The Chicago Bulls were constantly playing catch-up against the Houston Rockets in Monday’s 133-118 defeat after falling behind 12-2 in the first three minutes of the first quarter.
The Rockets (10-23) started strong against the Bulls (14-19), using their youthful exuberance en route to a 36-point first quarter. During the Bulls’ three-game winning streak, opponents scored 29.1 points per game in the first quarter. The Rockets relentlessly attacked the paint and the Bulls didn’t offer much resistance: 22 of the Rockets’ 36 first-quarter points were in the paint.
The Bulls battled back in the second quarter after a Coby White steal that turned into a lob to Zach LaVine kick-started an 8-0 LaVine run to end the first half. The Bulls went into halftime with a 65-64 lead. Yet the momentum didn’t translate into a second half in which they allowed 69 points.
The lone bright spot for the Bulls was Coby White. White showcased his improved handle when he forced a turnover on Jabari Smith Jr., evaded a defender with a behind-the-back dribble and finished the possession with a lob to LaVine. White was a plus-17, the only plus on the team. He also added 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting (4-of-8 from 3), four assists, three rebounds and two steals.
The Bulls lost this game on the defensive end. They allowed the Rockets to get to their spots far too easily, and Houston also hit some tough shots from the 3-point line. The Bulls are 28th in the league in opponent 3-point field goals made (13.7) and 29th in opponent 3-point field goal percentage (38 percent). The Rockets came into Monday’s game shooting the third-worst 3-point percentage (33.2), according to NBA.com, but shot 38.6 percent against the Bulls.
Not even DeMar DeRozan’s 31 points and nine assists could save the Bulls tonight.
Let’s get into the takeaways.
1. The lack of Nikola Vucevic touches
During the Bulls’ three-game winning streak, Vucevic scored 20-plus points in each game with a 66 percent effective field goal percentage — which takes into account that a 3-pointer is worth more than two.
Vucevic managed just 13 shot attempts tonight, with only five coming in the restricted area. The Rockets are a young team still adjusting to the NBA, especially on the defensive end, shown in their 115.1 defensive rating. Guarded primarily by Alperen Sengun, the Bulls could have exposed his youth by attacking him through Vucevic. In one play, Patrick Williams missed an open Vucevic in transition instead of passing to Goran Dragic in the corner for a missed 3-pointer.
2. Struggle to defend the Rockets’ young trio
The Bulls allowed the Houston Rockets trio of Jalen Green, Kevin Porter Jr. and Sengun to score 20-plus points. Green poured in 24 points on an array of difficult stepback jumpers; Porter Jr. erupted for 36 points on 12-of-22 shooting (his third 30-point performance of the season); and Sengun showcased his all-around game with a 25-point, 11-rebound and six-assist performance. Green was even talking to White and Dosunmu after some 3-point makes.
The Rockets’ trio scored the first 10 points to set the tone and never looked back. Whether it was White or Ayo Dosunmu on the perimeter, the Bulls struggled to contain Green or Porter Jr. at the point of attack.
The Bulls allowed 60 points in the paint because they couldn’t guard the perimeter and were put in constant rotation. After allowing the Rockets to gain momentum and confidence following a 36-point performance, it was hard for the Bulls to slow them down without Alex Caruso and Javonte Green.
3. A lackadaisical performance
The Bulls didn’t play with the urgency they showed during their three-game winning streak. Houston scored 30-plus points in all four quarters despite being among the worst offensive teams in the NBA.
In addition to their poor shooting, they also turn the ball over at the lowest rate in the NBA (17.1 percent). The Bulls scored 13 points off 12 Rockets turnovers but failed to frustrate the athletic tandem of Green and Porter Jr, who combined for two turnovers, both coming from Porter Jr.
Amid a disjointed performance from their Big 3, the Bulls still had a 118.0 offensive rating. The offense wasn’t the issue; the defense was. Even without the infectious defensive energy from Alex Caruso and Javonte Green, a team with the Bulls’ talent level can’t allow one of the lesser teams in the NBA to have its way.
- Coby White played a solid game, all things considered. White’s 14 points marked the fourth time he scored in double figures in the last five games. White hit a timely 3-pointer from the left corner to cut the Rockets’ deficit to 10 entering the fourth quarter. He also hit another 3-pointer to pull the Bulls within nine and forcing Houston Rockets coach Stephen Silas to burn a timeout.
- Patrick Williams’ activity level against the Rockets was encouraging. Williams scored 12 points, but grabbed seven rebounds, dished out two assists and blocked two shots. Williams shot six 3-pointers for the second time this season. Williams wasn’t much help to the perimeter defense – nobody was – but he stuffed the stat sheet in his 40 minutes.
- Up next: The Milwaukee Bucks come to town on Wednesday night for a playoff rematch. The Bulls beat Milwaukee 118-113 on Nov. 23 in the season’s first meeting of the two teams.