Even without James Harden, the Houston Rockets blitzed Chicago early and then pulled away in the second half for another blowout loss for the Bulls. It really didn’t help that the Bulls scored a combined 34 points over the course of the second and third quarter combined. Things got really out of hand in the third with the Rockets ballooning the lead to as much as 40 points before a garbage time 4th quarter made the score a little less painful at the end.
There wasn’t a lot to take away from the 118-86 shellacking which took place in the Toyota Center as the game was out of hand by the time the third quarter started. On the Bulls side, there are two slight positives: Lauri Markkanen’s huge first quarter and Sean Kilpatrick’s debut. Let’s start with the rookie.
Lauri Markkanen’s back!
He was the only Bull who had things going in this game, scoring 22 points and outscoring the rest of the starting lineup who combined for a mere 13 points. Most of his damage was done in the first quarter where it seemed like he was taking on the whole Rockets team by himself. Out of the 23 first quarter points Chicago scored, Markkanen had 14 of them. He showed all the offensive skills we have raved about this entire season. Markkanen took what Houston gave him and made them pay.
Lauri Markkanen had himself a big start, dropping 14 points in the 1st - tying a Bulls season high for a first quarter this season: pic.twitter.com/fQb1SB04lb— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) March 28, 2018
(0:00-0:07) Here Markkanen shows his range and another reason why teams shouldn’t even think about leaving him open. The Bulls start off this possession by running a 1-5 pick and roll between Cameron Payne and Felicio. Given how the Rockets rolled out a small-ball lineup, they had Felicio being guarded by PJ Tucker and Nene guarding Markkanen. Felicio sets a screen on Gordon and then rolls to the rim. The Rockets switch immediately as the Brazilian big man rolls to the rim. Sensing that Gordon guarding Felicio is a matchup which won’t end well for Houston, Nene came down to prevent the pass into the lane. While it cut off one option for Payne to pass, it created a better one. Nene coming down to help out Gordon left Markkanen wide open at the three-point line. It was a simple pass over to the big man and with Nene too far away to fully contest, it was an easy three-pointer for Markkanen.
(0:18-0:25) This time Markkanen took advantage of a mismatch in the post and was patient enough to wait for the right shot to come to him. On this possession, Markkanen found himself matched up against Chris Paul off a switch and immediately posted him up. Nwaba did a good job of giving Markkanen a decent entry pass and then cleared to give rookie room to operate. After one dribble, Markkanen is able to clear Paul away from the basket, creating a lane to the basket. With his back still towards the basket, Markkanen spins to his left but is met by Nene who came over for help defense. Markkanen then pump fakes, which Nene totally bites on, and watches the big man fly up. As soon as Nene jumps up, Markkanen goes under him and then rises up to drop the ball into the hoop as Nene is landing down. It was a simple play which took quite a while but it resulted in a basket.
The rest of the game didn’t go well for Markkanen or for the rest of the Bulls. But in the first 12 minutes of the game, he showed just how dangerous on offense he can be.
Debut for Sean Kilpatrick
This game also served as the debut for new Bull Sean Kilpatrick. The recently signed guard who previously played for the Brooklyn Nets, had a decent debut in a Chicago uniform. He scored 12 points off 5 of 9 shooting from the field in his 18 minutes of action. As a shooting guard who can certainly handle the ball, it will be interesting to see what lineups Fred Hoiberg rolls out with Kilpatrick.
At least Kilpatrick is just another body out there and looks the part of someone who at least wants to score the basketball. Obviously there wasn’t much takeaway from his debut given it’s his first game and this was a blowout. Only time will tell just how effective he can be.
Defense is hopeless
On Houston’s side, it was obvious they were clicking on all cylinders despite not having the MVP favorite on the court. Chris Paul had a double-double and Trevor Ariza scored 21 points but the player who really went off tonight was Eric Gordon. He scored a game high 31 points while shooting 8 of 13 from three-point lane. Gordon was able to find a ton of open shots as Chicago’s defense (per usual) looked lost and confused all night.
Here on the very first possession of the game, Gordon shows how dangerous of a shooter he can be. As Paul dribbles up and past half court, Nene quickly sets a screen for Gordon on the right side of the three-point line, waiting for him to curl around it. David Nwaba, who is guarding Gordon, is a bit late to react to Gordon and is not fully with the former Indiana Hoosier as he smartly goes over the screen in an attempt to run his man off the three-point line. Cristiano Felicio, who is guarding Nene, sags back in order to prevent the dump off pass to Nene but is really in no mans land. If he steps up to Gordon, he likely watches the guard go right by him and to the hoop. However if he continues to sag back, and with Nwaba not on Gordon’s hip as he gets the ball, Gordon is going to have an open three. It’s a pick your poison situation and Felicio chooses the safer option of staying back. The result is an easy three by Gordon to get the Rockets off and running.
Gordon also had a buzzer beater to end the first half and was on fire the whole night. Credit to Houston’s coaching staff for taking time to get him open shots all night and the Bulls lack of defense didn’t soften the blow for them.