Bulls fall into 17-0 hole and never recover in blowout loss to Sixers

CHICAGO — Two nights after losing to the Bulls for the first time with Joel Embiid healthy, the Philadelphia 76ers responded like a big brother showing his sibling who’s boss.

They promptly made Monday night feel like a distant memory, pouncing on the Bulls in the first five minutes and leading by as many as 31 before coasting to a 116-91 victory Wednesday night.

When it was over, Bulls coach Billy Donovan compared it to another butt-kicking the Bulls received by their big brothers, not to the east but just north.

“One of the things I had talked about with the guys even before the game,” Donovan said, “was this was a game, to me, that was very similar to Game 2 in Milwaukee last year in the playoffs.”

The Bulls secured a gritty Game 2 road victory against the Bucks in surprising fashion, the same way Monday’s 109-105 double-overtime win at Philadelphia was unexpected. The Sixers were 12-0 against the Bulls with Embiid in the lineup before Monday. Chicago outlasted the Sixers only after Embiid fouled out early in the second overtime.

Wednesday was a reminder of the gulf that remains between the two. It was a harsh lesson for the Bulls to receive at home, against a team they just defeated, during what had been the team’s most encouraging stretch of the season.

Philadelphia started the game on a 17-0 run, effectively killing any chance the Bulls had at back-to-back upsets of Embiid. Donovan burned through two timeouts less than 3 1/2 minutes into the game. When Zach LaVine gave the Bulls their first point, splitting a pair of free throws, the United Center crowd unleashed sarcastic applause with 8:28 left in the first quarter. The Bulls didn’t score their first field goal until a Nikola Vučević dunk with 6:36 remaining.

“We knew they were going to come out strong like that,” LaVine said. “They did the right thing. They did a lot of adjustments. It was tough. Joel, give credit to him, we were set on getting the ball out of his hands, and he did it fast. And those guys made a lot of shots, 3s to open (the game) up.”

Embiid needed to play only the first half. After the way he dominated, who could blame him for reportedly taking off the second half to rest? The Sixers said the league’s leading scorer has mild right calf tightness but is expected to play Friday.

Embiid played only 16 minutes. He scored 12 points on 5-for-7 shooting with seven rebounds, seven assists, one steal and one block.

But the Bulls hurt themselves from the start with sloppiness that this season has proved they don’t have the margin for error to have. Philadelphia scored the game’s first five points before most made it to their seats. They were the result of two season-long issues: defensive rebounding and turnovers. They immediately exposed the Bulls’ lack of focus.

LaVine lost Sixers forward Tobias Harris on the opening possession, allowing an uncontested 3 Harris missed. But then P.J. Tucker chased down a long rebound in the left corner before finding De’Anthony Melton on the opposite wing — for another uncontested 3. This one splashed in.

On the ensuing inbounds pass, Bulls forward Patrick Williams threw a risky pass to a heavily covered Patrick Beverley. Turnover. Harris converted a layup, albeit while getting away with traveling, for a 5-0 Sixers lead 32 seconds in.

“We were just constantly playing catch-up,” Donovan said. “They were quicker, sharper, just better all the way around.”

Donovan expressed his disappointment with the start but hopes the Bulls learn and grow from it. The problem is only 10 games remain, and the Bulls appeared to be moving beyond such brutal showings.

Chicago was 8-4 entering Wednesday and building a case for buying into its desperate late-season playoff push. But then came Wednesday’s loss in the worst way imaginable, a lackluster performance in which the Bulls never led that makes you wonder whether the recent play was real or a facade.

Worse, the Bulls lost DeMar DeRozan early in the third quarter to what the team said is a right quad strain. It’s the same injury that cost DeRozan five games in January and February. With the Bulls hanging on by a thread to the final Play-In Tournament spot and a chance to extend their season, the last thing they need is DeRozan missing time.

The early indication is he won’t. DeRozan requested a night off from his postgame media duties, but he was seen walking without issue in the locker room as he prepared to receive treatment.

“I asked if he was going to be OK,” LaVine said. “He said he was going to be all right. The type of guy he is, he’ll be all right.”

(Photo of Philadelphia’s Shake Milton and, from left, Chicago’s Derrick Jones Jr., Ayo Dosunmu and Coby White: David Banks / USA Today)

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