Mike D’Antoni defends playing Manny Harris in final play of Lakers’ 102-100 loss to Bulls

CHICAGO — Mike D’Antoni wanted to make Manny Harris feel comfortable in his first week in the NBA, cognizant that a man plucked from the Development League could feel a tad bit overwhelmed.

So D’Antoni kept the play book pretty basic. He offered positive reinforcement. And then what some considered a huge leap of faith, D’Antoni played Harris over point guard Kendall Marshall in the final possession that wound up costing the Lakers’ 102-100 overtime loss Monday to the Chicago Bulls at United Center. Harris guarded Taj Gibson from behind, giving him a clear path to dive to the basket and catch an inbounds pass from Mike Dunleavy. Pau Gasol tried to rotate to block the shot, but his reaction was slowed considering he had just guarded the inbounds pass. But D’Antoni said Harris was just following instructions, which entailed defending the inbounds pass so he could rotate to the perimeter wherever needed.

“He played on the backside,” D’Antoni said. “He thought he was going to pop a guy out and he didn’t do that, We didn’t slide over to cover for him.”

D’Antoni then called the 6’5″ Harris a “better defender, longer and a better “defender over other options, such as frontcourt players Jordan Hill, Robert Sacre and Chris Kaman on the bench. Gasol was also asked to guard the inbounds pass instead of the paint.

“I wasn’t surprised at all,” said Harris, who’s on a 10-day contract. “It was a tough play. Taj slipped. It felt like he was wide open. It seemed like he grabbed the ball and went up in slow motion.”

Once Gibson’s shot went through, a visibly agitated Gasol stormed off the court.

“You don’t lose a game on one play. But to lose a game like that on a layup still hurts,” Gasol said. “I couldn’t see and my back was forced on what was going on behind me. I didn’t see what happened. The guy probably slipped. It was a miscommunication. We wanted to slip on a shooter and he was coming off. That’s more likely what happened on that play. It’s a tough way to lose a game we worked hard for.”

But one D’Antoni refused to blame on how the final play went down.

“It wasn’t his fault,” D’Antoni said. “It’s the team’s fault. He’ll learn from it.”

Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at mark.medina@langnews.com