Bulls

10 observations: Bulls comeback falls short against Knicks

Bulls

The Chicago Bulls dropped their first game of the 2021-22 season on Thursday, a nail-biting 104-103 defeat to the New York Knicks at the United Center.

This was the Bulls' truest test of the season so far, a physical, hard-fought battle against a good team that went down to the wire. They emerge 4-1.

Here are 10 observations:

1. The first quarter was defined by its runs. The Knicks jumped out to an early 16-6 lead in the game’s first four-and-a-half minutes, with the Bulls’ only points coming on a pair of 3-pointers. But after a Billy Donovan timeout, DeMar DeRozan catalyzed an 8-0 run that drew the hosts within two points. They went on to vault in front by as many as four before the Knicks ultimately led 27-25 after one.

2. The Knicks entered play ranked third in the NBA in bench scoring. The Bulls entered 28th. Both teams looked the part early on.

It’s more than the fact that New York led 20-9 in bench points at halftime (31-24 by night’s end). After the Bulls pulled ahead late in the first, it was in the non-Zach LaVine-Nikola Vučević minutes that the Knicks leveraged to jump in front by as many as eight in the period before the Bulls drew back to within four at the half.

 

Derrick Rose, who finished with 12 points, was especially impactful. Of the Bulls reserves, only Alex Caruso had more than 5.

3. LaVine is playing through a left thumb sprain, but didn’t show signs of being hampered by it early on. He scored the contest’s first points on an effortless catch-and-shoot triple and finished the first half as the team’s leading scorer with 17 points on 6-for-8 shooting (2-for-3 from 3-point range).

He cooled a bit in the second half, but finished with 25 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists, shooting 9-for-9 from the free-throw line.

"It wasn't pleasant, but it's doable," LaVine said of playing through the injury, which necessitated tape over the finger. "There's certain shots and ways I can't go, and it's like I'm dribbling with four fingers... It doesn't affect my shooting as much... But gripping the ball and handling the ball is tough."

4. Patrick Williams exited to the Bulls’ locker room early in the third quarter, shortly after taking a hard fall on a dunk attempt during which Mitchell Robinson fouled him (the infraction was ruled a Flagrant 1). Williams hit two midrange jumpers in the second, but finished with 6 points and 2 rebounds in 16 minutes. Donovan termed the injury a wrist sprain after the game, adding that the team is awaiting more information.

Javonte Green and Ayo Dosunmu combined to take Williams’ second-half rotation turn, with DeRozan sliding to power forward in Dosunmu’s minutes.

5. The Bulls’ offense also ground to a halt in the third quarter, shooting just 7-for-24 from the floor (29.2 percent) and 35.6 percent in the second half. The Knicks are a brutally tough defensive team, and had the rim walled off to the Bulls for much of the night. Just 24 of the Bulls’ 85 field-goal attempts came at the rim (28.2 percent), while 16 came from midrange and 32 came from 3-point range. They shot 5-for-16 from midrange and 34.4 percent from 3.

"I think the biggest thing we've gotta do is play with more force," Donovan said of the team's offense, in addition to a general lack of cohesion. "For Vooch and for DeMar and Zach, a lot of those guys, they've been the guy where the ball's always in their hands, and now they're all learning to play together. And I give them a lot of credit, because they've all been incredibly unselfish and willing to try to work with another."

"We just go through little slumps," said LaVine. "We gotta get into actions a little bit quicker or we gotta get a thrust to the hoop and get an easier shot. Instead we're getting sometimes just bail-out shots. And we can make them, but you don't want to just live with those."

6. Size was once again an issue. One game after being outrebounded massively by Toronto, the Knicks forged a 57-44 rebounding advantage (11 offensive), 14-4 advantage in second-chance points and 50-40 advantage in paint points. Donovan even expanded his rotation to 11 players in the third quarter by trotting out Tony Bradley in place of the undersized Alize Johnson to try and combat the trend.

 

With Williams sidelined, Julius Randle also attacked Lonzo Ball and Caruso persistently in the second half, particularly down the stretch. Donovan was pleased with Ball’s work in that matchup, but even with Randle shooting poorly (3-for-11), the Knicks got a fair amount of clean looks when he burrowed downhill; he finished with 9 assists and 16 rebounds.

7. All things considered, though, the Bulls held up well enough defensively, holding the Knicks to 104 points and getting some key stops late. Donovan has never been shy to call out his teams when they lack physicality, but said after the game he thought they matched the Knicks in that regard. Problematically, the Bulls nabbed just six steals and generated eight fastbreak points, which wasn’t enough to grease the wheels of an offense stuck in the mud.

8. The Bulls made it a game in the final minutes. A 10-0 run between the 2:13 mark of the fourth and the waning seconds left them behind 104-101, with the ball, with 14.8 seconds to play mere moments after trailing 104-91. While the Knicks’ second-half smothering sucked the life from the arena at one point, the United Center rocked and roared as a DeRozan and-one layup, Vučević trail 3 and multiple stops put the hosts in position to tie it.

LaVine quickly drove for a dunk to draw within 104-103 with 9.5 seconds left, extending their run to 12-0 in roughly 120 game seconds. After a wild three-inbound sequence that nearly resulted in a DeRozan steal, Randle was fouled and clanked two free throws to give the Bulls a chance to win — down one point with 4.8 seconds to play. But DeRozan airballed a midrange jumper at the buzzer, and the Knicks prevailed.

"Just tried to have a misdirection," DeRozan said of the final possession, which Donovan and LaVine corroborated was called as an option play between DeRozan, LaVine and Vučević. "I'm happy with the look."

So were Donovan and LaVine. It just didn't fall.

Bulls' DeRozan misses game-winning shot to give Bulls win over Knicks

9. Thursday was Joakim Noah Night at the United Center, featuring tributes and cameos aplenty from former Bulls.

In a first-quarter timeout break, Noah’s dad, mom and sister were welcomed to the arena. In between the first and second, a highlight package of Noah’s best Bulls moments blared, followed by loud introductions for Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng and Ben Gordon. 

In the second quarter’s first stoppage, a video honoring Noah was played featuring his mom, Kirk Hinrich, Derrick Rose and others. At the next, old “Bench Mob” members Brian Scalabrine, Nazr Mohammed, Mike Dunleavy and Ömer Aşık were shown. 

 

Bob Love, one of four Bulls to have their jersey number retired, got a nice applause in the third quarter, and Toni Kukoč, Randy Brown and Cliff Levingston were introduced in the fourth.

10. Of course, there were also customary warm welcomes for Tom Thibodeau, Taj Gibson and Rose, even though they were lined up as foes. Rose received multiple rounds of MVP chants — once upon checking in, and again on a free-throw line trip — and cheers throughout. That’s customary for his Chicago returns.

Next up: Home for the Utah Jazz on Saturday.

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