

They resorted to way too many 3-pointers when things got tight and for some reason, Hoiberg stuck with the struggling Bobby Portis for the entire fourth quarter.

Mareese Speights lit up Portis and the Bulls for 16 points, including 11 in the fourth in what became a game of chicken between coaches Hoiberg and Doc Rivers. Robin Lopez had been having a good night, keeping DeAndre Jordan off the glass while scoring 10 points with six rebounds, but when Rivers turned to Speights, Hoiberg wanted to match Speights’ perimeter mobility.

“With them spacing the floor, having Taj guard Griffin, we felt we needed a guy that could close to Speights and we felt Bobby was that guy,” said Hoiberg, a man seemingly with not a lot of options at that point anyways.

The Bulls shot just four for 18 in the final 12 minutes, as their efficiency essentially dropped in every quarter after the hot start. Shooting two for 11 from three compounded matters, especially with no Jordan in the game to protect the rim.

Had they gone to the basket a little more, one wonders if Rivers would’ve been forced to pull Speights.

“I thought we had some good looks, they were taking the paint away,” Hoiberg said. “But I thought we had some good ones we didn’t knock down.”

Wade hit five triples to score 28 and Butler worked himself into a game at the foul line despite shooting five for 18, and scored 22 points. Rajon Rondo returned from a two-game absence to score nine with 10 rebounds and eight assists in 35 minutes.

“He was in a great rhythm, hit his first couple, especially for a guy who’s not a shooter,” said Hoiberg of Wade. “Dwyane did that tonight, kept himself in a good rhythm.”

Wade wasn’t impressed with the first half lead, especially against a Clippers bunch that knows how to read a game and methodically claw themselves back into it. Wade’s triple at 7:18 left in the second gave the Bulls a 45-26 lead that quickly evaporated before halftime.

“In the NBA, leads are whatever,” Wade said. “I’m not all about the 20-point lead in the first half, especially on the road. A team is going to come back and the game is going to turn in their favor at some point.”

The Bulls’ bench was a problem yet again, as Nikola Mirotic, Bobby Portis, Isaiah Canaan and Jerian Grant couldn’t muster much of anything offensively, and couldn’t help the Bulls hold onto a slim lead.

The one time Portis hit a triple after a wild scrum, he euphorically jumped around in joy.

The next time down, Speights calmly knocked down a triple to negate Portis’ one positive contribution.

It wasn’t like the Clippers’ improved bench had their way with the Bulls, as Jamal Crawford, Austin Rivers and others matched the Bulls’ futility — except for Speights’ 16 points.

And then Crawford, the former Bull who played with Hoiberg on some forgettable Bulls teams in the early part of the millennium, essentially put the game out of reach with a triple to make it 92-87 with 3:14 left.

A reverse layup later helped create a little more distance as the Bulls’ futility prevented them from capitalizing on a hot start, as they dropped the third game in their circus trip — and lost a little composure along the way.

Seven years ago today LeBron James slammed the Bulls' championship window shut


Seven years ago today LeBron James slammed the Bulls' championship window shut

The Bulls couldn't have known it at the time, but when LeBron James blocked a Derrick Rose 3-point attempt in the final seconds of Game 5 in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals, it was the closest those Bulls would ever get to the promised land.

It happened on May 26, 2011, seven long, long, long years ago today.

The game was an ugly one and certainly a fourth quarter the Bulls would love to have back. They took a 12-point lead on a Ronnie Brewer 3-pointer with 3:53 remaining. The Heat closed the game on a 19-4 run, with James' emphatic block on Rose the lasting image of the series.

James finished with a game-high 28 points and 11 rebounds, and added six assists, three steals and two blocks in 46 minutes.

Rose went just 9-for-29, finishing the series shooting 35 percent from the field after being named league MVP over James.

It's probably unfair to say James and James alone shut the Bulls' championship window. Rose's ACL tear the following postseason realistically was the biggest culprit. But these Bulls had won 62 games, had homecourt advantage, had the MVP, the Coach of the Year and all the momentum. And still they couldn't get it done against James.

That win also sent James to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2007. He's been there every year since, though that could change as he faces the Celtics on Sunday in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Steve Kerr told a Michael Jordan Bulls story to give advice to Kevin Durant

Steve Kerr told a Michael Jordan Bulls story to give advice to Kevin Durant

Anyone who lived through the Michael Jordan Bulls remembers those games when he was putting up tons of points, but the Bulls were still struggling overall.

Steve Kerr referenced one of those games to give advice to Kevin Durant during Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals. The TNT broadcast caught the conversation and aired it late in the third quarter.

"When MJ was with the Bulls, we had a playoff game," Kerr began the story. "He kept trying to score and he was scoring, but we weren't getting anything going. Phil Jackson said 'Who's open?' He said, 'John Paxson.'"

Paxson scored 10 of 12 points for the Bulls during a fourth quarter run in Game 5 of the 1991 NBA Finals, the series clincher, and famously hit the game-winning shot in Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals to clinch that series. Kerr, who later hit his own championship-winning shot on an assist from Jordan in 1997, was trying to get to get his teammates involved.

"I want to trust your teammates early," Kerr said. "What you're doing is you're getting to the rim and then you're trying to hit him. I want you to trust the first guy and then move. Still attack, still look to score, but trust these guys, OK?"

Watch the video above to see the interaction.

Durant scored 29 points in Game 5 to lead the Warriors, but Houston took a 3-2 series lead with a 98-94 win.