There was high energy in the tunnel outside the locker rooms Monday night.
Music blared, and players laughed as game time neared. Unfortunately for the Bulls, it was the Rockets who were enjoying themselves, and they continued to have fun for four quarters. The Bulls struggled to keep up.
Coach Billy Donovan’s team, which had won three in a row and seemed to have turned a corner, was slapped back down by the Rockets, who cruised to a 133-118 victory at the United Center.
“We have to find ways to sustain, have the stamina to do it night after night after night,” Donovan said. “You have to be able to collectively rely on your defense to give yourself a chance every night. Going back to Minnesota, it was 150. Tonight, it’s 133. It’s hard to overcome those numbers.”
As the Bulls tried to erase a deficit that had ballooned to 18 points at one point, a fan in Section 117 repeated, “Chase them into the locker room!”
Zach LaVine responded by scoring eight points in less than a minute, including a dunk reminiscent of his days before knee management.
He sent the Bulls to the locker room with a three-pointer at the buzzer.
Before the last two minutes of the second quarter, LaVine struggled to get anything going. He went 0-for-5 from the field in the first quarter and was hit with a technical after a no-call on a drive to the rim.
Donovan has often expressed concern with his team’s defense. With three of their best defenders sidelined with injuries, the Bulls have struggled to stop opponents.
They’re allowing 28.9 points in the first quarter. They allowed 36 against the Rockets, who shot 66.7% from the field. The Bulls shot only 40% in the first quarter.
DeMar DeRozan led the Bulls with 31 points, nine assists and five rebounds. LaVine had 22 points and went 9-for-19 from the field.
The Bulls allowed 60 points in the paint and 15 points off turnovers. Kevin Porter Jr. went 14-for-22 from the field and had a game-high 36 points for the Rockets. Alperen Sengun scored 25 points, missing only two shots, and Jalen Green added 24.
The Rockets have the worst field-goal percentage in the league at 44.3% but shot 55.6% against the Bulls.
“They clearly started the game as the aggressors,” Donovan said. “The ball went wherever it wanted to go. For guys like Green and Porter, they get going early, and it’s hard to turn them off. They weren’t under any duress.”
With four minutes left and the Bulls trailing by 15, the 300 level at the United Center tried to get everyone involved in the wave. Their efforts were as futile as the Bulls’ attempts at a comeback, and fans started to head for the exits three minutes before the final horn.
The Bulls are 4-1 against the top three teams in the Eastern Conference but have a bad habit of playing down to their opponents. The lowly Rockets made a mockery of the Bulls on their home court, dropping them to 14-19 on the season.
“They just played freely,” DeRozan said. “Doing whatever they wanted to do. Give credit to them, they hit a lot of tough shots, but, for the most part, we let them get on a run. A team like that, they don’t know any better. Once they see a couple go in, they’re going to shoot anything.”