It wasn't the prettiest basketball down the stretch - to say the very least - but Lauri Markkanen stole the show Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.
Markkanen matched Knicks forward Kristaps Porzingis shot for shot and big play for big play, scoring a career-high 33 points and leading the Bulls to a wild double-overtime victory over the Knicks.
Markkanen did a little bit of everything, showing off once again his offensive versatility, his range and his continuing impressive good feet on defense.
His eight 3-pointers were a career-best (and per ESPN, tied Dirk Nowitzki for most 3-pointers by a 7-footer in NBA history). He picked up his ninth career double-double and limited Porzingis to 24 points on 24 shots. It was a remarkable display of moxie and maturity from the 20-year-old. There seems to be a cliche that a player's career-high in points automatically means it was also his best game as a pro. On Wednesday that was true for Markkanen, making his first trip as a pro to Madison Square Garden and turning a Knicks team on its head. He made six of his first 10 shots, threw down perhaps the dunk of the year for the Bulls on Enes Kanter (check that out in the video above) and showed some uncharacterstic emotion at times. It sure seemed like a "next step" for Markkanen.
He admittedly was quiet in the extra periods. His triple got the Bulls on the board to begin overtime, but missed his other two shots and didn't score again until the final two free throws of the game. But that much could have been expected from the rookie, who also logged a career-high 46 minutes. His previous high was 39 minutes, and he had only topped 35 minutes one other time before that. So some fatigue was to be expected down the stretch, and it showed.
That won't change anyone's opinions. He did just enough to get the job done for the Bulls, who now get Zach LaVine back in the lineup on Saturday against the Pistons. Offense is not going be a problem for these Bulls down the stretch.
Denzel Valentine also puts up a career-high
Not to be outdone by Markkanen (OK, he was), Denzel Valentine poured in a career-high 20 points. Three of his four 3-pointers came in transition pull-ups, and he added nine rebounds and four assists. He's quietly putting together a nice stretch, averaging 13.6 points on 51 percent shooting, 6.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists in 30.2 minutes per game. His minutes will go down as LaVine works his way back, but his 3-point value (12 in the last three games) is invaluable to Hoiberg's teams.
Yes, Kris Dunn won the Jazz game with a stepback 15-footer. But after three failures to close things out against the Knicks it might be time for a new finishing move.
Dunn struggled mightily against the Knicks, shooting 4-for-18 and failing to get to the free throw line. He salvaged his night with eight assists and five steals, but counterpart Jarrett Jack also logged a triple-double. Yes, that 34-year-old Jarrett Jack.
Dunn has been really good this season, and despite his shot losing some steam lately he's going to benefit from LaVine playmaking next to him. Expect Dunn to bounce back with LaVine in the lineup. As Fred Hoiberg said, as Dunn goes the Bulls go.