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Bulls’ defense takes first half off again, pays for it this time

Two nights after overcoming a 19-point deficit in Boston, the Bulls fell into an 18-point hole in Philadelphia with low-energy defense in the first half. This time, however, there would be no life preserver to bail them out.

The Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid goes up for a dunk against the Bulls’ Nikola Vucevic (left) and DeMar DeRozan during the second half of Wednesday’s game.
The Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid goes up for a dunk against the Bulls’ Nikola Vucevic (left) and DeMar DeRozan during the second half of Wednesday’s game.
Matt Slocum/AP

PHILADELPHIA — Coming from the House of Pitino, defensive chaos was instilled in Billy Donovan.

But coaching under Rick Pitino taught Donovan that while Arkansas’ famed “40 Minutes of Hell” wouldn’t work at the NBA level, defensive intensity for 48 minutes was doable.

For an undersized Bulls team, it’s almost required.

As the Bulls continued to find out, however, 24 minutes in the second half definitely wasn’t cutting it.

As they did in Boston two nights earlier, the visiting team dug themselves a huge deficit. Unlike in Boston, Philadelphia didn’t let the Bulls climb out of it.

The result was a 103-98 loss for the Bulls (6-2), but also some serious lessons being taught the hard way.

“I thought we were a step late,’’ Donovan said of his defense in that first half. “Coming off this two-game trip, I think we have to take a deeper dive into first halves, both Boston and this game.

“These guys battle and fight. They don’t give up. I’ve got great respect and admiration, but it’s hard to live like that. You talk about a 19-point comeback against Boston, and it showed great resolve to do that. But boy, that’s a tough way to live if you’re going to sit there and say we’ve got to come back from that type of deficit.’’

So with two days off before hosting Philadelphia on Saturday, it’s back to the lab to figure out how this group can get back to causing chaos on the defensive end all four quarters.

“We’ve got to come out with a sense of urgency,’’ veteran forward DeMar DeRozan said. “We can’t wait until we’re down and rely on our skills to get us back in the game. We showed we can get back in the game, but let’s not keep making it tough on ourselves.’’

It wasn’t a 19-point deficit late in third like it was against the Celtics, but the hole was 18 at one point in the second. Which meant another night of getting the shovels out and trying to fill in that hole.

The Bulls began the final quarter down 12, and within minutes cut it to seven. With 8:07 left it was down to just four, thanks to an Ayo Dosunmu 25-footer.

DeRozan, who again led the Bulls with 37 points, cut it to two, and with 7:15 left in the game, LaVine checked back in to seemingly play hero ball.

The All-Star, however, forgot his cape.

LaVine finished with 27 points, but was 0-for-5 in the fourth and had two turnovers. There’s no doubt that the torn ligaments in the left thumb were still an issue, but he also has to figure it out if he’s going to play through it.

“Put some ice on it and wait for it to heal,’’ LaVine said, when asked what he can do. “It’s going to be like this for a while. Not going to make any excuses for it. It is what it is, and [I’ll] play through it. I’ll figure it out. The biggest thing is to go out there and not think about it.’’

While LaVine was faltering, DeRozan was keeping the Bulls afloat, cutting it to two with 29.9 seconds left.

Seth Curry had an answer, however, hitting a tough 12-footer with 10.7 seconds left, putting the Sixers (6-2) back up four.

DeRozan seemingly drew a foul on Joel Embiid with 5.8 seconds left, but 76ers coach Doc Rivers challenged the call and it was overturned.

Donovan wasn’t surprised, as he was told by his staff as the review was taking place, “it was clearly not a foul.’’

At that point it was clearly not going to be a win, either.