Chris Paul

Coby White's brother defends White's photo with Chris Paul after loss to Thunder

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USA Today

Coby White's brother defends White's photo with Chris Paul after loss to Thunder

After Monday night's 109-106 loss to the Thunder — in which the Bulls squandered a 26-point lead — Coby White and Wendell Carter Jr. were shown on camera taking a picture with Chris Paul.

That drew the ire of many across the Bulls' fanbase. Some deemed it inappropriate for two of the franchise's foundational pieces to smile for a photo after such a defeat.

White's brother, Will, came to the defense of White and Carter via Twitter after seeing said backlash. His comments provided necessary context for the conversation:

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Can the Bulls learn from late-game collapse to Thunder?

Can the Bulls learn from late-game collapse to Thunder?

OKLAHOMA CITY — The team picture for worst loss of the season is getting crowded.

And if that line has been used before, well, the Bulls have collapsed this spectacularly before.

That doesn’t make watching a 26-point, first-half lead or 10-point fourth-quarter lead disappear any easier. It also doesn’t fully explain just how maddening an avoidable 109-106 loss to the Thunder is.

But we’ll try.

The Bulls scored 37 points in the first quarter and 38 in the second half. They had more turnovers with 11 than assists with eight in the second half. They scored a staggering 39 points off 26 Thunder turnovers and lost. They failed to secure four critical rebounds late, surrendered the go-ahead point after fouling on an inbounds pass and found themselves on the wrong side of a whistle that will make Tuesday’s Last Two Minute Report from the league office required reading.

Chris Paul turned back the clock, outscoring the Bulls himself 19-16 in the fourth quarter and making his first five 3-point attempts in the final period. One came in transition, two came over Lauri Markkanen, one over Thad Young and one over Wendell Carter Jr.

“He made a couple 3s over the top of us that those are shots you gotta live with,” coach Jim Boylen said. “He didn’t get to the rim. He didn’t get in the paint. They were at end of possessions. Give him credit for that. He made big shots.”

Despite four of the made shots coming over big men, Boylen, Carter and Kris Dunn all said the defensive scheme wasn’t to switch. One time, Dunn slipped, leading to a scramble situation. Dunn and Zach LaVine both got so hung up on Danilo Gallinari screens that big men had to help.

“We weren’t switching on purpose,” Carter said. “’KD slipped one time. One time he got nailed. Gallinari set a hard screen so it was hard for Kris to come over it. Whenever that happens, I gotta stay there until he gets back. We could’ve guarded it better.”

Boylen said he didn’t consider blitzing Paul.

It was Paul’s first miss that accelerated the anguish. Gallinari rebounded the miss, which led to a Terrance Ferguson missed 3-pointer that Steven Adams rebounded. Carter blocked Adams’ shot, leading to a jump ball on which officials whistled Carter for a foul despite replays showing Adams grabbing Carter first.

“He definitely grabbed me,” Carter said. “I know what I felt and I know what he does on the jump ball. I told the ref to watch it. They said he didn’t grab me.”

Boylen used his coach’s challenge to dispute the call. But officials upheld the call, leaving the Bulls without a timeout with 1 minute, 22 seconds left. Dunn then fouled Paul on the ensuing possession, and Paul sank two free throws for a four-point lead.

“[Official] Tony [Brothers] said that Wendell grabbed him first,” Boylen said. “I’m going to trust my guys in those situations. If a guy tells me, ‘Coach, you gotta challenge that,’ then I’m going to trust him. I believe in my group.”

And Zach LaVine rewarded that trust, pulling the Bulls back into a tie with four straight points. LaVine — who was visibly upset when a made basket didn’t get counted as continuation on a foul and when he felt he drew a foul on a 3-point attempt that was called out of bounds — scored 39 to post consecutive 30-point games for the first time this season.

But again, the Bulls failed to secure a defensive rebound after Paul missed a driving layup with 5.3 seconds left, leading to a timeout. On the ensuing inbounds, Carter fouled Adams.

“That’s where we have to grow. We have to get those big, timely rebounds to close out games,” Boylen said. “We talk about it. We work on it. We do the drill work on it and we’re hoping it can carry over as we go here.”

Adams, a 51.5 percent free-throw shooter, banked in the first and missed the second. Boylen substituted Coby White for Carter because the Bulls were out of timeouts and he wanted speed and shooting on the floor. Instead, LaVine, on the block instead of Carter, couldn’t secure the rebound and the Bulls were forced to foul Paul, who made both free throws with 1.3 seconds left.

“We needed speed on the floor. We didn’t have a timeout. We had to get the ball down the floor,” Boylen said. “He banks the first one in and now we gotta get something going to the rim because we have no timeouts.”

LaVine’s 51-footer at the buzzer didn’t come close. Boylen used one timeout with 33 seconds left in the third quarter when the Thunder scored to pull within 10.

