The Bulls jetted off into the night late Friday, bound for home and pondering what might have been after a 1-6 trip concluded with a gut-wrenching, last-second 82-80 loss to the Rockets.
Respectable showings in Portland, Seattle and Utah had produced only one victoryagainst the Jazzand a dreadful third quarter against Houston rendered their stirring comeback meaningless.
Jim Jackson's 22-foot jumper over Jerome Williams beat the buzzer and broke the Bulls' hearts, concluding their Western Conference road schedule. The Bulls are now 1-27 in such games over the last two seasons.
Coach Scott Skiles had replaced Eddie Robinson with Williams for defensive purposes and Williams didn't bite on Jackson's pump fake, playing such solid defense that Jackson didn't see his game-winner fall, sending 16,970 home from the new Toyota Center happy.
"That [stunk]," Williams said. "That was a heck of a shot. He couldn't have seen it because I was right there. He broke our backs with that one."
The Bulls trailed 64-49 with 10 minutes 39 seconds to play thanks to a third quarter in which they tied a season-low with 11 points.
The Bulls shot 24 percent with five turnovers in the quarter. Houston's mascots got more of a workout during timeouts than the nets at the west end of the sparkling new building.
But Eddy Curry and Jamal Crawford led a stirring comeback, with Curry concluding a 21-5, fourth-quarter run to give the Bulls a 70-69 lead with 4 minutes 44 seconds to play.
Crawford shook off soreness in his left, non-shooting hand to play 34 minutes and missed his first seven shots, finally hitting a field goal with 7:22 to play. He scored 13 of his 15 points in the fourth.
"We kept telling Jamal to be aggressive offensively even though he was struggling with his shot," Skiles said. "He was hanging his head a bit for no reason. For the most part, he took good shots."
Curry threw down a thunderous dunk over Yao Ming less than four minutes after tipoff but battled early foul trouble and played only 30 minutes. That didn't stop Curry, who finished with 21 points, from topping 20 for the fourth straight game. He averaged 20.8 points over this trip's final six games.
The foul trouble did stop Curry from rebounding and defending. He didn't grab his first of three rebounds until just over 10 minutes remained. Yao led Houston with 22 points.
"Foul trouble shook me up," Curry said.
The stretch run featured five lead changes and three ties.
Antonio Davis' tip-in of a Curry miss with 12.1 seconds remaining brought the last tie. Then Jackson, on a play designed for Cuttino Mobley, worked his late-game magic.
"In that situation, you're calm because you have nothing to lose," Jackson said. "If you miss, you go to overtime."
Saturday will bring a day off for the Bulls after the grueling trip and then two home games next week before the All-Star break. The Bulls must play above .500 over the final 31 games just to match last season's victory total of 30.
"I feel bad for the guys," Skiles said. "There have been so many games like this where we've played so hard and have not been able to get them. They sting."