Bulls have momentum crushed in Cleveland

After back-to-back wins and a defense that was suddenly flexing, the Bulls got back into the same old bad habits that have hampered them most of the season, losing to the Cavs 121-105.

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It was hard for coach Billy Donovan to understand.

He felt messages were heard, urgency was being felt.

Then Wednesday in Cleveland happened.

There wasn’t much fight, no feeling of desperation, but there were turnovers. Oh, those turnovers.

The Bulls had eight in the first quarter, 12 by the half and 20 for the game.

It was simply inexcusable in the 121-105 loss to the Cavaliers.

“The turnovers in the first half really hurt us,’’ Donovan said. “We certainly dug ourselves a huge hole. We didn’t really do anything well enough on either end of the floor. They were the aggressor right from the start. We were back on our heels offensively and defensively.’’

And it wasn’t a slow burn against the Cavs (21-37). If there was any momentum derived from their back-to-back wins, it was wiped out in the first quarter. The Bulls looked completely lethargic in falling behind 34-12.

The Cavaliers employed a pretty simple formula: Guards Darius Garland and Collin Sexton took a physical approach against the Bulls’ backcourt, then stayed in attack mode offensively out of the pick-and-roll, scoring on their own or hitting teammates with easy lobs at the rim.

Sexton had 30 points and seven assists, and Garland had 25 points and four assists. As for the Bulls’ starting backcourt? Coby White scored 14 points, and Garrett Temple had four.

“Their guards were able to get off screens and get downhill and put a lot of pressure on the basket,’’ Donovan said. “And then defensively, they were very disruptive in how they guarded us and how physical they were. I think that’s what led to the number of turnovers that we had. Yeah, it was disappointing.’’

There was more disappointment to come on the night.

With the Raptors, Wizards and Pacers winning Wednesday, the Bulls (24-34) slipped from 10th in the East and the last play-in spot down to No. 12. They are three games behind the No. 9 Pacers, a game behind the Wizards and a half-game behind the Raptors.

None of that sat well with forward Thad Young.

“We’re walking into games sometimes on cruise control,’’ Young said. “We don’t have a team where we can walk out there and, like, ‘Oh, let me see how they’re playing me today.’ We need to walk into games saying, ‘Oh, I’m about to go at this guy.’ Being aggressive and understanding that every possession counts. And every single game from this point on counts.’’

Young has studied the schedule for months, and he knows exactly the opportunity that was lost in Cleveland.

The Bulls now have nine consecutive games against likely Eastern Conference playoff teams, starting Thursday against the Hornets.

“We got to have memory loss with this one,’’ Young said. “It does worry you a little bit when you come out flat and you don’t impose your will on games that you need at this point in the season.’’

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