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Taj Gibson's ejection controversial and costly in Bulls' loss

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Taj Gibson's ejection controversial and costly in Bulls' loss

Depending on who you ask, you’ll get a different story.

The Cleveland Cavaliers feign ignorance, that their scrappy backup point guard would never do anything to provoke the actions of one Taj Gibson in an altercation that resulted in Gibson’s ejection.

Gibson swears Dellavedova locked his foot when the two got tangled after Aaron Brooks scored on a layup, and replays appear to support that. When Gibson tried to untangle his foot from Dellavedova’s leg grip, he said Dellavedova tried to keep it locked, so he applied more force and it appeared Gibson kicked Dellavedova in the backside.

Tempers were already flaring, so players from both teams convened under the basket and officials had to break things up before it escalated. Gibson was ejected with a flagrant-2 foul and Dellavedova, who appeared to initiate the confrontation, didn’t receive a technical foul for his actions.

[MORE BULLS: Bulls fight but come up short in series-turning loss to Cavs]

“Taj kicked Matthew Dellavedova,” Cavaliers forward Tristan Thompson said. “He made a decision to do what he had to do. It’s in the hands of the league and whatnot, but as long as Delly’s all right we’re not going to let guys come around here and hit us or kick us.”

Thompson, J.R. Smith and LeBron James all took Dellavedova’s side of things of course, and Dellavedova, an irritant if there ever was one, acted as if he didn’t know what was going on in the play.

“I was trying to box (Gibson) out, and he just pushed me in the back and then we got tangled up,” Dellavedova said. “I was just trying to get up, and it was a bit of a push and shove.”

It cost the Bulls dearly, even after they made a comeback to make a game of things late, being without one of their best rebounders when the Cavaliers sealed the win with an offensive rebound with 19 seconds remaining.

[MORE BULLS: Kyrie Irving overcomes limitations to kickstart Cavaliers]

“I didn't kick (Dellavedova) at all. He just leg locked me,” Gibson said. “It got chippy at the end of course. They didn't call a foul. ... I tried to pull my leg back. It looked like I kicked him from the way of the force I was pulling my leg out, but I have to deal with the consequences they ejected me. I have to deal with whatever the league has to say, but I didn't kick him at all.”

Gibson was subjected to the Cavaliers fans throwing objects and towels at him on the way out, the second time a Bulls player has had to deal with such treatment upon walking off the floor in Cleveland this series.

"That's what happens when you're in Cleveland,” Gibson said. “(That's the) second time in a row they threw stuff at us. It's classless, but we're here to play basketball. I can't focus on that kind of stuff.”

Very calmly, Gibson spoke about the incident, seemingly upset with himself that he got caught into anything of the sort. Even if both had been ejected, Gibson’s much more valuable to the Bulls than Dellavedova is to the Cavaliers, especially with Pau Gasol out with a hamstring injury.

[SHOP BULLS: Get a Taj Gibson jersey right here]

“I gave him a look like, 'What are you doing? This is basketball. This (isn't) wrestling, but it got chippy,'” Gibson said. “Both teams kind of swarmed the situation and made it bigger than what it was, but nobody threw any punches. I'm just sad that I couldn't finish the game and help my team.”

The scrum likely made the officials overreact as opposed to perhaps issuing double technical fouls, even after review. But the NBA will review all altercations to ensure no player stepped off the bench for either side, which is an automatic one-game suspension, and to see if the call for a flagrant-2 was correct.

“I really didn’t see it,” said Derrick Rose, who was on the bench during the play. “I didn’t see Dellavedova, what he did to make Taj do that. That’s out of his character, so I know he wouldn’t just do that. Heat of the moment, you just gotta stay focused and know that his teammates will be there.”

Gibson could be suspended for Game 6 upon review, but perhaps the ejection will soften the league’s stance on further disciplinary action.

“Hmm, I really don’t know, I don’t think it’s flagrant-2 worthy,” Jimmy Butler said. “But Taj still can’t let that happen. Stay cool and move onto the next play.”

By the way, you can bet some of the old NBA players from decades past looked at the altercation and said "child's play."

How Coby White is putting it all together over most recent hot stretch

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USA Today

How Coby White is putting it all together over most recent hot stretch

The shots are starting to fall for Coby White. In seven February games, the Bulls freshly-turned 20-year-old is averaging 17.7 points, 4.4 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game while shooting 35.7% from 3-point range (eight attempts per). That’s good news for the Bulls. 

And better is that’s not all that’s going right for White. Yes, consecutive career-high 33-point games — something no rookie reserve has ever done — on cumulative 55% field goal shooting (12-for-22 from deep) will grab eyes, especially on the heels of a frigid stretch between the beginning of February and the All-Star break. But after Sunday’s losing-streak-snapping 126-117 win over Washington, Bulls coach Jim Boylen peeled back the layers of White’s growth.

