Bulls edged out by Clippers as LaVine scores season-high 45 points

Zach LaVine drained ten three-pointers in the loss as the Bulls head home from their four-game West Coast road trip, finishing 1-3.
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later

Body

Despite season-high scoring outputs from Zach LaVine (45 points) and Patrick Williams (17 points), Chicago was unable to overcome 22 turnovers as the Clippers hung on for a 130-127 win in Staples Center on Sunday afternoon.

Chicago, you've got a star.

The Bulls lost Sunday, once again in the last seconds to one of the game's elite teams, the Los Angeles Clippers, 130-127. It left the Bulls at 4-7 for the season, yet a rebound or a pass or shot away from reversing that. The lament of losers? Not this time.

Because this journey which truly is just beginning was that close to 4-0 because Zach LaVine was better than Damian Lillard, better than LeBron James and Sunday better than Paul George, and just about that close to Kawhi Leonard that the Clippers superstar barely held off LaVine's 45 points and 10 three pointers. Their third quarter two minutes of can-you-top-this multiple in-your-face three pointers will be one of the highlights of the NBA season. LA fans will remember it like the famous 1978 World Series matchup of hard swinging Reggie Jackson against hard throwing Bob Welsh. Fire against ice.

And finally despite LaVine's six points in a 30-second span during the last 49 seconds, the desperate and healthy all-hands-on-deck Clippers coming off a loss in Golden State escaped the road weary and short handed Bulls. So LaVine was promptly asked post game about the three he missed to tie the game with 7.5 seconds left after 42 more minutes in a week averaging 40 minutes per game.

LaVine often gets treated like a scientist who cured cancer and is asked about why he used too many sanitary gloves.

Zach LaVine had 45 points on 15-of-26 shooting against the Clippers. He also added seven rebounds and seven assists.

There's no one like LaVine on the Chicago sporting landscape, someone who draws out the best of the best opponents, whose skills are remarkable, shooting the ball with ease from long range, driving as if through an obstacle course with daring and elan, one of the great athletes of the game, someone who promises something special every game, making you regret turning away. The White Sox may have that, but not yet. The Cubs did, but not anymore. The Blackhawks no longer with their stars aging and ill. The Bears, well, wait 'til next season.

Still, it seems even in the wake of rare brilliance, the stuff Chicago basketball has only seen from the likes of Michael Jordan, Derrick Rose, at times Jimmy Butler and Reggie Theus, LaVine ends up defending himself. It's the price of losing as Jordan also knew at one time.

This season is reminding me some of 1986-87 and Jordan. Not to say I ever expect LaVine to reach that level. The Bulls were a losing team then, 40-42 in the long run, and the 24-year-old Jordan was a scoring wonder. Missing a lot, too, his shooting percentage on two pointers under 50 percent (you closed your eyes and courtside fans ran for cover when he shot threes). He missed plenty and the Bulls lost plenty.

I remember asking Kobe Bryant one time if he could surpass Jordan. Kobe laughed. "He's like an urban legend," Kobe said. "People think he never missed. You can't compete with that."

And those Bulls had some savvy veterans and young players like this Bulls team, like Charles Oakley, John Paxson, Dave Corzine, Pete Myers and Gene Banks. But no second star. Jordan wouldn't play with another All-Star until 1990. No coincidence he wasn't a champion until 1991.

"I got 10 threes, you know," the 25-year-old LaVine said after the game when he first was asked about the one he missed. "I'm going to come down and try and make a play. I got a clean look. I just didn't get enough legs. Try helping us win, man. That's what I try and do. You (media) guys know this. I hit a lot of clutch shots last year. I think you guys know I've had numerous amounts of those, and I've had a lot where I've missed as well. We've just got to learn how to start putting those into wins. You're not going to go out there and hit every game winning shot, but you don't want it to have to be a game winning situation every time either.''

Zach LaVine

Zach LaVine has scored at least 38 points in three of the last five games.

It became that yet again on this rollicking road revue following LaVine's winner in Portland with 10.8 seconds left, five points in the last 90 seconds that couldn't offset a pair of crazy threes from Tyrese Haliburton and Buddy Hield in Sacramento, 17 second half points to outperform LeBron down the stretch despite missing a game winner with 4.7 seconds left and then the LA Live showdown with Leonard Sunday.

"Just playing basketball," LaVine shrugged about that magic third quarter when he scored 15 points and Leonard 21.

In one stretch, they answered each other's threes twice consecutively just a minute after they'd exchanged previous threes. So, Kawhi, you think that's something, watch this. I'll see your three and raise you two more. You could almost hear them.

"You understand the situation. Obviously, he did, too," LaVine said with a laugh. "Trying to help my team the same way he is and I think he hit a couple of more than me. It was back and forth; I hit one, he hit one. I think a couple of other guys hit one. We were trying to get a stop and they were, too, and you get caught up in the moment sometimes; it just happens. It's fun."

It was still another loss, and you don't want to get in the habit, close or otherwise, as much fun as it really was with 20 ties and lead changes.

