Mar 11, 2023; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Rockets forward Kenyon Martin Jr. (6) reacts to making the basket and getting the foul called on the Chicago Bulls in the first quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports
The Rockets lost their third straight game on Saturday as they squandered an eight-point lead to start the fourth quarter in a 119-111 loss to the Chicago Bulls. Seven Rockets scored in double-figures, led by Jabari Smith Jr’s 20 points, but Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan combined for 63 points, led by LaVine’s 36.
Offense dries up in the fourth
Through three quarters, the Rockets scored 95 points on 58% shooting on the way to an eight-point lead, but the offense disappeared over the game’s final 12 minutes. The Bulls held the Rockets to 16 points on 5-of-23 shooting with five turnovers. The turnovers were most damaging because they allowed the Bulls to get out in transition. Chicago turned the Rockets’ five turnovers into eight points, and they also scored eight fast break points in the quarter.
“We didn’t have very much poise down the stretch,” Rockets head coach Stephen Silas said. Sometimes poise is gained through experience, but we’ve been talking a lot about poise, and we didn’t show much in the fourth. I was disappointed.”
On the other hand, the Bulls scored 32 points in the quarter while shooting 11-of-21. DeMar DeRozan put up 10 points, while Andre Drummond chipped in eight.
“They’re a veteran team,” Silas said. “DeRozan knows what spot he’s trying to get to. LaVine, he’s like one of our young guys. He started his career off as a young guy like he was 18 or 19 when he first came in the league, and it took him a while to get to the point where he is right now where he is. Over the last five games before tonight, he was averaging 31, so he had 36 tonight.”
The Rockets entered the night as the NBA’s worst 3-point shooting team, but you wouldn’t know it by watching this game. After shooting 32.7% from long distance over the season’s first 66 games, the Rockets converted on 16-of-34 shots from behind the arc on Saturday, which is the most they’ve made since Jan. 11 in Sacramento.
“Most of those 3s were created by a teammate,” Silas said. “It wasn’t like dribble, dribble 3, we got a few of those, but a lot of them were just me drawing my defender and kicking to you and getting those 3s. There was a lot of good stuff out there.”
Tari Eason made all four of his attempts from long range, while Jalen Green knocked down, and K.J. Martin, Jabari Smith Jr., Kevin Porter Jr., and Josh Christopher converted on a pair. Problem for the Rockets is that they shot just 1-of-11 from three in the fourth quarter.
Another strong game for Jabari Smith Jr.
Smith scored a career-high 30 points on Thursday night in Indianapolis and carried that over into this game. The Rockets rookie finished with 20 points on 8-of-15 shooting giving him a fifth straight double-digit scoring game for the first time since late November, which is also the last time he scored 20 points in back-to-back games. During this five-game stretch, Smith is averaging 17.6 points on 54% shooting, 45% from behind the 3-point line, and he says he’s playing with much more confidence.
“Trusting in my teammates, teammates trusting in me. Coaches starting to know my spots, I’m starting to know my spots. It’s like just figuring out my game, and affecting the game on both ends of the floor.”
The Bulls provided Smith with a unique challenge on the defensive end of the floor. They started four guards around Nikola Vucevic, so Smith spent a good portion of time defending DeMar DeRozan. He’s spent a good amount of the season defending big players, so Saturday provided him an opportunity to guard one of the craftier, scoring guards in the league.
“I feel like I did pretty well on him. I feel like I made it tough. He made some tough shots, got to the rim a little bit. I feel like, for the most part, when I was on him, I did pretty good fighting over screens, getting under screens, and just trying to keep my arms out, stay active on him, and just try to make it tough.”
The Rockets will play the second game of their six-game homestand when the Boston Celtics visit Toyota Center on Monday night.