The fact that the Bulls (42-13) hadn’t lost consecutive games since Feb. 5-7, 2011 – a span of 86 games, falling 9 short of Utah’s record – was impressive and shouldn’t be taken lightly, but the way they’ve dropped the past two to start the month of April is a little bit cause for concern by their standards.
Just one day after a humiliating nationally-televised 92-78 romping at the hands of the Oklahoma, the Bulls suffered a 99-93 loss to the Houston Rockets.
In a game where they led by as much as 15 in the first half, the Bulls were outplayed in the second half by a team fighting for their playoff lives.
Luol Deng led the Bulls with a game-high 24 points. Carlos Boozer contributed 16 points, seven assists and pulled down 13 boards, and Joakim Noah finished with 15 points to go along with 9 rebounds.
Richard Hamilton returned after a 14-game absence and scored six points and turned the ball over five times in just under 20 minutes of action.
Bulls Coach Tom Thibodeau said that’s it’s the worst two-game stretch he has seen from the team.
“I felt like we let go of the rope,” said a frustrated Thibodeau. “Usually, we’re a team that has shown great fight. All year, great resolve. Get down, fight back and never let go of the rope. These last two games, I felt we let go of the rope. We have to get that fight back. We have to get that edge back. Right now, we’re not playing well and we have to work our way out of it.”
The Rockets (29-25) are one of four teams fighting for the last two playoff seeds in the Western Conference.
After leading 51-40 at halftime, the Bulls were outscored 59-42 in the second half while committing 10 of their 19 turnovers – Rockets converted those into 25 points – also in the half.
“We just have to get back to the way we play, just find ways to win,” said Deng. “We’re not doing that right now.
“It’s a lot of things throughout the game that we have to look at,” he continued. “The first thing is always defense, but it’s a lot of stuff, it’s a lot of things. We have to go back and see what we’re not doing and try to get back to what we do.”
After being down 26-22 after the first quarter, the Bulls were sparked by the “Bench Mob” as they went on a 21-6 run to start the second quarter to grab their biggest lead of the night, a 49-34 lead with 1:43 remaining, before the Rockets closed the half on a 6-1 run.
“I thought we played with a great rhythm in the second quarter,” said Kyle Korver. “The ball was moving and there was a lot of energy. In the second half, we didn’t have that same sense of urgency, I guess. We made some bad decision, missed some shots and tried to make plays. It was a tough half, frustrating.
“They had a couple guys really step up for them. Earl Boykins came in and gave them a big lift and [Chase] Budinger hit some three’s that really got them going. They have a real balanced team and we didn’t do a good enough job in the second half on them.”
The Rockets used a 16-3 run in the third period to tie the score at 62 with 3:03 remaining in the period. They would outscore the Bulls 31-19 in the period and lead 71-70 heading into the fourth.
Houston would begin the fourth on a 15-4 run, powered by three-straight three-pointers by Budinger that would essentially end the game as the Bulls couldn’t sustain any offensive momentum.
“When you turn the ball over and you put them in the open floor and they get easy baskets, they’re going to get confidence,” said Thibodeau. “When you do that, you’re making your job twice as hard and that’s what we did. We beat ourselves.
“The one thing I know about this league is things change quickly,” he continued. “Good to bad, bad to good. We have a Boston team that’s coming in that’s playing great basketball. Right now, at this time of the year, you have teams that are playing with great urgency. Houston played a great game. They played hard, they fought and they’re fighting for a playoff spot. Every night that you come in, you have to be ready to fight. People are playing for things. You relax, let your guard down, you’re going to get knocked on your ass. That’s the way it is.”