"We're all going to have to dig ourselves out of this," said Bulls coach Billy Donovan. "I do think losing can become kind of habitual. This is a young group that has not seen a lot of team success in this league. They're going to be the ones who are going to have to turn it. Obviously, we as coaches are part of it, too, and we have to help. We all have to help each other. I do think this is a group with great character. It's a really good working group. I believe they want to get better and want to improve. But they've got to get to a point where they understand very clearly the things that go into winning at the highest level and the things you have to do to win."

Rookie Patrick Williams scored a career-high 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting against the Clippers.

The Bulls did a lot of good winning things against the Clippers, shooting 61 percent overall and 55 percent on threes. They out rebounded the Clippers and had a flashy 30 assists led by Coby White's career high 13. Rookie Patrick Williams defending the parade of stars from Giannis to LeBron to Kawhi, the Bulls go-to stopper at 19, had a career best 17 points. The Bulls had six players score in double figures with the invaluable Garrett Temple scoring 18 points starting for injured Otto Porter Jr. with back problems. LaVine also had seven rebounds and seven assists, second most to White.

But the Clippers were particularly providential. They had 22 second chance points from a dozen offensive rebounds and helped force 23 turnovers which they turned into 31 points.

"Obviously, the turnovers are a major, major factor and a major problem," said Donovan. "We're going to have to become a consistent team that takes care of the basketball, that defends without fouling and rebounds. If we can't do those three things on a regular nightly basis it's really, really hard to win. We're going to have to do a better job of that."

If I can interject if not quite make it an excuse, the Bulls are playing fast—four players, Lauri Markkanen, Chandler Hutchison, Ryan Arcidiacono and Tomas Satoransky are Covid victims along with Porter injured are out—and LaVine and White are playing extended minutes into the 40s. Neither, by the way, being a traditional playmaker, nor is anyone else.

Yet this Bulls team has been impressive on this road trip even in defeat. More talented teams with multiple all-NBA players have been driven to the brink trying to hold off a Bulls team assigning a 19-year-old to their best player and mixing and matching various veterans and kids. It suggests much better results to come.

The Bulls showed that again to start with a double digit first quarter lead and 31-22 after one quarter. Recent victims of huge collapses in L.A., these Bulls were not those Bulls. One could also see the adjustments from earlier in even this season when pressure burst the Bulls in those season opening defeats. The Clippers tried that, though the Bulls responded with better movement and on defense laying off the poor shooters with more discipline. Donovan rushed LaVine back into the game early in the second quarter when the Clippers cut a 13-point Bulls lead to six. The Bulls recovered to lead 59-52 at halftime. Then came the memorable third quarter that was the best of Nadal and Federer, Ali and Frazier, Wilt and Russell. It was tied at 94 after three quarters.

But this also is what happens when your team is hoping for the play-in game and the opponent is hoping for the Finals.

The Clippers figured the Bulls finally were done with a Lou Williams three for a 109-103 lead with about nine minutes left. But Thad Young lobbed in one of those things of his and before long LaVine was dashing past everyone for a finger roll layup, then fouled for a pair of free throws and Temple with a baseline jumper for a three point play and 119-118 Bulls lead with three minutes left.

"I think we are playing well," said Donovan. "We're doing a lot of really good things. I've seen an enormous amount of growth in these guys. But to take the next step, we have to learn how to win. And before you learn how to win, you have to learn what forces you to lose games. For us, it's been a lot of things I believe we have control over."

Little things, but things.

Coby White

Coby White dished out a career-high 13 assists despite struggling to score, shooting just 4-of-11 for nine points.

One of those Morris guys rebounded a Leonard miss in the middle of many Bulls and got it to Nicholas Batum for a three. Then Williams stole White's lunch at midcourt for a breakaway layup and 124-119 Clippers lead with 90 seconds left. Now that's it, right? Not yet. Donovan won a challenge on an out of bounds call, but the Clippers got a curious one on a foul that led to a jump ball that Leonard won from Williams. Leonard then scored for a 126-119 Clippers led with 54 seconds left. Now, it's sure over. Hold on.

Then came LaVine, turning Batum into a statue for a three-point play and then added yet another three with 21 seconds left after yet another Leonard miss. LaVine became the sixth NBA player ever with multiple double figure three point shot games and only Bull ever. And, yes, Leonard missed the clutch shot and had fewer rebounds and assists than LaVine. No one asked him about it. Because George made four clutch free throws while LaVine had to rush into a rescue three.

LaVine, following his 39 points in the getaway win over Dallas last week, on this trip averaged 33.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 6.3 assists. He shot 53 percent and 45 percent on threes. He's now fourth in the league in scoring and shooting a career best overall, 60 percent on twos, in addition to assists and rebounds highs.

"We're competing with them; we're beating them at times," said LaVine. "It's a back and forth battle. We don't have the same room for error, so some of our mistakes compound more than theirs. It's just having to take it down the stretch right now. We're going to be in a lot of close games. We've just got to make more timely plays. We expect to win every game. That's the approach we have to have. We've been showing. We just need a couple of more stops, a couple more makes, less turnovers, and I think we'll start pulling some of these out."

Wait, just wait. And watch.

Got a question for Sam?

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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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