Draymond Green

Bulls fade down the stretch of winnable game against Warriors

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USA Today

Bulls fade down the stretch of winnable game against Warriors

The Warriors still have a dynasty when they play the Bulls. Forty percent of their victories are against coach Steve Kerr’s former employer.

And with a chance to win three games for the first time since February of last season, the Bulls came up small in the big moments yet again.

They failed to score a field goal the final 3 minutes, 35 seconds of a head-scratching 100-98 loss to the Warriors, managing just 15 points while getting outscored by eight in the final period.

On a night Zach LaVine did plenty right, the uber-confident guard made an unconventional decision at the end. With the Bulls down two, he waved off a Wendell Carter Jr. screen and went for the win, missing a 3-pointer that he rose to take with 3.3 seconds left.

Both LaVine and coach Jim Boylen offered plausible explanations for the isolation, saying they didn’t want perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate Draymond Green switching on to LaVine in a pick-and-roll. However, Boylen did concede “the timing of it maybe could be better” since most teams try to give themselves a chance at a tip-in or putback off a miss in those situations.

A defiantly confident LaVine didn’t even concede that. The Warriors’ first contact with the eventually secured defensive rebound came with 0.6 left on the clock.

“I just wish I made it,” LaVine said when asked if he would’ve liked to take the shot earlier. “I think I got a good look at it. I’ll take it again. I think I’ll make it too.”

Boylen defended LaVine through several questions about the shot.

“I like the fact that the ball is in Zach’s hands. I believe in Zach at the end of the game. He can make that shot. He has made it before,” Boylen said. “The timing of it maybe could be better. It’s a rhythm thing. It’s how you feel. He has done a good job of that. I believe in him in that situation. And [Friday night] it just didn’t go down.”

The missed shot obscured LaVine’s positives. While he did have five turnovers, he had early assists without trying to force offense, not scoring until 1:27 left in the first half.

Then came one of those patented LaVine scoring outbursts. He scored 21 of his 22 points in 7:39 and finished with six assists and six rebounds.

“Obviously, I didn’t want to give them another possession. I was either going to take it to the hoop and try to get fouled or go for the game,” LaVine said of the final sequence. “It was supposed to be me and Lauri in the pick-and-roll but Draymond was being that guy to switch and I didn’t want to deal with him in the pick-and-roll. I rejected it. I looked at the clock and it was three seconds I think. I had a good look. I thought it was good.”

The final points of the game came on a Green alley-oop to Glenn Robinson III for a dunk with 63 seconds left. The Bulls blitzed D’Angelo Russell, who slipped a pass to Green through the double team.

“That’s what we felt was the best situation for us,” Boylen said. “Get the ball out of DLo’s hands and make someone else make a play.”

Dunn posted his league-high eighth game with three or more steals and had been hounding Russell all game, helping limit him to seven points.

Boylen used a five-man substitution — don’t worry; four of the incoming players were starters — with 8:32 left and the Bulls up four. Coby White and Denzel Valentine had been rolling, which is why Boylen fielded a question about his decision.

“I just wanted to get my starters back in the game and close the game out,” Boylen said.

Boylen drew criticism in the home collapse against the Lakers for not bringing his starters back. Ultimately, most coaches live and die with their starters. And they’re the ones who coughed up the four-point lead.

Valentine actually even got ejected from the bench 42 seconds later for drawing his second technical foul.

“I had it rolling, but Coach made a sub. I wish I would’ve been available. I watched the fourth and I think I could’ve been useful the rest of the fourth,” Valentine said. “I just have to learn from these types of things and just move on.”

Valentine said it’s the first time he has been ejected from a game in any sport at any level. He drew his first technical foul in a double-technical situation while jawing with Omari Spellman. An animated Valentine scored in double figures for just his second time this season and is clearly relishing reappearing in the rotation.

“Two hard teams playing basketball, and it got a little carried away,” Valentine said. “My passion has been taken to the next level because I was out for a year. I literally live for basketball. This is what I love to do.”

Boylen adamantly pointed to progress with ball movement, and cited work ethic in practice and care factor for why he believes longer stretches of consistency will follow.

The painful fourth quarter offered a counter argument. In those moments, the Bulls looked like a young team that doesn't know how to close out games.

“I think we beat ourselves,” LaVine said.

He wouldn’t get much argument there.

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Finding motivation key for Warriors in three-peat bid

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USA TODAY

Finding motivation key for Warriors in three-peat bid

At first glance, everything looks rosy for the two-time defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors in their bid to become one of the league’s all-time great dynasties. All the key players are back from their title teams, and Steph Curry is off to one of the best starts of his pro career.

Curry set another NBA record on Sunday by making seven three pointers in the Warriors’ win at Brooklyn. That made it seven straight games with at least five made three pointers, breaking the old record set by George McCloud during the 1995-96 season.

Meanwhile, Kevin Durant seems to be enjoying all the media attention over his upcoming free agency. Durant poured in 41 points at Madison Square Garden last Friday after patiently answering questions from New York area reporters at the morning shootaround about his possible interest in joining the Knicks.

Draymond Green continues to be a defensive stopper and stat stuffer, dishing out a season-high 13 assists in the win at Brooklyn. But after that, there are a few concerns for Steve Kerr and his coaching staff.

