After six straight games on the road, the Chicago Bulls played their first game at the United Center in over two weeks against the Houston Rockets on Monday. They had just snapped a four-game losing streak in Dallas on Sunday and were looking to keep the momentum going, even with Patrick Williams (hip) and Otto Porter Jr. (back) sitting out.
The Bulls indeed picked up where they left off and got a brilliant offensive effort from the entire team. Zach LaVine led seven Bulls in double digits with an efficient 33 points on 11-of-16 shooting, and Lauri Markkanen’s dagger 3-pointer after the Rockets pulled within three in the final minute gave him 18 points and Chicago 20 triples.
Beautiful ball movement preceded the game-sealing shot:
In addition to all five starters scoring in double figures, Denzel Valentine and Thaddeus Young reached double digits off the bench. Valentine had 13/8/3 and continues to be a plus-minus marvel (plus-14) despite some of the most hilarious shot selection you’ll ever see. Young continued his stellar all-around play with 12/9/3 and a game-best plus-14. The Bulls won the bench battle, 41-28.
The Bulls’ victory spoiled an outstanding Rockets debut from Victor Oladipo, who poured in 32 points on 13-of-23 shooting and looked very much like his All-Star self. Oladipo hit a number of though shots both inside and out while also handing out nine assists, though he also had seven turnovers. Christian Wood added 30 points and nine rebounds.
While the game wound up being a high-scoring affair, it was pretty ugly at the very outset, especially for the Rockets. The road team shot just 33.0% and turned it over a whopping nine times in the opening frame, with the Bulls committing six turnovers of their own. Chicago got separation, though, thanks to a 13-3 run in the final three and a half minutes of the quarter, which was capped off by a Ryan Arcidiacono buzzer-beating triple to make it 28-16:
The Bulls pushed the lead out to 17 points twice in the second quarter, but each time Houston would come right back with a run to trim the lead. The Rockets even got it down to a nine-point game thanks to a triple from Wood with 2:08 to go in the half, but then LaVine made two solid offensive plays to help the Bulls make it a 64-52 game at the end of the first half. He first had a highlight-reel dunk off a fast break:
Then on the next possession LaVine found Garrett Temple open for a corner 3-pointer to make it a 14-point game before Oladipo finished the scoring in the half with a bucket.
It was an all-around balanced scoring effort from the Bulls in the first half. All nine rotation players scored at least five points. LaVine led the way with 13, while Markkanen and Temple had eight each. The bench unit helped create the separation, with Young continuing to make a difference for the reserves by going 3-of-5 from the field for six points and three rebounds. Daniel Gafford only scored five but made his presence felt defensively with two blocks. Along with five from Valentine and six from Arcidiacono, Chicago’s bench outscored Houston’s 22-10 in the first half.
The Rockets made the game competitive again in the first half thanks in large part to their new addition in Oladipo. With John Wall out, Oladipo took full control of the offense and stuffed the stat sheet with 15 points, four assists, and four rebounds in the opening half after struggling to start. Wood shrugged off a truly ugly first quarter to score 13 points in the half.
After a Temple 3-pointer made it a 15-point lead at the outset of the third quarter, the Rockets went on a 16-4 run to cut the Bulls’ lead all the way down to three. However, a 3-pointer by Markkanen on the next possession seemed to calm Chicago’s nerves. Houston kept battling, though, and the Bulls committed yet another foul on a 3-point shooter. Luckily, Eric Gordon missed the free throw to avoid another 4-point play.
The Bulls ended the quarter nicely, however, thanks to a scoring surge from LaVine. He scored Chicago’s last nine points to make it a 93-86 game heading into the fourth. LaVine hit back-to-back triples and then drove into the teeth of the Houston defense for an and-1 to finish the scoring in the quarter.
The Rockets made a push to begin the fourth by hitting three of their first four shots, but again clutch shooting helped the Bulls stay in control of the game. Chicago got 3-pointers from Valentine and Arcidiacono during this stretch to keep Houston at bay. The Bulls then used a truly awful sequence from DeMarcus Cousins (who looks unplayable at this point) to run their lead back out to 12 points midway through the fourth quarter.
While it looked like Chicago may cruise to victory, Stephen Silas then yanked Boogie and reinserted Wood, who immediately made an impact to make it a game again. This set up another late-game test for the Bulls. Letting another lead slip away would be crushing, especially at home.
Young hit two big buckets down the stretch, including a 3-pointer off a pass from LaVine, but a pair of open Coby White missed triples left the door open for Oladipo. The new Rockets star certainly tried his best, and things got especially tense when he hit a trey to make it 114-111 with just under two minutes to go
Then it was time for LaVine and Lauri to be the heroes. LaVine drove in and made a layup, then forced a turnover the next defensive possession by slapping the ball out of bounds off Oladipo. A LaVine missed jumper and two Wood free throws made it 116-113, but then came the Markkanen dagger after the incredible ball movement. Free throws then sealed the deal to give the Bulls two wins in a row.
The Bulls now get a few days off before they next play on Friday against the Charlotte Hornets.