“I think he's been aggressive in transition, I think his finishing has been terrific, he's had the ball up and out, he's got it out of his stomach, something he's working on,” Boylen said. “I think his work pre-practice, post-practice is paying off.”

And of White’s defense: “We make a defensive (film) edit on Coby after every game. And him and I watch it together… (Early in the season) he had, of his 14 plays on the tape, you know, seven of them were good and seven of them were bad. Now it's like 10 are good and four are bad. He's climbing in that way.

“What he's finding out is: If you get into the game defensively and you follow your assignment and all that, good things happen for you at the other end. It just does. And I think he's locked in that way.”

White’s restricted area finishing has steadily improved over the season (59.3% in February) — he’s getting to the rim and finishing through contact better than ever before (White’s seven free throw attempts versus the Wizards ties a season-high). In transition, he’s a blur running off live rebounds and steals, which could prove a boon for a Bulls team that lives in the fastbreak. His decision-making and ability to change speeds in the halfcourt stand out. Defensively, though not yet perfect, he’s staying more and more connected off-ball, rotating sharply and hunting loose ball recoveries.

If the jumpers are falling, gravy. But the game slowing down for White, and his confidence growing as a result, should excite the Bulls and their fans the most. White, for his part, has learned over the course of a curious rookie campaign to control what he can control.

“It feels good,” White said of his recent red-hot shooting. “But I think now I look at the game differently than I did at the beginning of the year. Now, I just look at the games like I'm gonna go in and play hard on both ends of the court, that's all I'm gonna do. And then control what I can control — I can't control whether I miss or make shots, so. I'm just going out there and playing hard.”

That comes from Boylen, who White lauded for pushing him to continue improving, especially defensively.

“Coach Boylen was preaching to me, you gotta play defense you gotta play defense, so I took it as a challenge. And I feel like I'm continuing to get better at it. I still can get better at it,” White said. “But he pushes me, he pushes me to be a good player, so I can't knock him for that and that's the type of coach I want.”

None of the above (nor Boylen’s unconditional trust in White) has culminated in his first career start, despite clamoring from some media and fans. But perhaps that’s OK. Boylen has often preached White’s increasing comfortability leading the Bulls’ second unit — even injury-ravaged — and that comfort is starting to show up on the floor and in the stat sheet. It speaks to the labeless approach the Bulls have taken to White’s development.

“We got a second group that's playing pretty good again, and we're also melding Coby into that first group at times in the game,” Boylen said when asked if starting White could be a possibility. “So, coming off two 33-point games, I don't know if it makes sense to [start him].”

To that point: White is still getting his fair share of minutes — he played 34 tonight and is averaging 30.6 in February — and a healthy amount of time on the floor staggered alongside Zach LaVine and Tomas Satoransky. White has also played valuable minutes down the stretch of games recently and his usage rate is up to 24.1% over his last seven games. Opportunity comes in many forms.

“I feel like I'm in a good position,” White said. “This year for me wasn't about starting, it wasn't about being this being that, it was just about me getting better over the season. That's the main thing in this league, you just keep getting better. You don't want to be a guy that just stays the same the whole time.”

White certainly hasn't. The overarching point is that nights like tonight (and Saturday against Phoenix) further emphasize how crucial his continued progression will be down the 25-game stretch of this ill-fated Bulls season — whatever form it takes. Talk of a playoff push has noticeably tempered around the United and Advocate Centers, but White’s been the center of plenty of conversations.

“You see how explosive he is,” said LaVine, who’s been highly complimentary of White all year. “Trying to figure out some nicknames for him. Either like propane or gasoline or something like that. His scoring is special. He can do it in a variety of ways. He's finding his rhythm. Kid's good. He's real good.”

If we land on a pseudonym by mid-April, it’d be a welcome sign.

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Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Coby White drops 33 in 2nd straight game

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Coby White drops 33 in 2nd straight game

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders Podcast, Matt Peck, David Watson and Allana Tachauer discuss Coby White becoming the first Bulls rookie since Michael Jordan to score 30+ points in back-to-back games; LaVine breaking the Bulls record for threes made in a single season; and Dwyane Wade's role in Derrick Jones Jr.'s controversial dunk contest victory.

0:40 - Allana's back and the Bulls losing streak is over

1:10 - White drops 33 points in second straight game

5:30 - Tomas Satoransky records team-high 13 assists

6:45 - Zach LaVine breaks Bulls single-season three-point record

8:35 - Bradley Beal scores 53 points and doesn't get victory

9:45 - Have injuries kept Bulls from reaching their full potential?

11:10 - Should Daniel Gafford start over Wendell Carter Jr.?

14:00 - Pros and cons of playing White and LaVine together

18:25 - Is LaVine in the Bulls long-term future?

20:50 - Injured Bulls look like boy band

22:45 - Did Wade rig dunk contest for Jones Jr.?

25:50 - Does Coby need to start?

Listen here or in the embedded player below.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.