The Bulls wins these season, with a third Monday 116-115 in double overtime against the New York Knicks, have been revolutionary. And not only because each has been against a team from one of the original 13 colonies. Those wins have been radical because they have required a special breakthrough, and the Bulls have gotten it each time from Zach LaVine, who Monday scored a career high 41 points and the winning free throw with two tenths of a second left.
“At the end of the day, I am going to do what I do to help us get a win,” said LaVine. “I’ve worked hard to get to the next level.”
It’s becoming a special place as LaVine scored all the Bulls points in the second overtime, overcoming a pair of Knicks leads with bursts to the basket that eventually made the difference.
“I am going to attack,” said LaVine, who had three driving scores with his explosive first step and a pair of free throws to hold off Knicks rallies in the second extra session. LaVine also scored the Bulls last 11 points in regulation with a triumvirate of three-point baskets and had the score to tie the game at 108 in the first overtime. That one did come after LaVine dribbled out of bounds among his eight turnovers.
“I had some costly turnovers I have to clean up,” LaVine acknowledged. “But at the end of the day I did what I had to do.”
With so many regulars injured, LaVine is basically the last hope before defeat.
LaVine played 49 minutes against the Knicks with 11 of 14 from the free throw line highlighting his new career high game. In the Bulls three wins, LaVine is averaging 33.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and four assists with an average of 10 made free throws in each victory.
“I was just doing what I had to do to get us a lead,” LaVine said about that decisive second overtime. “Get to the cup, get to the free throw line, and I feel I did that. Then I knew I either was going to lay it in with time on the clock (or get fouled). I knew there was (time) on the clock; the ball was out of my hands.”
LaVine had to make just one free throw for victory with .02 left. He made the first and intentionally missed the second, which ended the game since .03 automatically runs off the clock on a rebound. In a similar situation last month in a win over Charlotte, LaVine accidentally made a second free throw with .05 left when he tried to miss. In that game, LaVine stole a Charlotte inbounds pass with seven seconds left in a tie game that led to LaVine’s winning free throws going to that orange circular cup.
And as a result, the Bulls again could raise their cups in a toast to success.
“Our guys needed to get a close one,” said Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg. “We needed our guys to get a little confidence. We had a lot of miscues (19 turnovers and three for stepping out of bounds within a few minutes), but we needed a big stop and we got it (at the end of regulation and the first overtime). The guys hung tough and they stuck together. We found a way to get the win.”
The Bulls improved to 3-8, the same record as the Knicks. The Bulls also got 17 points off the bench in 20 minutes from Antonio Blakeney, 15 points from Jabari Parker and 11 points and 13 rebounds from Wendell Carter Jr. before he fouled out late in regulation. The Knicks were carried by their reserves with 66 points, including 23 points and 24 rebounds from Enes Kanter. That enabled the Knicks to crush the Bulls on the boards 62-48 and 21-11 on the offensive boards. But led by LaVine, the Bulls had 64 inside points. Despite the offensive rebounding dominance, the rebuilding Knicks had just 11 second chance points.
That was helped by a late, emergency appearance from Robin Lopez, who played the overtimes after Carter fouled out in place of Cristiano Felicio and had a pair of vital blocks and ferocity at the basket.
“I give Robin Lopez a lot of credit for being ready when we needed him,” said Hoiberg.
Neither team was truly ready for this game, which became entertaining, if not exactly artistic and captivating. The Bulls led 24-21 after the first quarter when Blakeney got hot to close the quarter. Though the middle part was weighted down by a sequence of eight shared possessions which produced two Bulls shots blocked and one Knicks shot blocked, a lob out of bounds and two other turnovers. The game overall featured 20 lead changes and 15 ties, but felt the weight of the injury absences. Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn, Bobby Portis and Denzel Valentine were out for the Bulls. Leading Knicks scorer Tim Hardaway Jr. was out and top rookie Kevin Knox played only briefly in a recovery from an ankle sprain. Knicks star Kristaps Porzingis is still recovering from an Achilles injury.
And so former Bull Noah Vonleh was in the starting lineup for the Knicks along with two second round picks and undrafted Allonzo Trier. Trier had 21 points and was the Knicks main go to guy for the late shots.
