If Jerry Krause had been able to sign Tracy McGrady during an ill-fated free-agent chase in 2000, the Bulls would be working on an eight-peat right about now.
Obviously, that's meant as sarcasm because McGrady never has exited the first round of the playoffs. But he sure has the Bulls' number, returning from injury Tuesday night to help lead his Rockets to a 107-100 victory at Toyota Center.
That's the 11th straight time since McGrady joined the Rockets for the 2004-05 season that he has defeated the Bulls. Their lone victory in the last 12 meetings came in November 2005, when an injury sidelined McGrady.
The Rockets rarely have been at full strength this season, but there was Yao Ming scoring 28 points, McGrady adding 16 and Ron Artest contributing 10 points and solid defense.
Actually, the players who really hurt the Bulls were workmanlike Luis Scola, who set the tone for a physical effort with 13 points and 17 rebounds, and speedy Aaron Brooks with 18 points off the bench.
"They have physical bodies, and then when our big guys got in foul trouble, I tried to go small and you're susceptible on the glass even more," coach Vinny Del Negro said. "I wanted to run and play more up-tempo."
The Bulls enjoyed a 14-2 edge in fast-break points but didn't get in transition enough because of poor rebounding. Joakim Noah fouled out in 17 minutes and didn't grab his only rebound—an offensive carom—until the fourth quarter.
"It was tough," Noah said. "I got called for touch fouls early. And Yao's a great player with unbelievable size."
Noah's lone rebound led to Andres Nocioni's three-pointer with 8 minutes 13 seconds left that cut the Bulls' deficit to 82-77. But Noah then fouled out as Yao scored off—what else?—an offensive rebound on the ensuing possession, and Yao's conventional three-point play kick-started a 10-0 Rockets run.
Ben Gordon drained two three-pointers as part of a quick 12-2 Bulls run that made matters interesting briefly down the stretch. But the Bulls got no closer than five as their three-game winning streak ended.
Luol Deng's 28 points led the Bulls, who also got 14 points and a season-high 13 rebounds from Tyrus Thomas.
Derrick Rose said the left foot he sprained slightly Saturday night in Phoenix felt fine; he had 12 points and seven assists.
The Bulls missed their first 10 shots and 11 of 28 free throws overall. Noah had two fouls in the first 2:03.
"At least we play [Wednesday] night," Noah said. "I can't wait."