PHILADELPHIA—Bulls (1-2) head coach Tom Thibodeau’s frequent warnings about never underestimating an NBA opponent turned prophetic Saturday night, as his team surrendered a 20-point lead to the undefeated 76ers (3-0) and lost, 107-104, at the Wells Fargo Center.
[RELATED: Bulls getting outworked in the early going]
The Bulls played right into the hands of their up-tempo hosts, resulting in a high-scoring, fast-paced affair that saw a balanced scoring attack and a gaudy shooting percentage from the field. Derrick Rose (13 points on 4-for-14 shooting, six assists, eight turnovers) was an effective distributor and the forward tandem of Duke products Carlos Boozer (22 points, 10 rebounds) and All-Star Luol Deng (20 points, seven rebounds, four assists) carried the scoring load, with assistance from backup big man Taj Gibson (12 points, seven rebounds).
A 17-6 rebounding advantage and 61.5 percent field-goal shooting were other major reasons why the Bulls held a 34-22 lead after a period of play.
Starter Jimmy Butler joined Gibson and fellow reserve Kirk Hinrich (nine points, six assists) in helping the Bulls maintain their double-digit cushion early in the second quarter. Gibson, in particular, was a presence, with his high activity level, rebounding ability and improved offensive game buoying the Bulls, while Hinrich blended playmaking and scoring to keep the visitors comfortably ahead, eventually leading to a 64-49 halftime edge.
[Rose: Blame tonight on me]
After the intermission, Boozer’s interior work and Deng’s all-around game allowed the Bulls, who were dominant in the paint, though Rose’s regular-season shooting struggles persisted.
For Philadelphia, the bright spots were the play of swingman Evan Turner (20 points), a Chicago native and Rose’s high-school rival, and rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams (26 points, 10 assists, three steals), whose intriguing package of size, defense and passing could potentially justify the organization’s draft-day trade of All-Star Jrue Holiday back in June.
“He has great size. He’s got vision. So he can look over the defense and make plays. He’s fearless. He’s not afraid to take and make big shots,” Thibodeau said of the Syracuse product. “The penetration and the way he gets the ball up the floor. It’s a small sample size but he’s showing a lot of poise already. He’s been in a lot of big games so I think that’s helped him. But his size at the point is a big advantage for him.”
The Sizers gradually sliced into the Bulls’ lead and after a three-pointer by center Spencer Hawes, with over five minutes remaining in the third quarter, it became a single-digit affair for the first time since the opening period. A triple by energetic, athletic reserve guard Tony Wroten (11 points) with under a minute left in the frame capped off an 8-2 Philadelphia run it a one-point game and heading into the final stanza, the Bulls led by a sole point, 83-82.
“You have to get back and you have to get set against them. The thing that makes them unique is they have great speed and they have guys who are very quick with their hands. So if they turn you over, they have many guys who can bust out with it,” Thibodeau said. “It’s not only Michael Carter-Williams. Turner can go with it. Wroten reminds me of [Grizzlies veteran guard] Tony Allen. He’s active and tough. Thaddeus Young, same thing. They’re playing with a lot of confidence right now. They have some bigs that spread you out a little bit. [Spencer] Hawes is very skilled. Lavoy Allen is tough.”
The Bulls obtained a bit of breathing room early in the fourth quarter and although Rose continued to be off the mark as a shooter and even experiencer some ball-security issues, offensive support from teammates like veteran newcomer Mike Dunleavy Jr. helped the visitors stay afloat.
But the Sixers kept pushing and with under four minutes on the clock, Carter-Williams knocked down a pair of free throws to make it a one-point game, then following a failed Bulls possession, after missing a shot, the rookie got a steal and layup to give Philadelphia a 100-99 advantage with 3:29 to go, the home team’s first lead since the first quarter.
Down the stretch, the game evolved into a back-and-forth affair, with a Rose corner trey giving the Bulls a 104-102 edge with 2:12 left, but Turner tied the contest on the subsequent possession, then put the Sixers ahead again with 1:28 remaining after splitting a pair of free throws. A Rose turnover—he simply lost the ball when going up to shoot—then a Deng missed jumper gave Philadelphia an opportunity to extend their slim lead and the Sixers capitalized, with Hawes (18 points, 11 rebounds, three blocked shots) hitting a jumper with 5.9 seconds remaining.
[Gibson: We have to learn from this]
Following a pair of timeouts, Deng missed a three-pointer, but the Bulls forced a jump ball, giving them one final, last-gasp chance. Butler won the tap, but the Bulls couldn’t secure possession, let alone get a shot off, keeping them winless on the road.