“There are missed calls throughout the game. And we made mistakes too. I’m not going to get in trouble with the officials. Obviously, I was upset and thought it could’ve gone a different way. But I don’t think we should’ve been in that position to even have me begging for a call,” LaVine said. “We know what our problem is. It’s black and white. Stop giving up fourth-quarter leads. Play better defense and execute our offense better in the fourth. We need to hold onto leads and sustain them. We’re giving up the game in the fourth.”

Indeed, the Bulls have blown late leads to the Hornets, Knicks, Lakers, Warriors, Raptors and now Thunder.

“Disappointing loss but I like the way my guys battled and we’ll learn from it,” Boylen said.

Will they?

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Four observations: Bulls let big lead slip away in loss to Thunder

Four observations: Bulls let big lead slip away in loss to Thunder

It was fleeting, but for a time, the Bulls looked as good as they have all season. Then, they squandered a 26-point lead and fell to the Thunder, in Oklahoma City, 109-106. Here's some observations:

The Bulls played the first half at their pace

We’ve seen bull-rushes out of the gates from this team on occasions this season. But nothing could have prepared anyone — especially the Thunder — for the unmitigated gall the Bulls displayed in the first half, tonight. 

In building a 21-point advantage (37-16) by the end of the first quarter, the Bulls checked just about every box you could hope to fill. Lauri Markkanen was aggressive, logging six points and six field goal attempts by the end of the period. Kris Dunn had three steals on his own (the team had seven, and seven fastbreak points), and as a team, they tallied ten assists. On the defensive end, the Bulls at one point held Oklahoma City without a field goal for nearly five game minutes.

Wire-to-wire, it was a pristine display of team basketball:

The second quarter saw those numbers only balloon further. By the half, the Bulls had a season-high 68 points, 19 assists (over halfway to 35!), 11 steals, 26 points off turnovers and were shooting 58.3% (43.8% from three). It was far and away the best they’ve looked all season, and they were doing it at their pace.

It didn’t last.

Chris Paul was the best player on the floor

Chris Paul had two points in the first half. That didn’t sustain over the full game.

Paul was straight up unconscious down the stretch. In the second half, he tallied 28, scoring 19 of those (shooting 5-for-7 on 3-pointers) in the fourth quarter (the Bulls, as a team, scored 16 in the period). After a missed Danilo Galinari 3-pointer with just under three minutes remaining, Paul poked the ball away from Wendell Carter Jr., initiating a possession that ultimately ended in him stroking an off-the-dribble three to put the Thunder up 104-100. They didn’t look back from there.

 

He was simply the best player on the floor, in this one. When the Thunder were able to slow the game down, Paul thrived as an orchestrator, offensively. Then, on the defensive end, he hounded every Bulls' ballhandler with trademark tenacity and smarts. He finished with a near triple-double — 30 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists and two steals — yet somehow, his impact felt even more pervasive than the numbers alone indicate.

He’s an all-time great player. Unfortunately for the Bulls, he pulled out an all-time great performance, tonight.

Things tightened up

A 6-0 Thunder run in the last minute-and-a-half of the second quarter was ominous in the moment. But despite stretches of tug-of-war, the Bulls kept the Thunder at arms-length for most of the period, leading 88-71 with two-and-half minutes remaining in the period.

Things tightened up from there. The Thunder ended the third on a 9-2 run to cut their deficit to 10 entering the fourth. By the 5:22 mark of the final frame, they’d tied the game 98-98. One minute later, they had their first lead (101-100) since 2-0.

The second half couldn’t have been more night-and-day compared to the first, for the Bulls. They were outscored 60-38 over the game's final two quarters, shooting 38.5% (6-for-17 in the fourth), turning the ball over 10 times (compared to four in the first half) and registering only eight assists. The offense stagnated, the defense slipped just enough and it all ended with about as tough a loss as this team has seen.

One step forward, multiple back

At halftime, you had to feel pretty secure about the Bulls’ season-long standing, all things considered. On the heels of (caveats aside) their best win of the season, things seemed to finally be falling into place.

When it fell apart, it happened in prototypical fashion. Late-game mistakes abounded: The Bulls spent all their timeouts by the 1:22 mark of the fourth. As a team, they committed five turnovers in the final quarter. LaVine was great (39 total points, 15-for-25 shooting), but Lauri Markkanen was again, unimpactful late — after a hook-shot with 10:06 left in the game, he attempted one shot down the stretch and was outworked by Steven Adams for a crucial offensive rebound.

The Thunder ended the game with a 42-31 rebound advantage and had eight second-chance points in the fourth quarter. The game effectively ended when they tracked down a loose offensive board off an Adams missed free-throw with 4.3 seconds left.

At one point, the Bulls led this game by 26 points. It's fitting that this one ended with a final score of 109-106, the same final tally as the Clippers' game.

Ultimately, it’s one step forward, multiple back for the Bulls, once again.