Bulls

10 observations: DeRozan, White lead late rally vs. Knicks

Bulls

The Chicago Bulls and Knicks’ first meeting of the 2021-22 season ended with a DeMar DeRozan missed jumper at the buzzer — and one-point New York victory.

Sunday evening’s rematch didn’t feature quite as much suspense, but was an enthralling affair nonetheless. This time, the Bulls came out on top, 109-103, to move to 12-5 on the season.

Here are 10 observations:

1. With Patrick Williams and Nikola Vučević out, the Bulls’ regular rotation power forwards consist of Alex Caruso, Javonte Green, and, depending on the configuration, DeMar DeRozan (Lonzo Ball mans assignments on big forwards as well). So Julius Randle presents a difficult matchup. 

Caruso started the game on him and had multiple lockdown sequences, but Randle got loose against the collective for 14 first-half points on 5-for-7 shooting, including a second-quarter buzzer beater over Zach LaVine.

2. Foul trouble exacerbated the perils of that matchup. Green picked up four fouls in the first half. Caruso drew his fourth whistle early in the third. Then, moments after Billy Donovan turned to Ayo Dosunmu in Caruso’s place and assigned Randle to Ball, Ball picked up his fourth foul, leading Donovan to sub in Coby White. Derrick Jones Jr. followed minutes later, but sent Randle to the free-throw line in his first possession guarding him.

 

On a related note, the Knicks entered the bonus at the 4:44 mark of the third, and outscored the Bulls 29-21 in the period — 16-10 in the paint, 8-3 in second-chance points — to lead 74-72 entering the fourth. Before the Knicks jumped ahead 59-58 at the 7:01 mark, the Bulls had led for all but seconds of the game’s first 29 minutes.

3. DeRozan missed five of his first six shots, but came on as the game endured. He scored 20 points on 7-for-10 shooting in quarters two and three — after scoring just three points in the first — and breathed life into a listless Bulls side with two midrange jumpers to close the third quarter. Those buckets cut a six-point deficit to two entering the fourth.

Then, DeRozan poured home another eight points in the final frame to finish with 31 points on 10-for-20 shooting — 2-for-2 from 3-point range and 9-for-9 from the foul line. That’s his sixth 30-point outing in a Bulls uniform, and prompted a question on his potential MVP candidacy postgame.

"I'm gonna be honest with you, I've never once thought about it," DeRozan said. "I think winning takes care of everything, and as long as we do what we're supposed to do on the court — winning — everything that you desire will come with it, and you take it as it comes."

4. White had far and away his best game since returning from the shoulder injury that cost him valuable offseason time and the first 14 games of the regular season, notching 14 points, two assists and burying three of six 3-point attempts in 21 minutes off the pine.

In the second quarter, he showed notable aggression on drives, scoring one floater and assisting a Caruso triple attacking a closeout.

But the fourth saw his loudest contributions: A 3-pointer that put the Bulls ahead 75-74 in the period’s opening minute. The next possession, an assist on a Jones Jr. 3 that extended the lead to four. Minutes later, catch-and-shoot 3s from each corner that put the Bulls in front by six and seven points, respectively. Soon after, a drive that drew free throws after the Knicks cut their deficit to two.

White checked out for the final time with just over four minutes remaining, and received a knowing embrace from Jones Jr. on the way. He flexed and otherwise brandished emotion after each of his fourth-quarter makes, and said he received cheers, claps and a water shower from his teammates in the postgame locker room.

“I just felt if I go be me, it would take care of everything else,” White said of fitting in with the team, which features precious few holdovers from his first two seasons. “Billy always said since I got hurt and we made all these changes, he just wanted me to worry about getting my shoulder healthy. Because me being a basketball player, I was going to fit in. I feel I’m just a hooper and I give my all to the game. I’m not a selfish guy. I just want to help my team win.”

 

While Donovan has preached patience through every step of White’s return process, this type of night was needed; the third-year guard entered play 1-for-11 from the field and 0-for-5 from 3-point range on the season.

5. DeRozan and White’s contributions were made all the more impactful by LaVine suffering through an off shooting night early on. He scored 11 points on 5-for-18 shooting (0-for-5 from 3) through three quarters.

But in typical LaVine fashion, he caught a spark in the fourth, scoring 10 points to bring his final line to 21 points, 7-for-20 shooting, 0-for-5 from deep. It’s the 12th time in 17 games DeRozan and LaVine have each eclipsed 20 points in a game.

6. Randle scored 27 points through three quarters, shooting 10-for-14 from the field and 6-for-7 from the free-throw line. The fourth was a different story.

In the final frame, the Knicks All-Star scored just seven points on 3-for-5 shooting. New York looked his way countless times, but the Bulls' switches and double-teams were on point, keeping him shot-attempt-less until there were roughly two minutes to play. Credit Ball, Caruso and the rest of the Bulls' perimeter players for that.

“Last time we played them, Julius did a really, really good job of passing out of double-teams. We wanted to wait to trap him instead of going early,” Donovan said, referencing Randle’s nine assists in these teams’ first meeting. “I thought we did a better job of providing help.”

7. The Knicks were 22-for-26 from the free-throw line compared to the Bulls’ 12-for-13 through three quarters, massive on a night neither team shot particularly well. But by game’s end, the Bulls nearly leveled them in free-throw attempts, going 24-for-27 to New York’s 26-for-31.

Of the Bulls’ early-game foul trouble crew, only Caruso fouled out — contesting an and-one tip-in from Randle inside the last two minutes. With five fouls to his name and 10 minutes to play, Caruso even drew a charge on Immanuel Quickly, a remarkably gutsy feat given the circumstances.

8. The Bulls own the NBA’s fourth-best fourth-quarter net rating, and showed why yet again in this one. They outscored the Knicks 37-29 in the fourth, getting 28 combined points from LaVine, White and DeRozan, shooting 12-for-14 from the charity stripe, and burying five of eight 3-pointers despite being 6-for-21 from deep through three. They also scored eight of their 23 points off turnovers in the final frame, a staple of this team’s success.

Add it to the growing list of dominant fourth quarters, including the Celtics comeback, Nets rout and others.

 

9. The Bulls got hammered on the glass in these teams’ first meetup of the season, but played the Knicks relatively level in this one, losing the rebound margin by just two (55-53, 12-11 offensive).

10. It was Joakim Noah bobblehead night at the United Center, and the Bulls legend made an appearance for his second Bulls-Knicks bout of the season. He received a standing ovation during a second-quarter timeout.

With the win, the Bulls move into a tie with the Brooklyn Nets for first place in the Eastern Conference.

Next up: A chance to boost their standing further at home against the 7-11 Indiana Pacers on Monday.

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