If there was any doubt about the Bulls’ sincerity to keep things interesting this season, the stage was set to fulfill such beliefs.
And true to their character, or the guys in red uniforms playing like characters in a bad movie, they played down to expectations.
They continued their Mendoza-line like performances, against a team that is drenched in so much turmoil the Kardashians are jealous of the New York Knicks.
And over the course of 24 hours, the woebegone Knicks can put the Bulls out of their misery with two wins on back-to-back nights, as the Bulls will head to Manhattan on Thursday night.
The Knicks took care of Part 1 with a 115-107 win Wednesday at the United Center, as the Bulls put together a showing they swore was behind them, a performance that was allegedly beneath their competitive character.
The Knicks treated the Bulls as if they were a D-League team, dominating them on the glass, running the so-called archaic triangle offense to perfection and embarrassing them on national TV — on a night where playoff tickets were announced to be on sale.
“I told our guys they have two choices: They can tuck their tails between their legs and walk out of here with their head down. Or they can tough it out, suck it up and find a way to win tomorrow,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said.
The Bulls had a choice to close out a four-game homestand with a 4-0 mark but came out flat against a Knicks team with seemingly nothing to gain with a win, as the Knicks outworked them statistically and intangibly.
“They won every loose ball, battled the rebounds, they got all of those tonight,” Hoiberg said.
The Knicks blitzed the Bulls with 14 3-pointers, hitting them at a 56-percent rate. One couldn’t tell if the Knicks were having a night for the ages or if it was non-existent defense from the Bulls, but given the Bulls’ recent track record of allowing anything and everything to opposing teams, one wouldn’t be wrong to assume the latter.
Knicks rookie Kristaps Porzingis scored 29 with 10 boards, torching the Bulls in every way possible: from the pinch post, from long range and with devastating dunks in transition.
A 35-point third quarter for the Knicks, where they stretched a seven-point lead to 19 in the last six minutes of the quarter, scoring virtually on every play, silenced the hopefuls and sent out the detractors who believe the Bulls don’t possess the consistency necessary to make a legit run at the playoffs.
“At halftime we talked about how we need to come out and take control of the game. We did the opposite,” Hoiberg said. “They got control and built their lead up, and we dug ourselves too deep a hole to get out of.”
Nikola Mirotic hit triple after triple in the fourth on the way to a career-high 35 points on nine 3-pointers to try to bring the Bulls back, as the Bulls hit 15 3s in total.
“I had a good game, but I’m not happy because we lost this really important game at home,” Mirotic said. “We need to come with a different mindset. We cannot give up 115 points.”
[SHOP BULLS: Get your Bulls gear right here]
Mirotic’s 20 in the fourth led to a modest run that brought the score to 109-101 but was ultimately silenced when Carmelo Anthony’s 9-1-1 shot with the clock running down sent fans scrambling for the exits.
Anthony scored 24 on 10-for-22 shooting with four triples and five assists in 39 minutes.
“They got confidence, and Porzingis and Anthony really rose up and made shots in the fourth because of the confidence they had (earlier),” Hoiberg said.
Derrick Rose scored seven of his 21 early in the fourth, but offense wasn’t the problem, though the Bulls clearly believe they can win playing one end of the floor.
Allowing that point total on 52-percent shooting, nearly being doubled up on the boards (53-34) while playing with a willful aversion to defense — an action not uncommon this season.
Again, offense wasn’t the problem, though Pau Gasol scored just four points and Jimmy Butler (seven points, 3-for-11 shooting) continued to struggle on his way back from a knee injury that’s assuredly bothering him more than he’s willing to let on.
The Bulls didn’t turn the ball over at all before the half, yet trailed by two, with the belief a little defense could go a long way.
It was offset with the Knicks going 9-for-11 from 3 early, as the Bulls’ defense again became spotty as the Knicks shot 52 percent from the field. Porzingis was having his way with 17 and six boards.
But that desperation didn’t show up until it was much too late, as they panicked when things started to get away and were forced to play recklessly to get back in it before it proved futile.
“We hit some shots,” Hoiberg said. “That’s the thing that gets us going. We didn’t give (ourselves) a chance at the fourth because we let them control the game.”
Sounds like a microcosm for the season.
Too little, too late.