All-Star guard Klay Thompson is off to a slow start while also dealing with questions about his upcoming free agency. Thompson is just 5-36 from the three-point line this season and hasn’t had a 20 point game yet during the Warriors’ 6-1 start. Thompson will come out of his early slump very soon, hopefully not on Monday against the Bulls.

No one’s really sure when free agent addition DeMarcus Cousins will make his debut after Achilles’ tendon surgery last season, and Cousins had to apologize to Kerr after getting thrown out of the game in New York last Friday for arguing with a referee while wearing street clothes.

It will be fascinating to see what kind of fit the temperamental Cousins will turn out to be with such a professional group like the Warriors. Is there a chance “Boogie” could disrupt the air-tight chemistry Kerr has built in the Bay Area?

A bigger short term concern for Kerr will be getting better production from his bench. Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston have missed games because of injuries, and both are past their primes. Free agent big man Jonas Jerebko looks like a nice addition, but Golden State could use another athletic wing player in the mold of the departed Patrick McCaw and Ian Clark. Actually, more consistent scoring from any bench player would be welcome.

Jordan Bell, Damian Jones and Kevon Looney will provide rebounding and hustle plays, but only Bell figures to remain in the rotation when Cousins is ready to play again.

Granted, every one of the other 29 teams would love to deal with the minor concerns that Kerr and the Warriors are facing right now. But ask any player who has been a part of three straight NBA championship teams, and he’ll tell you the biggest challenge is finding the motivation to keep striving for excellence during the regular season portion of trying for title No. 3.

Kerr is uniquely qualified to lead this group and you can bet he’ll draw on his experience from playing on that second Bulls’ three-peat team to have the Warriors running at peak efficiency when the playoffs begin next April. Even fighting boredom during the regular season, Golden State shouldn’t have much trouble finishing with the top seed in the West and the NBA’s best overall record.

The Bulls will have one advantage tomorrow night. Golden State could be a little tired playing its third road game in four nights, but the Warriors have such a huge talent advantage that it probably won’t make much difference. With that in mind, here are three ways to try to keep the game close.

1. DEFEND THE THREE-POINT LINE: The Bulls did a much better job in this area during Saturday’s win in Atlanta, and it will be a point of emphasis from the coaching staff throughout the season. Problem is, Golden State has three of the best shooters in NBA history and Curry is in the middle of one of the hottest streaks of his career.

2. ATTACK THE BASKET: Durant has improved tremendously as an interior defender since joining the Warriors, but none of the three players Golden State will use at center have great positional size. Zach LaVine needs to challenge the Warriors’ defense by getting into the paint to draw fouls and set up his teammates for open looks. Who knows, maybe Cam Payne will make seven three-pointers again!

3. POINTS FOR PARKER: Jabari Parker continues to look more comfortable in his role as the facilitator for the Bulls’ reserve group, and he’s also part of the closing fourth quarter unit playing with LaVine. Parker will be guarded at times by Iguodala, and it will be interesting to see if Jabari can get the better of this matchup between two former Illinois high school stars.

Tune in to NBC Sports Chicago Monday night at 6:30 for Bulls Pregame Live from the United Center Atrium. Kendall Gill, Will Perdue and Kelly Crull join me to take you through all the main storylines, and after the game goes final, flip back to NBC Sports Chicago for reaction from both teams on Bulls Postgame Live, followed by Bulls Outsiders. Our pre and post game coverage is also available on the new My Teams by NBC Sports app.

Three Things to Watch: Bulls dance with Warriors

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Three Things to Watch: Bulls dance with Warriors

Is there any better way to break in your new Black Friday television than Bulls-Warriors tonight? We think not. Coverage starts at 9 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live, and the game is also available to stream via the NBC Sports app

Here are three things to keep your eye on: 

1. Not the score. Let's be honest: the Bulls probably won't sneak out a win at the Oracle. In fact, ESPN's matchup predictor only gives Fred Hoiberg's young squad a 2.9 percent chance to come up victorious. UIC has three times better odds against juggernaut Kentucky at Rupp Arena on Sunday, in case you needed some context.  

With the talent gap in mind, though, it will be important for the Bulls to come out with high energy. The Warriors will likely take the contest lightly in the first half, so starting off strong reflects well on the coaching staff and starters. Stay within 10 points by the half, and that's considered a massive triumph. 

2. Lauri Markkanen vs. Warriors defense. Even though Draymond Green and Kevin Durant will sit tonight, the Warriors defense has more than enough to challenge the prized rookie. The Dubs' team defense is among the best in the NBA, thanks to their physicality, attention to detail and speed. 

Markkanen is coming off two duds on the West Coast trip, but his aggressiveness hasn't wavered. It'll be important for him to continue to attack even with the reigning Defensive Player of the Year hounding him. 

3. Steph and Klay doin' work. The Bulls offense hasn't exactly been a thing of beauty through the first 16 games. Their offensive rating is a brutal 94.4, ranked last in the NBA. Golden State, on the other hand, sits at the top with a rating of 113.1. 

Take some time to admire the skills of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson because when it comes to working cohesively on offense, they've set the gold standard.