The Bulls are grimy—and that’s an affectionate term considering the way the Bulls have found comfort in playing in close games recently. Kris Dunn might be the Bull best equipped to play in such conditions, so it’s no surprise he found Lauri Markkanen streaking downcourt for a dunk when neither team could get anything close to a basket in the last four minutes or so.
It was also Dunn who made the ensuing free throws with seven seconds left to give the Bulls a three-point lead at 90-87.
“I just told the team to keep grinding, neither team is making baskets, somebody is gonna make one,” Dunn said. “Don't let it be them. That's what I tried to preach to them.”
Dunn is garnering kudos for his offensive play in recent weeks but make no mistake, this is the kid who won defensive player of the year twice in the Big East at Providence, so this ugly game took him back to his roots.
“Yeah, that's Big East play,” Dunn said. “When I was a freshman, we had Louisville, UConn, Pittsburgh, all those teams. You had to grind it out. There would be times where you don't score for four minutes, because both teams are playing that good of defense.”
Dunn had been Mr. Fourth Quarter recently but missed all five of his shots this time around. It didn’t deter him from staying with it mentally, and the team is still following him.
His stat line of 17 points, five rebounds and five assists won’t go in the annals, but it is another step in terms of his leadership.
“They look at me when it comes to the fourth quarter, they feel I could be a leader, the coaching staff does too,” Dunn said. “I'm taking it as a challenge. I'm not backing down from nobody. I'm gonna just try to make the right plays, make the right reads, and see what happens. I'm not gonna hang my head, sometimes it's gonna go bad. It ain't gonna be perfect, but don't hang your head. Know that you're out there battling.”
The Knicks? The Knicks!: Looking at the Knicks’ record, it’s no wonder why they’re closer to the .500 mark than a few games above. Their set offense in the final quarter—and honestly throughout the game, looked atrocious. Rookie Frank Ntilikina will grow into a good NBA player from these eyes and veteran Jarrett Jack has been a stabilizing force at point guard while the rookie learns.
But one would think an offense drawn up by Jeff Hornacek would look…something other than offensive. Yes, the Bulls dragged them into the muck of fatigue they played in due to an emotional win over the Bucks just 24 hours before, but there seemed to be very little in getting easy looks for Kristaps Porzingis in terms of set plays. He was nine of 22 from the field after a strong start and didn’t get much help from the coaching staff.
The Knicks’ scoring decreased in every quarter as they put up just 35 points in the second half, shooting an abysmal 34 percent. Scorer Tim Hardaway Jr’s injury has made things difficult, but Hornacek played Michael Beasley just five minutes in the second half Wednesday night.
The same Beasley who scored 23 and then 32 against the Boston Celtics on national TV a week ago was the same Beasley who played 13 minutes the next night after dazzling against the Celtics.
Perhaps this observation is being too tough on Hornacek, considering point guard and shooting guard aren’t exactly plentiful with scorers on the roster. But when you draw up a play that looks like this when you’re down three and can tie it, there’s something wrong all the way around.
Markkanen: Just when you think Markkanen is ready to head for an extended slump, he breaks out in a big enough way. The rookie made the big play for the dunk to break the drought, and then stepped in front of Doug McDermott’s pass to Courtney Lee on the next possession to trigger the fast break.
Not to mention the clean swat on Porzingis’ turnaround jumper that was erroneously called a foul from the refs. Yes, he was five for 15, but he was a team-high plus-15 while on the floor so that has to count for something.
It started in the season opener against Toronto when he closed out on Serge Ibaka as well as any seven-foot rookie most have seen, and his defensive awareness has continued to surprise ever since.
“He's shown a great ability to move his feet, to stay in front of his man with great anticipation. He's a smart defender, he understands rotations,” Hoiberg said. “It's not easy to grasp, it's such a different concept than the college game with all the rotations that happens at the NBA level. The big thing with Lauri is his IQ and it's helping him on the defensive end of the floor.”
Ugly Bulls too: Let’s not let the Bulls off the hook here, either. Their offense was a far cry from what they’ve displayed in the last 10 games or so, with two surges providing the majority of their scoring.
It was an 18-6 run after they trailed 46-31 midway in the second quarter that brought the game to a workable deficit, and a quick third quarter spurt from Dunn (11 points) that kept the Knicks from running away and hiding after they jumped out to a 59-49 lead in the opening moments.
“Just pick up my energy. My energy was pretty down in the first quarter, first half. I tried to pick up my energy,” Dunn said of the third quarter.
Nikola Mirotic only found four shots, hitting two. Bobby Portis played just 13 minutes and went three for eight. The Bulls were beat, they were dragging all the way to 41 percent shooting and 36 percent from 3-point range.
They just made sure they dragged the Knicks just a little bit more.