Bulls Come Out Flat in Philadelphia, Fall 115-101 to 76ers

After Double OT in New Orleans, Bulls Players Looked Fatigued Against Embiid, Simmons & Co.

On the whole, the actor and comedian W.C. Fields was said to have offered while on his deathbed about his native home, at least he wasn’t in Philadelphia. The Bulls Wednesday could sympathize as they mostly played dead in a 115-101 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.

The Bulls, generally about as lively a Philadelphia health plate of Cheez-Wiz drenched French fries, oozed through a six of 26 shooting first quarter that left them trailing 25-16. The Bulls feigned competitiveness for a time, getting within four points several times late in the second quarter. Eventually, the 76ers seemed to get tired of waiting for the Bulls to make it a game and ran away for a 55-41 halftime lead and by 25 points midway through the third quarter, the 76ers scoring 30 points in each of the last three quarters.

You’d think the way the Bulls players were cleverly avoiding breaking a sweat they were coming off a double overtime game, or something. Oh, right.

Nothing much did go right as the Bulls starters were outscored by the 76ers’ 90-47 and out rebounded 39-18. David Nwaba started for Jerian Grant in the second half in an attempt to slow rookie Ben Simmons, who finished with 19 points, 17 rebounds and 14 assists. Joel Embiid added 22 points and Dario Saric 21 points and 10 rebounds. The Bulls were led by Bobby Portis with 22 points, though 13 in the fourth quarter. Portis also had 11 rebounds and three steals. Zach LaVine had 21 points, 10 in the fourth quarter when the closest the Bulls came was within 13 points.

It was Philadelphia with the spirit of the 76ers.

Nikola Mirotic had 15 points and Lauri Markkanen 12 as the 76ers were 16 of 32 on threes and shot 52 percent overall. The Bulls fell to 18-30 while the 76ers are 23-21. The Bulls without point guard Kris Dunn because of a concussion were 1-2 on their road trip and play the Lakers in the United Center Friday.

Bobby Portis of the Chicago Bulls dunks the ball against the 76ers

“I just didn’t think we came out with any grit or toughness,” observed Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg. “We didn’t shoot the ball well, especially early in the first quarter. We defended OK, but I didn’t think our toughness was there. It became a ‘my turn to shoot' game. Then if one player took a bad shot, another decided he could take a bad one, too. It’s disappointing.

“I thought Atlanta was as complete a game as we played all year and for the most part against New Orleans, we were terrific,” said Hoiberg. “Obviously, the exception was that last five minutes (of regulation and the blown 17-point lead). There was probably a little hangover from that game, but we can’t let it affect the way we go out and play. For the most part all year we’ve played the right way. I didn’t see that tonight.”

It was a particularly difficult game for Grant, starting for Dunn. Grant played by far a career most of almost 48 minutes in the New Orleans double overtime loss with a career game of 22 points and 13 assists, though vulnerable late to pressure. The 76ers recognized that immediately, so the Bulls opened with Markkanen bringing up the ball and later LaVine. But the 76ers went right at Grant with Simmons, though no one had much success with him as the Bulls didn’t do much better with Justin Holiday. Nwaba was somewhat better, though the offense was in little position after halftime to make much impact. Simmons had 11 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists by halftime.

David Nwaba of the Chicago Bulls brings the ball up versus the 76ers

“We wanted to put the ball in Zach’s hands and try to let him create some offense for us. But they came out and went on a run and put the thing out of hand,” Hoiberg said about the third quarter. "Zach hit some shots at the end and got into a little bit of rhythm, which is obviously great to see. But we need better shots. Jerian played almost 48 minutes last game which is by far the most he has played all season. He was fatigued.”

It seemed contagious as there were only fits and starts of activity with the Bulls settling for a lot of jump shots. They don’t look as effective when they don’t go in. There were a few flashes with Markkanen, slumping from three lately, with another of those followup dunks on a Denzel Valentine miss. LaVine finished a nice lob dunk on a fast break early in the third quarter, which got the Bulls within 17. Saric and Embiid then dropped in threes to effectively end the suspense.

“We have to bring energy,” reiterated LaVine with his best scoring game of his return with three of five three pointers. “We really aren't at that point where we can turn it on at any time. We haven't even gelled that much together as a team yet. Regardless, we have to go out there and play for one another and compete. That's the main thing. We just didn't bring it tonight and we can't have nights like those anymore.

Zach LaVine of the Chicago Bulls shoots the ball, vs the 76ers

“It's a tough combo with Embiid,” LaVine added. “You’ve got to (double) Embiid; (Simmons) cuts to the hoop and he facilitates. They're good.”

The Bulls never were much in it from the start, missing their first seven shot and then eight of their next 12. The 76ers weren’t much better to start, giving the Bulls plenty of chances. But the Bulls kept playing so far off Simmons, he had easy entry to the paint and with followups. Like with Stephen Curry, defenders seem reluctant to challenge him, though for different reasons. With Curry you want to keep pressure on him because of the ease of his perimeter shooting. Simmons can’t shoot, but the Bulls kept backing off — yes, you back off poor shooters — but so much that Simmons would be a few feet from the basket before encountering much resistance. Nwaba was much more aggressive on him starting the second half.

“We thought David did a good job on Simmons tonight and felt that he gave us our best opportunity at slowing him down when playing him one on one,” said Hoiberg. “That had something to do with the decision (to start the second half).” Nwaba had 10 points and made a rare three. But he attempted just four shots in 22 minutes even as the defense plays loose against him.

Ryan Arcidiacono, playing back home where he led Villanova to the 2016 NCAA championship, got a friendly welcome and gave the Bulls a boost in the second quarter with his pace and playmaking as the Bulls got within 35-31 with six minutes left in the half. All the Bulls starters other than LaVine, who is on that minutes limit, played at least 39 minutes against the Pelicans with Holiday also well over 40. Holiday shot two of 11 Wednesday.

The Bulls reserves, who mostly didn’t play in the two overtimes in New Orleans, were fresher Wednesday. Portis, Mirotic and Arcidiacono all were plus during their time on the court. Grant, Markkanen, Holiday and Robin Lopez all were at least minus-22. Of course, they were mostly playing against Simmons and Embiid. And you want to give your best a chance because they’ve delivered for you before. Plus, the game wasn’t quite complete by halftime. The 76ers jumped on the Bulls so quickly to start the second half, there was little time to recover with Dunn out and LaVine still with limited playing time.

“With 22 or 24 minutes, I can't try to go out there and just force things. The main thing was to go out there and compete,” said LaVine. “Try to help.”

Hey, so how about those Eagles.

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