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December 14, 2015

Bulls 115, Sixers 96: ‘And then halftime happened…’

The Sixers were playing loose, free, and confident basketball. The offense was, dare I say, running on all cylinders with 56 points in the first 24 minutes. And then halftime happened.

It’s almost as if Brett Brown’s locker room speech was, “Let’s forget how to play basketball.”

The Chicago Bulls protected their home court on Monday night in Chicago with a 115-96 win over the Philadelphia 76ers, which isn’t a major shock. How they got there kind of was, though.

The Sixers’ first half was terrific, likely the best of the year from this group. Tony Wroten caused havoc and lived in the paint. Jahlil Okafor scored efficiently and played sound positional defense. Jerami Grant swatted shots into the sun:

Robert Covington took advantage of mismatches while playing as a small-ball 4. And most of all, the entire group took care of the ball (two turnovers) and consistently got good shots. A good time was had by all.

And then halftime happened.

Wroten couldn’t get into the paint anymore, and when he did, he was swallowed up by Chicago’s defense. Okafor wasn’t getting the type of position he carved out in the first half. Grant couldn’t swat shots, because the Bulls were getting open threes and layups. And most of all, the offense completely stagnated and the Sixers turned the ball over seven times in the decisive 34-12 third quarter. Game over.

“That’s the hard part of the NBA,” Brown told reporters. “You got to find ways to go 48 minutes, and we just couldn’t do it.”

Maybe petitioning the NBA to cancel halftime is the answer?

Strong homecoming for Big Jah

It should be noted that the Sixers lost three of these games handily, but Jahlil Okafor is definitely showing some signs of life. He’s showing increased effort on the defense, as well:

Okafor, back in his hometown on his last day as a teenager, made some nice moves in the first half in the flow of the offense. Take this one for example, where Joakim Noah admittedly didn’t provide much resistance:

After the game, Brown made a point about Okafor’s fatigue affecting his post position in the second half. That matches the eye test.

“When Jah gets tired, some of those cuts get a little bit further off the block and they’re not as hard,” Brown told reporters after the game. “It’s part of him being 19 and figuring out how to get through back-to-back games in the NBA.”

Brown also called him “special,” which the jury is still out on. Getting in better shape, consistently carving out good post position, and making that 14-footer automatic are going to be crucial for his career, but even an admitted Okafor skeptic can admit we did see some good things from Big Jah both tonight (22 points, 9-17 FG, 4-4 FT, 8 REB, 1 AST, 2 TO) and as of late.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann