CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bulls went more than a year without dropping consecutive regular-season games, a run that ended with a rather disappointing effort.
The Bulls had gone a franchise-record 86 regular-season games without dropping two in a row, second only to Utah's 95-game run in the late 1990s. But after getting mauled by Oklahoma City, they fell again for the second time in as many days, dropping a wild game that saw several major swings in momentum.
When it was over, coach Tom Thibodeau was seething.
"I felt like we let go of the rope," he said.
Never mind that the Bulls still boast the league's best record, with Oklahoma City losing to Memphis. The killer instinct that carried Chicago wasn't there this time.
The Bulls hadn't dropped two straight in the regular season since Feb. 5-7 last season, when they fell at Golden State and Portland, and they sure seemed to be in control of this one until everything unraveled.
The Rockets trailed by as much as 15 in the first half and were down 13 in the third, but two big runs turned this one around. A 14-1 binge tied it at 62 late in the quarter, and they had a 17-2 burst that started in the final minute of the third and gave them an 84-72 lead.
Chase Budinger chipped in with 13 points, hitting three big 3-pointers early in the fourth. Courtney Lee scored 13, and Marcus Camby had 12 points and 11 rebounds to help the Rockets bounce back from an overtime loss to Indiana on Sunday.
Luol Deng led Chicago with 24 points, while Carlos Boozer scored 16 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. Joakim Noah added 15 points, nine rebounds and four blocks, but it was another rough outing for the Bulls.
They probably could have used Derrick Rose, but their All-Star guard missed his 11th straight game because a right groin injury. Then again, the Bulls dismissed that as a convenient excuse.
"They got guys out, too," Deng said.
And the Bulls are 14-7 without Rose, so they've been winning when he's not in the lineup. They also got Hamilton back from a 14-game absence because of a sprained and bruised right shoulder, but he finished with just six points -- all in the early going. Hamilton also had five of Chicago's 19 turnovers.
The turnovers clearly stood out to Thibodeau. He repeated that word early in his postgame news conference -- "turnovers, turnovers, turnovers, turnovers, turnovers," he said -- and kept harping on the sloppy play.
"We lost the last two games because of our mistakes," he said.
The Bulls appeared to be in good shape, leading 61-48 after Boozer's finger roll 4½ minutes into the third.
But the Rockets answered Boozer's layup by scoring 14 of the next 15 points, tying it at 62 on Camby's jumper with about three minutes left. Then, with under a minute left in the quarter, Patrick Patterson scored on a reverse layup and Earl Boykins hit a 16-footer to send Houston into the fourth quarter with a 71-70 lead and start that 17-2 run.
It included three 3s by Budinger in the opening minutes of the period, the third making it 84-72.
"Coach said to be ready for that quick swing and be locked in and I was able to knock them down," Budinger said.
Houston's Kyle Lowry missed his 14th game in a row because of a bacterial infection and teammate Kevin Martin sat out his 12th straight with a sprained right shoulder. ... No surprise, Chicago's Thibodeau wasn't about to wax poetic after being selected the Eastern Conference Coach of the Month. "That's a byproduct of a good team, good coaching staff, good organization." The Bulls went 13-3 in March. ... The Rockets were 20-8 at home and 8-17 on the road entering Monday's game, and coach Kevin McHale was at a loss to explain the disparity. "I never understood that," he said. "Baskets are 10 feet high and the court's 94 feet. I've never seen a fan score a point yet."
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