Originally posted on Pro Sports Daily  |  Last updated 11/22/12
HOUSTON -- Rockets interim coach Kelvin Sampson played the role of soothsayer early Wednesday evening, voicing his concern over the Bulls' rebounding prowess and his team's inability to corral defensive boards. And then his greatest fears were repeatedly realized, with Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson seemingly having their way on the glass and presenting the Bulls additional possessions on numerous trips. But when it mattered most, the Bulls couldn't convert three shots in the final minute into the tying basket, and the Rockets rode a key Toney Douglas 3-pointer to a 93-89 win at Toyota Center. The Bulls (5-6) grabbed 16 offensive rebounds yet managed only 17 second-chance points, a direct reflection of the Rockets' determined half-court defense. After 21-of-40 shooting en route to a four-point halftime lead, the Bulls shot just 31.5 percent in the second half. "I just thought our defense was outstanding tonight," Sampson said. "They made some tough shots and they got some second shots, but our half-court defense against their half-court offense was the difference, especially down the stretch." Nate Robinson, Luol Deng (twice) and Gibson grabbed offensive boards on the decisive possession with the Rockets (5-7) clinging to an 86-84 lead. But after Gibson snared that final rebound, Robinson threw an errant pass to Deng as he waited in the left corner for a 3-point attempt. Douglas, whose 3-pointer with 1:11 left erased a one-point deficit, converted two free throws to seal the win. Douglas (11 points off the bench) played down the stretch in place of Jeremy Lin, who scuffled with four points (on 2-for-9 shooting) and three assists against five turnovers. James Harden paced the Rockets with 28 points while Patrick Patterson chipped in 20. Chandler Parsons added 18 points and 13 rebounds. "They're a very tough team to guard," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said of the Rockets. "At times I thought we did pretty good, then we forced them into some turnovers and we couldn't get key stops late. That is something we gave to correct." Robinson had 21 off the bench for the Bulls while Boozer (13 points, 15 rebounds) and Deng (19 points, 10 rebounds) recorded double-doubles. The Rockets zeroed in on Deng defensively, and his 7-for-20 shooting performance reflected the steady harassment he faced in half-court sets. "They were trying to go to (Deng) a bunch whether it was setting a screen-and-roll with Nate Robinson and Chandler switched that onto Nate and Nate had to make a play," Patterson said. "They did that a couple times and tried to get it to the post a couple times, and our defense kept them from doing what they really wanted to do." The Rockets, following a costly lull in the second quarter, needed a spark, and Patterson obliged in the third. He pushed the Rockets ahead with a six-point burst late in the period, turning a 55-53 deficit into a 61-55 lead with a free throw at the 2:36 mark before his late 3-pointer upped that advantage to 66-61 with 43.2 seconds left in the period. But that basket followed a Gibson putback and preceded two more from Boozer, whose tip-in at the buzzer pulled Chicago to within 66-65. When the Rockets failed to find inspiration from reserve forward Greg Smith, who sandwiched three dunks around a four-point play from Harden, the assumption was that their road woes had followed them home. After Smith completed his assault on the rim, the Rockets led 30-23 with 10:27 left in the first half and got their partisan crowd excited. But the Bulls responded with a 16-1 run interrupted only by a Harden technical free throw. Perhaps most disturbing for the Rockets was their sudden lack of purpose and vigor, including their surrendering a 5-on-1 break at one stage with only reserve forward Marcus Morris, who committed the turnover, even bothering to retreat back on defense. By the time center Omer Asik completed a pick-and-roll layup the Rockets trailed 39-33. The Bulls were buoyed by the contributions of Robinson and Gibson, who combined for 13 points (on 6-for-11 shooting), five rebounds and four assists, and the all-around brilliance of Noah (11 points, five rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots). Harden paced the Rockets with 16 first-half points, and his late scoring flurry enabled the Rockets to slice the Bulls' lead to 46-42 at the break. "Our defense is not what it used to be," Noah said. "It's not what it was last year that's for sure. We have to do better. Losing three in a row is unacceptable. We're better than that." NOTES: The Bulls had won consecutive games at Toyota Center. Chicago last won three successive games in Houston between 1977 and 1980. ... After pacing the league in minutes played last season at 39.4, Deng is leading again at 40.1. He logged a game-high 42 minutes on Wednesday. ... The Rockets, who closed their three-game trip through Portland, Los Angeles (Lakers) and Utah winless after allowing 113.3 points per game, extended their franchise record for consecutive victories when holding an opponent under 90 points to 33 games.
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