The Bulls Thursday got career games from Bobby Portis with 38 points and David Nwaba with 21. But when the Bulls couldn’t complete an inbounds pass from Denzel Valentine to LaVine, the Philadelphia 76ers were able to escape with a 116-115 victory.
The Bulls had one last chance, but Portis just missed an attempt at the basket off an inbounds pass. Valentine had a follow at the buzzer that also missed as the Bulls were just short of terrific. One basket, as it turned out.
Zach LaVine had 23 points. Ben Simmons had 32 points and 11 assists for the 76ers and Joel Embiid had 30 and 13 rebounds. With Portis’ career high smashing 38 points, the Bulls had a 58-19 bench advantage. But Lauri Markkanen was just one of eight shooting despite tough defensive rebounding. Kris Dunn was two of 11 shooting.
The Bulls fell to 20-38. The 76ers are 31-25.
The Bulls started with their revamped lineup with Cristiano Felicio and Nwaba starting and Cameron Payne behind Dunn at point guard. Robin Lopez, Justin Holiday and Jerian Grant were out. It looked at the start like it wouldn’t be pleasant to watch as the 76ers hit the Bulls with a barrage of threes, six in the quarter and four in the first three minutes to lead 16-5. The 76ers kept pouring on the offense and went ahead 25-7 less than halfway through the first quarter when..Nwaba came to the rescue. The active new forward put together a crucial stretch of defensive play, drives to the basket and even a three pointer to rally the Bulls within 25-16 on his dunk with 4:59 left.
The Bulls went on to trail just 33-29 after one quarter despite 11 points from Embiid. It was Embiid’s first game in the United Center as a pro and he didn’t disappoint with an array of strong inside moves, a smooth jump shot and hustle, beating Bulls players to loose balls. But the second quarter big man on the floor was Portis as he roamed outside away from Embiid three consecutive three pointers to bring the Bulls within 41-40. LaVine added a three and it became almost a playground type shooting game with the teams running back and forth scoring. The Bulls took their first lead of the game at 63-62 with 1:30 left in the first half an led 69-67 at halftime with LaVine and Noah Vonleh adding threes to close the Bulls first half scoring. Portis, whose career high was 27 set this season entering the game, closed the first half with 21 points, 14 in the second quarter. LaVine added 13 in the half as the Bulls shot 52 percent and were 12 of 21 on threes. The 76ers shot 55.8 percent and were eight of 15 on threes. Embiid had 18 in the first half and Ben Simmons 15 with eight assists. Payne was a team best plus-13 in the first half.
The Bulls starters were sluggish again to start the second half, Felicio particularly overwhelmed. Though Embiid is special. He constantly was diving for the ball and making hustle plays as others watched even with all his injuries. The 76ers moved out ahead 78-75 with 7:47 left in the third quarter. Dunn then made a tough pull up jumper and LaVine added a three after Lauri Markkanen tipped back a miss and the Bulls tied the game at 82 with 4:47 left. The Bulls offense again began to flow with Portis replacing Felicio since Felicio refuses to shoot and as a result doesn’t get defended. The 76ers behind Embiid went out ahead 89-83 before the Bulls closed the third Nwaba three and Portis running the floor for a cutback of a Nwaba driving miss. Portis and Trevor Booker were assessed double technical for talking at one another. Philadelphia led 93-91 entering the fourth quarter. That second group with Portis, Nwaba and Payne was impressive again, Portis energizing the crowd with a three and then running the court after Payne stripped Embiid. Portis finished with a score and foul, running into the stands to urge on the fans as the Bulls went ahead 101-100. After two more Portis scores, the Bulls led 109-106 with 4:42 left in the game. Defenses strengthened as the Bulls did a good job cutting off Embiid. The Bulls got a three from LaVine with 1:02 for a 115-110 lead. Both Portis and LaVine missed in the last minute as the 76ers got the ball back with 11.3 seconds left trailing 115-112. But then after a pair of J.J. Redick free throws, Embiid intercepted the inbounds pass from Valentine and Simmons made two free throws with 5.6 seconds left for a one-point Philadelphia lead.