Bulls third quarter meltdown leads to loss against Rockets, 96-88

The Bulls Saturday spent the last day of Daylight Savings Time losing 96-88 to the Houston Rockets. With Standard Time arriving it means it's getting darker earlier, which is something of a metaphor for this early Bulls season. The Bulls fell to 2-8 after being swept on their four-game home stand and now play in New York Monday and New Orleans Wednesday.

"We just haven't played a complete game yet," said Zach LaVine about the Bulls outscoring Houston in three of the four quarters and then losing the third quarter by 14 points. "I think we're still looking for that and once we do it, it will be great. We can't hang our heads. We've got a lot of games left. We've just got to stick together and keep going. We're fighting. I'm not a quitter and I don't expect anybody on this team to be a quitter, either. We have a lot of encouragement and dudes who have confidence. Eventually it is going to turn around, we're going to have a good game and from there we can take off."

But for now the countdown remains on hold with none of the four vital injured players—Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn, Denzel Valentine and Bobby Portis—due back perhaps even before Thanksgiving with four of the next six games on the road.

"We had one bad quarter," noted Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg. "Unfortunately, it was a really bad quarter. Then the fourth quarter we got back in it by attacking the rim and getting to the free throw line, 18 times we got to the line in the fourth quarter by attacking the basket. That second half to hold this team to 42 and under 100 is going to give you a chance. But we've got to be more consistent on the (offensive) end and learn. Just mindless turnovers (19 for 21 Houston points). We're making a run and you throw one off a foot or you throw one to (a defender) when we're going down with numbers (on a fast break). We had just too many of those. But really pleased with how the guys got us back in the game with their defense."

So there were positives again with rookie Chandler Hutchison having his best game and first scoring in double figures with 12 points to augment his usually professional defense. Wendell Carter Jr. had his second double/double with 14 points 13 rebounds and four blocks.

"I really like Chandler, how he's going out there and playing with confidence right now," said Hoiberg. "I think he's doing a really good job of attacking and shooting his shot now. I love our young guys. Wendell  with some of those plays he made with the rebounds and the blocks. That kid is going to be an absolute stud in this league."

LaVine led the Bulls with 21 points, scoring at least 20 in every game. But he was trapped often again and shot four for 16. He's 22 of 61 the last three games, though LaVine was 12 of 13 on free throws Saturday. The Bulls overall were 26 for 27 from the line.

"I'm going to keep going in there," promised LaVine. "I'm not scared or shy or anything. I had a horrible shooting night, so I had to do something to try to keep us in it. I was going to be able to get to the line. I told them I'm not quitting, I'm going to the hoop and if I have to get banged or fouled whatever it is I'm going to be jumping into bodies and still fighting."

Though perhaps as reflective of this game with Jabari Parker committing seven of the 19 turnovers without an assist was a curious play late in the game with the Bulls making one last push. After trailing by 17 points in the third quarter amidst a 15-0 Houston run, the Bulls had gotten within 87-82 with four minutes remaining in the game as LaVine and Carter barged their way to the basket.

Carter then rebounded a James Harden miss and threw an outlet to LaVine with a four on two break. But Parker cut in front of LaVine on the wing while not looking. The ball hit Parker in the back of his foot and he kicked it out of bounds. Harden was then fouled for a three-point play to basically end the Bulls comeback chance. Parker finished with 15 points.

"I don't know," Parker said when asked about the ball hitting off his foot with his back turned to the pass. "I wasn't even paying attention myself."

Though there also were plenty of other blunders besides the foot fault, like when Justin Holiday just moments before Parker's gaffe was leading a fast break out of the backcourt. The Rockets led 87-80 with only Chris Paul in front of Holiday. But Holiday threw the ball directly to Paul for a turnover, one of six mostly unforced ones in the fourth quarter that ended any chance for the comeback.

It was unfortunate because once again the Bulls had a lot of positive moments, including Parker with a tough defensive sequence against Harden for a turnover, Holiday making a trio of three pointers, the fifth straight game he's had at least that many, and the rookies excelling. Though Antonio Blakeney was somewhat overanxious missing all six of his shots while Cameron Payne had a team worst minus-15 on plus/minus rating.  Harden had 25 points for Houston ad Carmelo Anthony 17 off the bench.

"You've got to keep learning, keep growing," said Hoiberg. "We had three quarters where we won and unfortunately lost the fourth one big. You can't have those types of lapses, especially depleted like we are right now in our lineup. We've got to keep going out there and fighting, which our guys are doing. They are battling, we are growing defensively. We just have to be more consistent for 48 minutes."

It's true the players have shown few signs of giving in or giving up, though the consistency varies from quarter to quarter. The Bulls again reverted to more one pass and shot offense until late in the game when they began to drive to the basket more.

"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 a whole quarter," said Hutchison. "When you're short men you can't do that in order to win. Our margin for error is always so small, so it's tough. But there are positives to take from it and build off."

One was the 6-7 Hutchison, who had been a reluctant offensive player the first few weeks. He admitted to rookie "jitters" facing his first NBA experience. But Hutchison Saturday with his graceful athleticism began to extend himself, driving to the basket and attempting jumpers. He was five of eight, hitting double figures for the first time this season. He also had two steals and has been a presence defensively with his enthusiasm.

"With everything that's happened, I've had more opportunity and I'm beginning to feel more comfortable and understand my role and understand the ability I have and using it when the opportunity comes," said Hutchison. "My mindset was (defense), help this team on defensive end where I could make an impact. Doing that has enabled other things to open up. Do my job and run hard, run the floor and use my athleticism."

The Bulls got off to a good start with Harden returning from injury and Houston getting an early blast off. Holiday and LaVine cancelled that with threes and the Bulls led 28-27 after one quarter. The Bulls were easing away 47-42 late in the second quarter for their biggest lead when Harden baited Parker into four consecutive switches and an 8-0 Houston run. Still, the Bulls led 56-54 at halftime and were shooting 55 percent and six of 11 on threes.

The third quarter was a Bulls meltdown, scoreless for almost seven minutes, zero for eight on threes and two of 17 shooting overall for just seven points in the quarter. The Rockets led 75-63 after three and by 17 points three minutes into the fourth quarter. Hoiberg got Carter back in and with LaVine they were challenging the Rockets inside. But even as the Rockets missed all six of their four quarter threes, the untimely turnovers proved fatal to the Bulls' hopes for a victory.

"I think we've been close in all the games except the Charlotte and Golden State games," said LaVine about Saturday's game with 14 lead changes and 10 ties. "It shows the type of team we can be if we get everything going and don't have those little mental errors and mistakes because sometimes we make some dumb plays out there offensively and defensively and we have to clean that up. It's a growing process. We have to hang through it and whoever is going to be with us at the end of it, we're going to be that group of guys."

The Bulls hope you can set your clocks by that.