Bulls suffer third-straight narrow loss as LaVine scores 45

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard, right, is fouled by Bulls guard Zach LaVine during the second half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021, in Los Angeles.

    Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard, right, is fouled by Bulls guard Zach LaVine during the second half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021, in Los Angeles. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 1/10/2021 8:15 PM

It was a remarkable four-game road trip for the Bulls, but Sunday's finale against the Los Angeles Clippers featured a familiar ending.

A bad turnover, an untimely 4-point play, a missed shot with the game on the line and the Bulls' strong effort ended with their third-straight loss, a 130-127 decision at Staples Center.

 

The loss spoiled a great effort by Zach LaVine, who piled up 45 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists, while hitting 10 of 16 shots from 3-point range. LaVine drained a 3-pointer to bring the Bulls within a point with 18.4 seconds left, but with a chance to tie the game a few seconds later, he missed the rim.

This was all familiar territory for the Bulls. LaVine missed a jumper with the chance to take the lead against the Lakers on Friday, and the Bulls gave up a 4-point play in the final minute against Sacramento a few days earlier.

Obviously, the Bulls haven't been very competitive during the four-year rebuild, so this is new territory in many ways. Will all these close games pay off sometime soon?

"We're doing a lot of really good things," coach Billy Donovan said. "I've seen an enormous amount of growth in these guys. But like 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."

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Donovan mentioned turnovers, rebounds and fouling as things the Bulls can control. The Bulls piled up 22 turnovers on Sunday. The most costly was a steal and lay in by Lou Williams against Coby White with 1:31 left and the Bulls trailing by 3.

The Bulls led 119-118 after a Garrett Temple 3-point play. On the next trip, the Clippers grabbed an offensive rebound, which led to Nicholas Batum's corner 3-pointer while fouled by Thad Young. The 4-point play put the Clips ahead for good with 2:30 left.

At the same time, LaVine is as locked in offensively as he's ever been, with four 3-point nights in the last five games. Over that span, he's averaged 34.4 points while shooting 54% from the field.

LaVine held his own in a shootout with Clippers all-star Kawhi Leonard. In the third quarter, LaVine scored 15 points and Leonard had 21. Leonard would finish with 33 points.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"It was back and forth," LaVine said. "I hit one, he hit one. I think a couple other guys hit one and it was just we're taking the ball out of the net, jogging down to the other side. It's basketball, it's fun."

There were a few more Bulls milestones. White dished out a career-high 13 assists and rookie Patrick Williams hit a season-high with 17 points. He scored 16 on opening night.

Otto Porter didn't play due to back spasms, which knocked out another scoring threat. But the Bulls did have six players reach double figures.

Williams took on Leonard and had some good moments, along with some rookie moments. Leonard scored just 2 points in the fourth quarter while hitting 1 of 5 shots.

"I learned a lot from Kawhi." Williams said. "I think a lot of guys know this, but that was my favorite player. I watched a lot of film growing up. So I learned everything from him, really, just from the mid-post, how he, even when he wasn't involved in the play, he was telling guys where to be, things like that.

"And he was just always involved, even if he wasn't technically involved in the play. And then just defensively, how to use your hands and your arms to get deflections, get steals like that."

The Bulls will return to the United Center on Tuesday to face Boston, a team facing some COVID-19 issues. Top scorer Jayson Tatum reportedly tested positive and the Celtics' game against Miami on Sunday was canceled.

Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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