The Jazz were in a street-fight almost as much as they were in a basketball game Saturday at the United Center. The difference? The Bulls relished the physical play, thrived on it and took over the game in the fourth quarter. The Jazz were thrown off by the physicality, they were tentative and eventually they ran out of answers.
"It was a very physical game," Utah center Rudy Gobert said. "It got scrappy on both ends. They were able to hit shots and make free throws. We needed to match that and play through that. Every loss hurts, especially this one."
On paper, Saturday should've been a win for Utah. The Bulls were reeling as much as any team in the NBA. Star guard Dwyane Wade was recently ruled out for the season with a fractured elbow. Chicago entered Saturday a loser in seven of its past eight games. The Bulls had trouble scoring, and have been a franchise in transition this season.
But if March Madness is usually reserved for upsets at the college level, it can also bleed into the NBA. In front of a sellout crowd, the Bulls played with an energy on both ends the Jazz couldn't match. Chicago's bench outscored Utah's 44-23. Utah turned the ball over 15 times. And the Bulls dominated the fourth quarter, 35-22.
"I think in the first quarter, we started out playing really well," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. "We looked a little tired late. But we weren't mentally tough enough down the stretch to get the stops when we needed to, so we have to give the Bulls credit. They played with a lot of energy. I thought they had an excellent offensive quarter in the fourth. They made shots. I'd like to think we could've done a little more to make it harder on them."
This was the feeling among the Jazz following Saturday's loss: They let a game they should've won slip away.
Utah led by as many as 12 points in the first quarter, and a blowout seemed possible. Instead, the Jazz allowed the Bulls to hang around. Chicago began making shots and feeling good about its play. The crowd began to get into the game.
All of those factors led to the Bulls receiving huge contributions from unlikely sources. Bobby Portis scored a career-high 22 points on 10-of-13 shooting from the field. Rookie Denzel Valentine notched the first double-double of his career, and hit three huge 3-pointers down the stretch. Michael Carter-Williams, as maligned a point guard as there is in the league, was a plus-17 and made several big plays late.
They all supported Jimmy Butler, who scored 23 points, handed out seven assists and made life difficult for Hayward defensively.
"We needed a win," Butler said. "We got back to the basics tonight."
George Hill led the Jazz with 18 points and seven rebounds. Gobert scored 13 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, but he fouled out late. The Jazz fall to 43-27 on the season, and their lead over the Los Angeles Clippers for home-court advantage in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs shrinks to two games.
"My concern was how we played defensively," Snyder said. "We've usually gotten better defensively as the game goes on. But that wasn't the case today."