Late third-quarter run fuels Rockets to win over Bulls

Late third-quarter run fuels Rockets to win over Bulls

December 18, 2013, 11:00 pm
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HOUSTON—The first stop in a two-game road trip resulted in a fourth straight loss for the Bulls (9-15), who have now suffered 12 defeats in their last 15 games after Wednesday night’s 109-89 loss to the Rockets (17-9) at the Toyota Center.

D.J. Augustin (eight points, nine assists), got his first start for his new team and the diminutive point guard responded, using his playmaking ability to get the Bulls off to a decent start on the offensive end of the floor, with power forward Carlos Boozer (17 points, six rebounds), who had been struggling mightily as of late, faring well in the early going. But the high-octane Rockets kept pace behind the All-Star tandem of center Dwight Howard and shooting guard James Harden, who played through an ankle injury.

By utilizing the contributions of role players—but mostly capitalizing on the offensive ineptitude of their opponents—Houston gradually built a slim cushion as the opening period went on and after a quarter of play, the Bulls faced a 24-16 deficit.

The Bulls fought back to start the second quarter, going on an 8-2 run to make it a close-knit affair, with Boozer and fellow Duke product Luol Deng (18 points, five rebounds, four assists) serving as the team’s offensive focal points against the Rockets’ second unit.

But the home team responded and led by the duo of Chicago native Patrick Beverley and Chandler Parsons, the margin of separation again grew, this time to double digits. Although swingman Jimmy Butler (20 points), playing in the NBA city closest to his hometown of Tomball, Tex., got it going late in the period, the well-balanced Rockets, with four double-figure scorers in the first half, put the Bulls in a 57-46 hole at the intermission, after a Beverley three-pointer at the halftime buzzer.

After the break, the Bulls gradually sliced into the deficit behind the trio of Boozer, Deng and Butler, with All-Star center Joakim Noah (six points, 10 rebounds) valiantly doing his best to defend Howard on the interior and Augustin setting the table for his new teammates with his passing.

But with Harden and Howard remaining consistent weapons and reserve forward Omri Casspi giving them a lift off the bench in the third quarter, the Rockets eventually extended their lead to double digits again. After it was a 68-65 game with 5:24 remaining in the period, the Rockets went on a 15-1 run, putting the Bulls on the wrong end of an 83-66 affair heading into the final stanza.

There would be no miraculous fourth-quarter comeback, as Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau opted to rest Deng, the team’s leading scorer, and the margin of separation between the teams remained wide. Although Butler and top reserve Taj Gibson (14 points) were productive late, the contest was never at less than blowout proportions in the period, rendering their efforts meaningless.

Unfortunately, there’s a great possibility things could get better before they get worse for the Bulls, who will head to Oklahoma City overnight for a Thursday-night matchup with the Thunder.