CHICAGO - The homecoming did not end well on the basketball court.
For 76ers rookies Jahlil Okafor and Richaun Holmes, Monday marked the first time they played at the United Center against their hometown Chicago Bulls. Robert Covington, another Chicago native and Sixer, made his second appearance in the Windy City against the Bulls.
Unfortunately for the trio, the game ended the same way all but one of their previous 25 had: with a loss.
The Sixers fell, 115-96, dropping their record to 1-25. It also marked their eighth consecutive setback in their series with the Bulls (14-8).
This time, the visitors were undone by a 26-1 run that stretched over third and fourth quarters.
The Bulls began the run on Pau Gasol's jump shot that gave Chicago a 73-68 lead with 3 minutes, 48 seconds left in the third quarter. Chicago's last basket during the run came when Joakim Noah's tip-in made it 97-69 with 8:15 remaining.
"It happens every time," Sixers point guard Tony Wroten said of his team's implosion. "I don't understand why. We've got to fix it, though."
Jimmy Butler led the Bulls with 23 points and Nikola Mirotic had 17. Tony Snell scored 15 of his 16 points after intermission.
The Sixers were doomed by their play in the third quarter. They made just 5 of 21 shots and were outscored by 34-12 after they had played perhaps their best quarter of the season. The Sixers looked invincible in the second period, making 16 of 25 shots to take a 56-51 cushion into the break.
"We got kind of stagnant on offense and stopped executing," Okafor said of the second half. "That was a huge factor. They started scoring a lot in the third. Our defense started lacking a little bit."
The Sixers were without power forward Nerlens Noel, who left Sunday's loss in Toronto with a corneal abrasion in his left eye. Noel is not expected to play Wednesday night against the Hawks in Atlanta.
But Okafor kept things competitive before the Bulls broke the game open.
He finished with 22 points and eight rebounds in his fourth consecutive game with at least 20 points. On Sunday, Okafor became the first Sixers rookie to accomplish that feat through three games since Allen Iverson did for 11 straight contests in the 1996-97 season.
But this was definitely a day that Okafor, Covington, and Holmes will remember for various reasons.
Earlier, Okafor spent time at a Chicago fitness facility with students from Jensen Miller Elementary Scholastic Academy, where his aunt, Chinyere Okafor-Conley, is the principal.
"We were doing something for them," Okafor said of the students. "We had a good time, a couple of early Christmas gifts for them."
In addition to providing gifts, the 6-foot-11, 265-pounder also paid for several male students to get haircuts on the property. In return, the students sang "Happy Birthday" to Okafor, who turns 20 on Tuesday.
Covington celebrated his 25th birthday on Monday. The small forward went shopping downtown in the morning. Then he had a birthday dinner with his family after the game.
"You know, being with your family on your birthday, [there] is nothing like it," said Covington, who finished with 15 points. "It's actually been the first time in a long time that I have been able to spend my birthday with my family.
"So it's a good thing to be able to spend it and for us to enjoy it afterwards."
Holmes called facing the Bulls in Chicago "a dream come true."
"I've been looking forward to this my whole life," the 6-9 power forward said. "I always told my family that I would be coming back to the United Center to face the Bulls."
No longer on a minutes restriction, Wroten finished with a season-high 12 points. It was Wroten's fourth game back after being sidelined for 10 months with a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.