Coming off a rare three-day break that provided ample time to rest and practice, the Bulls expected their execution to be sharp and precise.
That wasn’t the case as the Portland Trail Blazers picked them apart for a 91-74 loss. The only consolation for Chicago was clinching a playoff berth as the New York Knicks fell to the Phoenix Suns.
There was nothing comforting about the Bulls (40-32) offense or their defense of the three-point line, which the Blazers treated as non-existent, shooting 10-for-22.
“It just seemed like we were a step behind the play,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “A couple of them were scramble threes. You can live with that. But a couple other ones, we lacked discipline on close-outs, allowed the ball to get to the middle and they made good plays. They played unselfishly. But we didn’t cover the line the way we needed to.”
The Blazers were on the final game of a four-in-five-night tilt and on the second night of a back to back but had six players finish in double figures, led by Mo Williams’ 18 points off the bench.
Carlos Boozer led the Bulls with 16 points and 12 rebounds. Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson also finished with double-doubles.
Some in the Bulls locker room were unable to assess if the extra time off did more harm than good, but one thing that was concerning was the edge that they usually bring was never present.
Already starting flat, the halftime break did little to recharge their efforts as Portland began the third on a 15-2 run, with the increasing deficit only forcing the Bulls to rush shots instead of running their bread and butter sets.
“We’ve got to bring it every night,” Jimmy Butler said. “Tonight, I think we just didn’t bring the energy they had and we didn’t make shots, and we damn sure didn’t guard. But I think emotion goes into a lot of that. When we’re riled up and ready to go, the game changes for us.”
The loss dropped the Bulls a game behind the playoff-bound Toronto Raptors for the third seed in the Eastern Conference.
They’ll try and bounce back on Sunday in Boston.