Hoiberg Defends Decision In Waning Seconds

Ish Smith sliced in for the winning layup as Wendell Carter Jr. sat on the bench.

Cody Westerlund
October 20, 2018 - 11:19 pm
Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg

Kamil Krzaczynski/USA Today Sports

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CHICAGO (670 The Score) – Upon selecting Wendell Carter Jr. with the seventh pick in the NBA Draft this past June, the Bulls were quick to tout his defensive instincts, rim protection and ability to stay in front of smaller foes in pick-and-roll situations.

In the waning seconds of a tie game Saturday, those were the specific characteristics the Bulls needed on the floor. Instead, Carter was marooned to the bench in a perplexing coaching decision.

Pistons reserve guard Ish Smith split the Bulls’ defense for the game-winning layup with 5.4 seconds left, lifting Detroit to a 118-116 win after Chicago had fought back from a seven-point deficit with 1:47 remaining. Smith got to the rim for a virtually uncontested layup off a Horns set that drew Bulls big men Bobby Portis and Jabari Parker nearly out to the 3-point line.

Smith shook free of Zach LaVine by using a Stanley Johnson screen, then slipped past the slow-footed Parker by darting between him and Portis. Carter could only watch, standing emotionless at the end of the bench with a towel on his head.

“We can’t give a layup for the last play,” LaVine said. “We just got to get our defense right. That’s why it’s really upsetting, because we played so well, we came back. But we can’t give up a layup. We at least got to make them take a tough one. That was as easy of a layup as you can get. It’s really upsetting.”

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg had the option to insert Carter for Parker in an offense-defense substitution when the Pistons called a timeout with 24.6 seconds left after LaVine hit a game-tying 3-pointer. He chose not to, and Parker was exploited.

“They were small,” Hoiberg said of not putting Carter in. “So we went with the group that we felt got us back into that game and gave us a chance to win.”

Carter, who beat out Robin Lopez for the starting center job in training camp, played only 1:14 in the fourth quarter. He did deal with foul trouble in the first half.

Later asked directly about whether he considered pulling Parker in the situation given his tendency to be attacked in the pick-and-roll, Hoiberg echoed the same refrain.

“Again, we went with the group that we felt got us back into that game,” Hoiberg said. “And that’s the group we went with.”

The ending overshadowed what was a better effort by the Bulls (0-2) after they were routed by the 76ers in their season opener Thursday. Chicago held Detroit to 40.6 percent shooting and shot 50.6 percent itself.

LaVine was once again smooth and efficient offensively, scoring 33 points on 12-of-21 shooting and going 7-of-9 at the foul line, but it was an empty possession that left him shaking his head later. The Bulls went to him on their final possession, with LaVine being pushed out to half court on the catch with Blake Griffin defending him.

LaVine then sized up Griffin, attacked a few steps and pulled up for a look at a game-winning 3-pointer, only to lose the ball on his way up.

“The ball slipped out of my hand,” LaVine said. “It can’t happen. It’s got to at least be a miss or a make. So it’s really upsetting to lose that way. We played so good to have it end like that. It’s an emotional roller coaster.”

LaVine had no doubt that he was playing for the win instead of the tie.

“I’m going for the win,” LaVine said. “That’s just me. I’m going for the win regardless.”

Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for 670TheScore.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.​​