After a huge fourth quarter turned a nine-point deficit into an eight-point lead, somehow the Bulls appeared to be on the verge of another collapse.
But thankfully for the desperate Bulls, clawing to stay in the race for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, Trevor Ariza's attempt at a game-tying buzzer-beating 3-pointer bounced off the rim, and the Bulls ran out of Houston with a 103-100 win on Thursday night.
The score was knotted at 52 at halftime, Nikola Mirotic scoring 21 first-half points as the Bulls went 7-for-16 from behind the 3-point line.
But the third quarter belonged to the Rockets, who scored nine straight after halftime and used a 14-2 run to build a double-digit lead that sat at nine at the start of the fourth quarter, a lead only that small thanks to 13 third-quarter points from Jimmy Butler.
The Bulls chopped that lead down to next to nothing, though, with the bench providing almost all the scoring. The Rockets were ahead by just a point after the Bulls' reserves scored seven unanswered. With about six and a half minutes to go, Doug McDermott's tip in gave the Bulls a one-point lead at 87-86.
The game was tied at 89, with Michael Beasley giving the Rockets the lead back on a layup with a little more than three minutes to play. Mirotic answered with a triple — his fifth of the game — to put the Bulls back in front, and Butler slammed home a dunk to grow the lead, only to be assessed a technical foul for hanging on the rim. E'Twaun Moore splashed home a 3, and the Bulls had a six-point lead with a minute and a half left thanks to an 8-0 run. That run extended to 10-0, making it an eight-point lead for the Bulls with under a minute to go.
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The Rockets refused to give up and in less than a minute chipped that lead all the way down to as little as two. It was three after Justin Holiday split a pair of free throws with nine seconds left, and Ariza got a wide-open look at a potential game-tying triple. But the shot was no good, and the Bulls clung to victory.
After a stellar performance from 3 in the first half, the Bulls were 4-for-8 from behind the arc in the second half and shot 48.1 percent from the field on the game as a whole, significantly better than the Rockets' 40-percent effort. The Rockets dominated the points in the paint category, outscoring the Bulls, 48-30, but the Bulls' bench outscored Rockets reserves, 67-31.
Mirotic led the way with 28 points, going 8-for-14 from the field and 5-for-10 from 3-point range, also hitting seven of eight free throws. Butler finished with 21 points, eight rebounds and six assists. McDermott scored 15 points and grabbed nine rebounds. Pau Gasol had 12 points but was just 6-for-14 from the field.
Derrick Rose, despite battling elbow soreness, made the start, but he exited the game briefly after the first quarter. He made a short return but did not appear after halftime, with the Bulls announcing he would sit out the remainder of the game with a left elbow contusion.
The win improved the Bulls' standing in the playoff picture, moving them just one game behind the Pacers, who lost Thursday, for the No. 8 seed in the East.