Coming off of a great win on Wednesday in Oklahoma City against the Thunder, the Bulls faced another formidable opponent on Friday in Houston against James Harden and the Rockets. Harden, currently atop the MVP ladder at this point in the season, has proven to be an unstoppable force on the offensive end. The Bulls were without Jimmy Butler in this one, who was sidelined with a heel contusion on his right foot. The Bulls would need huge contributions off the bench coupled with sound team defense to pull a out a win.
The Bulls came out strong early, sticking with the 36-17 Rockets. But, midway through the second quarter the Rockets began to pull away, ending the half up 49-60. The Bulls came out strong after the intermission riding Taj Gibson who was unstoppable down low in the paint. The Bulls as a team benefited from a huge advantage in points in the paint during this game, as they outscored the Rockets 60-46. Taj, who scored 12 of his 20 points in the third period, carried the Bulls to an 81-79 lead going into the fourth quarter. Everything was clicking for the Bulls during most of the fourth quarter, as the team led by as much as 9 at one point. Then, in the nick of time, James Harden awoke and took over the game. Covered by Paul Zipser for most of the quarter, Harden took advantage of the young rookie and singled him out with isolation after isolation. Harden’s offense, coupled with a string of untimely turnovers by the Bulls, pushed the Rockets to within 2 points with less than a minute left in the fourth. Harden proceeded to send the game to overtime with a clutch step back shot, as the two teams were locked at 108-108 after regulation expired. The Rockets controlled most of the overtime and would end up winning this game 121-117.
With Butler sidelined the Bulls received huge contributions from McDermott, Zipser, Mirotić, and most notably Michael Carter-Williams who started this game in place of Butler. Carter-Williams looked good throughout, playing hard-nosed on ball defense and running the offense smoothly on the other end. He led the Bulls in scoring in this game with 23 points and also added 9 rebounds and 6 assists. Carter-Williams was the recent victim of the Bulls point guard musical chairs, as he was recently removed from the starting line-up and replaced by Jerian Grant. It was good to see Carter-Williams play well in this one. He really showed the coaching staff and the fans that he still has a lot to contribute to this team.
This loss was definitely tough considering the Bulls had the win in their grasp for most of the second half. Poor play and turnovers once again plagued the Bulls as they broke down offensively and defensively in this game when it mattered the most. It was hard to ignore Wade’s struggle holding onto the ball in this game. Wade had 4 turnovers in this contest, 2 of which occurred during crucial offensive possessions.
Harden had a huge game for his team as he finished with 42 points, 12 rebounds, 9 assists, and 2 steals. He currently has eight 40+ point games this season, which leads the league. Harden is averaging 41.0 points, 4.0 steals, 8.0 rebounds, and 8.0 assists per game in the month of February.
Now, time to discuss the most recent drama in the Bulls locker room. Richard “Rip” Hamilton, former Bulls shooting guard claimed in an interview on Tuesday that Bulls assistant coach Randy Brown is “spying” on players for the front office. Hamilton, who played for the Bulls for 2 seasons was a widely respected veteran in the league. His claims about the Bulls coaching staff adds another fold into the issues surrounding the Bulls players and the front office. At this point, it seems every day more and more stories come out about issues surrounding the organization. In my opinion, all of the recent events prove that it’s time the Chicago Bulls clean house and rebuild this team from the top up. The outside issues are a huge distraction for this team and need to be corrected. It’s time the Bulls get rid of Gar/Pax and begin a new chapter in the book of this historic franchise.
The Bulls play again on Monday in Sacramento against the Kings. Stay tuned for more Bulls coverage.