Bulls lose to Hornets, 102-96

The Bulls Saturday played basketball tug of war, and in the end let go of the rope as they lost to the Charlotte Hornets 102-96.

The Bulls got 25 points and eight rebounds from Jimmy Butler and 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists from Derrick Rose. But it wasn’t enough against the scrappy Hornets, who defeated the Bulls for the second time in three games this season. Charlotte was led by Nicholas Batum with 23 points. Pau Gasol added 13 points and 11 rebounds.

It was a tight game throughout with eight lead changes and 13 ties. But the Hornets scored seven straight points in the last two minutes after the Bulls tied the game at 94 on a Doug McDermott three with 2:09 left. McDermott had a three spin out with the game tied with 1:15 left, and the Hornets converted free throws to pull away.

The Bulls fell to 11-6 and host Phoenix Monday. Charlotte is 11-8.

The Bulls got back Nikola Mirotic after his apparent concussion sustained Wednesday against Denver and Kirk Hinrich after missing two games with a hip pointer. In that stretch, the Bulls eased into first place in the Eastern Conference, percentage points ahead of the Cavaliers. But it didn’t seem to motivate the Bulls with a sluggish start that put them in a 12-3 hole to start with only Rose’s three. But after trailing 21-12, the Bulls got a boost of pizzazz from the reserves to pull within 26-22 after one quarter as Hinrich’s activity and even a nice crossover move got the offense expedited.

The Bulls with McDermott’s movement scored 12 of the first 18 points of the second quarter to take a lead, gave it back, spurted ahead 41-38 and then fell back 52-50 at halftime. The Bulls were having difficulty finishing and missed about a half dozen point blank layups in the half as Rose had 10 points, shooting four of eight, and Butler added nine. Though in the first half it was the bench’s vigorous play that kept the Hornets from a bigger lead. The teams continued to hand the lead back and forth after halftime. Rose connected with a third three pointer, and then when Butler added one after a pair of Rose driving scores the Bulls were back on top 69-64.

The Bulls continued to switch on defense and it cost them some mismatches as a Kemba Walker three got them within two. Heading into the fourth quarter, the Bulls were holding onto a 75-72 lead. Rose and Butler combined for 37 points through three quarters. No one else was in double figures. The Hornets went ahead 91-88 on the shooting of Batum, whose missed free threw kept him from a second four-point play, and then yet another three to give Charlotte a three-point lead with three minutes remaining.