The Bulls' offense falls flat in the final 3 minutes.
This was to be the start of the Bulls era of good feelings.
The Razorback-turned-New Yorker Bobby Portis said fuhgetaboutit.
The popular former Bull who was part of the Otto Porter Jr. trade last February delivered that painful message Monday with 11 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter to stun the Bulls, who blew their second double digit fourth quarter lead of the season and in this game 18 points in the third quarter to lose 105-98 to the Knicks.
"It's upsetting, bad," said a disconsolate Zach LaVine, who led the Bulls with 21 points. "We won that game; we were supposed to. We were up for 42 minutes of the game, something like that. So it's really upsetting, but can't do anything about it now, have to keep working. Have to do better down the stretch. That's been our m.o. for awhile now; we have to learn how to finish games and learn how to win.
"It sucks right now," LaVine said. "I feel like we should be 3-1 right now, but it's flipped around."
The Bulls dropped to 1-3 and play in Cleveland Wednesday. That was supposed to conclude an agreeable stretch in which the Bulls, though with four of five on the road, could have gotten some momentum for the season because four of the five games were scheduled against teams not expected to make the playoffs. But the Bulls blew a big lead in Charlotte, recovered to win late in Memphis, lost badly in the home opener to Toronto and then had their breath knocked out of them in a shocking collapse which saw the winless Knicks score the last 15 points of the game. The Bulls didn't score the last 3:33.
"We gave up too many offensive rebounds (25)," said Wendell Carter Jr. "I think we lost by like 25 or 30 on the boards (63-38) and that's just unacceptable. And down the stretch we didn't defend like we did throughout the game. We've got to be smarter as a team. It's going to come. It's the (fourth) game of the season, so I'm not going to speak too much about it."
Carter was perhaps the one most entitled to with his first 20/10 game as a Bull. He also had three blocks, a steal and three offensive rebounds as he often seemed alone battling multiple Knicks on the boards. Lauri Markkanen had 18 points, but continued to shoot poorly on threes. He is five for 27 on the season and averaging just 12 points since his big opening night game with 35 points. The Bulls again failed to shoot better than 30 percent on threes for the fourth straight game. They shot 25.7 to match a season low. Thaddeus Young added 15 points off the bench.
Rookie R.J. Barrett had 19 points and 15 rebounds for the 1-3 Knicks and Julius Randle had 13 points and 14 rebounds. Portis also had 11 rebounds and two blocks on 10 of 14 shooting in just over 29 minutes.
Otto Porter Jr. continued a brutal start to the season with seven points on three of 11 shooting. Neither he nor Tomas Satoransky has scored in double figures in any of the four games. After a fast start to the season, rookie Coby White had just five points and is shooting 26 percent overall the last two games.
But coach Jim Boylen appears to be taking a calming approach with the team, which features five new regulars in the rotation and expectations which haven't existed for three years.
"I felt our first quarter was terrific," Boylen said about the impressive 33-15 start. "I thought our edge, our competitiveness; our defense took a step forward tonight. I felt we responded from the Toronto game. I thought for about 44 minutes we played really good basketball. I thought we defended pretty well; we didn't rebound well enough. I thought they battled and I thought they put some of their tougher guys in down the stretch and they were very competitive.
"I'm not disappointed," Boylen insisted. "I saw a lot of things we did better. I saw us come together and play the right way for a lot of that game. We're going to learn from our mistakes and we're going to grow. I'm encouraged. We've got a resilient group, we have great kids, great guys. Our character is high. We responded from Toronto. Like I said, we played really good basketball. They made more plays down the stretch than we did. We've got to learn from it and grow."
And so we'll see if that approach works.
Because this was a gut punch loss that seemed inexplicable after the Bulls spent almost all game making it look like, to use the local vernacular about the Knicks, "yooz guys are schleppers." Sure, they book Madison Square Garden for concerts by early April for certain now and instead of the national anthem everyone just screams "you suck" before games. They still have celebrities at the games, but they've substantially lowered the requirement to be a celebrity at a Knicks game.
