Oladipo scores 32 in debut, but Rockets fall to Bulls 125-120.
New guard leads comeback from 17 down, but Chicago keeps pouring in 3s to stop rally
As debuts go, Victor Oladipo did nearly everything the Rockets could have asked. He carried the Rockets’ offense for much of the night. He served as a playmaker with John
Wall out for a third consecutive game. He was the go-to scorer down the stretch.
He just could not take away the 3s the Bulls hit on the other end. No one did.
As well as the Rockets shot after an awful start, they could not complete their comeback with the Bulls repeatedly burning them from deep, holding off the Rockets 125-120 Monday in Chicago.
“Our better days are ahead of us, obviously,” Oladipo said. “Off the fly, we just went out there and kind of winged it a little bit. Not very much time to prep. But our better days are ahead. Everybody stay patient, including us. This is only the beginning. We just got to be better defensively. Once we do that and really click, we can be really special. I truly believe that.”
Oladipo had 32 points and nine assists, both season highs and the most for a Rockets player in his debut since James Harden had 36 to open the 2012-13 season. That signaled a
good deal about what is possible with Oladipo in the Rockets backcourt. It was not enough to make up for all the Rockets allowed on the other end.
“He was good,” Rockets coach Stephen Silas said of Oladipo’s first game since the trade to bring him to Houston to replace Harden. “Started off a little shaky, which is natural. But you can see what we can be with him on the floor. You can see he can be a primary scorer, he can make plays for others. He can really get after it on the defensive end.
“We’re excited about him and what he can do and what he can be.”
Even with Christian Wood adding 30 points and Eric Gordon matching his season high with 21, the Rockets spent the night unable to complete a comeback from a 17-point deficit, closing to within three on three occasions but never sufficiently defending 3s.
The Bulls’ Zach LaVine scored 20 of his 31 points in the second half, the Bulls went 20-of-45 from deep, hitting the most 3-pointers the Rockets have allowed this season.
“Some of it was the pick-and-roll coverage,” Silas said of the Rockets’ inability to defend the 3-point line. “Some of it was over-helps, helping from the wrong spots. Some of it was guys unfamiliar with each other defensively. But to give up 20 3s to the Bulls is not good.
“Our commitment to the defensive end, that’s what’s really going to tell the tale of our story, how good we’re going to be.”
Trailing by 12 midway through the fourth quarter, the Rockets made one last run. Oladipo finished consecutive drives. After Thaddeus Young sank the Bulls’ 19th 3-pointer, Oladipo set up P.J. Tucker at the rim and then hit a 3-pointer, cutting the Bulls’ lead to three with 1:50 remaining.
LaVine answered as he had through the night before Oladipo turned it over with 1:27 remaining.
The Rockets got the stop they needed with LaVine missing a foulline jumper. Wood was fouled and made both free throws to pull the Rockets within 116-113 with 63 seconds left.
As they had all game, the Bulls answered from the 3-point line, with Lauri Markkanen hitting with 46.9 seconds left. Oladipo missed and the Rockets had to foul to stop the clock, with the Bulls closing out the win at the line.
Still, for all that went wrong late, the Rockets had to lament the way things had gone much earlier.
The Rockets got off to such a dreadful start, struggling in nearly everything they did, that hey spent most of the half trying to clean up the mess they made of things to begin the night.
The Rockets started so badly that they made 6 of 18 shots, 2 of 11 3s in the first quarter, and still found time to commit nine turnovers.
“We didn’t bring the correct energy at the beginning of the game,” Silas said.
They corrected that. Oladipo grew accustomed to new teammates. The Rockets had a win within reach. Then the Bulls knocked down another 3, and the Rockets were again left waiting for reinforcements and time together.
“I’m happy, I’m definitely happy,” Oladipo said. “We have to stay patient, not get too high, not get too low, continue to just get better and stay together. If we do that, the sky’s the limit.”