NEW YORK --- So much for that easy start to the schedule, huh?
The Bulls engineered a collapse for the ages Monday night at Madison Square Garden. They dropped to 1-3 by blowing an 18-point lead and failing to score for the final 3 minutes, 33 seconds in a 105-98 loss to the previously winless Knicks, who played without Dennis Smith Jr.
Leave it to second-year big man Wendell Carter to put the disastrous loss in perspective.
“If we talk about being a playoff team, we can’t have moments like this,” Carter said.
As the league’s second-youngest team, the Bulls keep talking about needing to show growth in big moments by learning how to close out games, by learning how to overcome adversity to win. Instead, as the rebuild begins its third season, familiar ugly themes are playing out.
Down the stretch, the Bulls stopped moving the ball for good shots. They stopped trusting each other defensively and failed to rotate to shooters. They lacked definitive and mature decision-making.
In short, they wilted.
“I do embrace the physical parts to the game,” coach Jim Boylen said. “All I can say is where it’s where we have to grow as a group of men. We have to embrace those moments when your physicality wins the game, maybe not your skill level or talent level. That’s what I gotta coach.”
These are the type of losses that can linger, that can leave a mark. The Knicks outrebounded the Bulls by 25. They outscored them 33-18 in the final period. The Bulls stood there as Bobby Portis celebrated against his former team, scoring 11 of his 28 points in the fourth.
“It’s just a conversation that needs to be had. We gotta look amongst each other and just nut up,” Carter said. “Take our individual defense a little more seriously. Rebound more.”
Slow starts have plagued the Bulls this young season. But they led 33-15 after the first quarter and by eight with 3:33 remaining. Teams with serious playoff aspirations close out such games.
Otto Porter Jr. scored seven first-quarter points and appeared on his way to making a similar impact to when he first came over from the Wizards in February. But he failed to score again and missed five of six 3-pointers, worsening a team-wide problem.
The Bulls are shooting just 27.5% from 3-point range this season. Given that several players, including Porter, are well below their career percentages, it may only be a matter of time before that department improves.
But that won’t solve the lack of good decision-making or lack of physical response in tough moments. Those are happening with too much frequency.
“We gotta learn how to finish games,” Zach LaVine said. “This one hurt. We keep pissing away wins. I feel like we should be 3-1 right now but it’s flipped around.”
The Bulls face the Cavaliers in Cleveland on Wednesday. Boylen said he’s not worried about such a devastating loss lingering.
“We got a resilient group,” he said. “We got great guys. Our character is high. We’re going to learn and grow.”
Wednesday would be a good time to show it.