Still, the Bulls weren't smiling after this one the way Portis was with back-to-back back breaking threes when the Bulls had their last lead at 98-97 with two minutes remaining. In that dismal last three minutes after Markanen's three gave the Bulls a 98-90 lead, the misses were:
- Markkanen three;
- Porter airball runner;
- LaVine three;
- Markkanen three;
- Satoransky airball three;
- Porter three.
Well, they were starting to get far behind this time.
But the continued reliance on the three-point shot seems to have the players at times searching it out instead of benefiting from team play. A concern coming into the season on the offensive side that has manifested has been the lack of a true distributor to help get players easy baskets. Especially late, it was an isolation or one pass for a quick three. Plus, the offense, at least for now with players likely still somewhat unfamiliar with one another, appears more free flowing than patterned. There seems to have been a metamorphosis with Boylen, who was the defensive specialist with former coach Fred Hoiberg. Boylen then was more an advocate of switching on defense, which the Bulls seem to do less of now. A return to a more traditional effort to defend your man seems to be having an impact, especially when the Bulls led 52-42 at halftime and by as much as 67-49 midway through the third quarter.
But Boylen's insistence in paint points and playing inside/outside when he took over last season seems to have morphed into a scheme to exploit the three-point shot with less post play or roll action inside. Of course, the personnel has changed without Robin Lopez, who was featured in that style. And the Bulls have shot unexpectedly poorly from three-point range, less than 30 percent for the season despite the continued emphasis.
"You can see how it starts," said LaVine. "They chip away at the lead. We've got to do a better job of putting people away. You're up 18, you're up 10 going into the fourth, eight, whatever it is. It's a very winnable game. It's upsetting because we keep kissing away wins."
The first quarter was the Bulls best of the season, a positive coming off the debilitating home opening loss Saturday. LaVine was smooth, Young gave a lift off the bench and Carter was on the way to four rugged quarters. The Bulls center probably has been the most consistent player this season with double/doubles his last two games and shooting more than 50 percent, though primarily from inside. But again like he did against the taller Raptors, Carter continued to come up with rebounds that seemed unlikely and unavailable.
"Teammates found me; I just played into our system," shrugged Carter about his own play. "I had open shots and just took ‘em. Made ‘em."
Limiting the switching, the Bulls were good running Knicks players off the three-point line and upsetting pick and roll actions with blitzes and hedges. It was Portis who kept the Knicks in the game early with his own 7-0 run as he shared smart talk with the Bulls bench and took advantage of Luke Kornet with several drives past the Bulls backup center. Though Markkanen, especially late, didn't have any more success against Portis as several of Portis' late baskets were a pump fake that forced a Markkanen fly by and overpowering Markkanen in the lane.
Boylen admirably gave Portis his due.
"Bobby Portis, because that happens in our league, it doesn't mean we're not fond of that player (because of a trade). Or that we don't believe in that player or that player doesn't fit. It happens," said Boylen. "There are situations that come up where a deal works and you put a guy in it. He played great tonight. I'm disappointed we lost, and I'm happy for him he played well. He's a great kid. If every guy in the league is like him, we've got a hell of a league."
The Bulls still seemed in control as they started the second half with an 11-3 run to go ahead by 18, Carter rebounding a Markkanen miss and dunking, LaVine running out on a Markkanen full court pass for a three-point play. It seemed to be playing out as the Bulls envisioned with points in transition and speed instead of half court decision making. Because not everyone makes good decisions. But rebounds not only equal rings, as Pat Riley says, but they equal runs and running.
Again the Bulls seemed to wear down with the Knicks pounding inside. Markkanen had an unlikely scoop score on a drive, but again it was Kris Dunn standing in the corner to take a three, an alignment which needs some adjustment. Portis was an amazing plus-31 for the game and plus-10 in the third quarter. But the Bulls still seemed in control, leading 80-72 to start the fourth when Barrett missed two more free throws.
Hey, what are you lookin' at!
The Knicks got a post up score from Portis and a three to tie the game at 88 with 6:09 left. But the Bulls appeared to survive the scare with a 10-2 run as Satoransky drove for a score and assisted to Markkanen and LaVine and Markkanen made threes.
They're starting to plan for Thanksgiving in New York and the rats are getting nervous. This one still can be a laugher.
Just hold them off for three and a half minutes.
The Bulls v Knicks game recap