Bulls doomed after third quarter in which they score only seven points
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There was that first quarter Friday against the Pacers, a 12-minute showcase of everything coach Fred Hoiberg has been begging his young, undermanned team to give him defensively executed to perfection.
There was the entire first half Saturday against the Rockets, one of the projected elite teams in the Western Conference.
The Bulls had a two-point lead at the half, beating the high-octane Houston offense at its own game — fast-break points.
Hoiberg could use those two examples from the last two games to give his 2-8 team a lift.
Alas, the Bulls scored only seven points in the third quarter, and the Rockets (3-5) did what they were supposed to do, handing the home team its fourth consecutive loss 96-88.
It’s not the first time the Bulls have had issues in the third quarter, but this was a masterpiece of dumpster-fire art.
The Bulls shot 2-for-17 (11.8 percent) from the field, including 0-for-8 from three-point range. They turned the ball over six times and were outrebounded 14-6.
Even worse, they let James Harden wake up from his first-half slumber. The 2017-18 MVP scored 11 of his 25 points while the Bulls wilted.
“It’s tough,’’ rookie forward Chandler Hutchison said. “It seems like we get off to those good starts where our offense is clicking, defensively we’re doing pretty well. And then we just slip up, whether it’s a stretch in a quarter or the whole quarter, and when you’re [undermanned], you can’t do that. Our margin for error is already so small. So it’s tough, but there are positives to take from it and build on.’’
That’s hard to imagine after the sheer wretchedness of that third quarter, but at this point, it’s all the Bulls have.
“We had three good quarters,’’ Hoiberg said. “We had one bad quarter. Unfortunately, it was a really bad quarter. We were settling for shots. And then the fourth quarter, we got back in it by attacking the rim and getting to the free-throw line.’’
But that recovery amounted to nothing more than a tease. The solid fourth-quarter effort in which they outscored Houston 25-21 proved too little, too late.
Moral victories? Maybe, but the NBA is a pass/fail business, and until the young Bulls learn how to close games and play four quarters, this is their reality on most nights.
“The best thing is experience, and that’s what we’re going through right now,’’ guard Zach LaVine said. “You can see the improvement every game. We just gotta do a little bit extra and do a little more.
“We are supposed to be competing; that’s our job. We’ve come out and played so well in stretches, it’s almost like you are deserving of a win, but we give it away or they get back into the game or something like that. We just have to play four quarters.’’
That’s easier said than done with this roster. It seems almost impossible to overcome the absences of Lauri Markkanen (right elbow), Denzel Valentine (left ankle), Bobby Portis (right knee) and Kris Dunn (left knee).
“You’ve got to keep learning, keep growing,’’ Hoiberg said. “We had three quarters where we won, but unfortunately we lost the [other] one big, and you can’t have those types of lapses, especially with how depleted we are in our lineup.’’