The game skittered back and forth in the second quarter with a 47-47 tie at halftime. LaVine also was the prime ball handler for many possessions, though some of his turnovers were when teammates failed to look for the ball or veered away to the safety of spectator status.
“I feel like I made some good passes,” said LaVine. “I’m trying to create open shots for the guys.”
Parker had a nice scoring run in the third quarter as the Bulls took a 78-72 lead going into the fourth quarter. Chandler Hutchison continued to show flashes with this long armed drives to the basket and eight points, though Hoiberg elected to close with Parker and Justin Holiday. Holiday shot just two of 10, but he came away with a vital loose ball to send the game into a second overtime.
The game was tied at 93 with four minutes left when LaVine made back to back pull up three pointers and an even longer three for a 102-97 Bulls lead with two minutes remaining.
Trier then scored five straight with a three around a pair of LaVine misses to tie the game at 102 with 49 seconds left in regulation. Then came the first of many wild scrambles between these two teams unpracticed in success. LaVine drove and spun, but lost the ball. It bounced to Holiday. He threw to Cameron Payne, who began dribbling endlessly, a habit that’s been too frequent with this Bulls group. Payne had eight points and two assists in 40 minutes. Finally his drive was blocked out of bounds by Vonleh. With five seconds on the shot clock, LaVine missed a baseline jumper that went off Payne. The Knicks had a last chance with 25.9 seconds. Trier drove and missed a baseline jumper and Mario Hezonja missed the follow just short.
The first overtime appeared to be assembled by Rube Goldberg with LaVine and Hezonja exchanging air balled threes and then Parker and LaVine stepping out of bounds for turnovers on consecutive possessions sandwiching a Vonleh turnover. It was still tied at 106. LaVine matched a New York score with a baseline fade with 1:13 to tie at 108 and neither team scored again. Though there were chances.
First LaVine stripped Vonleh for a turnover and then missed a three. The long rebound went to Payne with 33 seconds left. He then rushed a three pointer that went well long to the Knicks for a last shot.
Again the last shot went to undrafted Trier, who beat Holiday right. But Lopez came darting across the lane to block the shot with 4.1 seconds left. Holiday stole the inbounds pass switching to his bright orange head band. LaVine then had a last shot and stepped out of bounds turning around for the three. The Knicks didn’t have a timeout and had to go full court. Kanter’s three went long.
It felt like half a league as these somewhat noble 10 rode into the valley of misses in the second overtime. Trier gave the Knicks a 111-108 lead with a three. LaVine seemed to have had enough. After all, the Bulls were staying overnight before leaving for New Orleans. LaVine put his head down so the Bulls finally could hold their heads high. His back to back driving scores gave the Bulls a 112-111 lead. Trier scored again on a drive to give the Knicks a one-point lead with two minutes left. LaVine evened it with one of two free throws. LaVine then rebounded a Kanter miss and drove full court, crossed over and laid the ball in on the left side of the basket for a 115-113 Bulls lead with 43.5 seconds left. Trier missed a rushed runner that went to Kanter. LaVine stripped it away again and it was recovered by Holiday. But LaVine missed a baseline jumper as the Bulls could not run out the clock. The Knicks got the miss and Emmanuel Mudiay running full court blew by Payne and Holiday for the basket to tie with 2.7 seconds left in the second overtime.
Madison Square Garden long has been known as the mecca of basketball. Players cherish big games in New York with the theater lights type setting for the court. It’s the game’s greatest spotlight. There was Michael Jordan’s famous double nickel 55 points in his 1995 comeback. Kobe had a 61, Curry a 54, LeBron a 52. And don’t forget Wilt’s 73 in 1962, which he pretty much scored everywhere.
“You get up for these types of games,” said LaVine. “It’s the mecca. You hear about everybody throughout history, the greats always having great games here. They get up for it; you can feel the energy.”
So LaVine waiting to spring from the left elbow with his fifth game this season already surpassing 30 points got an inbounds pass from Parker with 2.7 seconds left. Trier was trying to defend LaVine. Lopez screened Trier and LaVine got the ball above the three-point circle on top. The Knicks brought a double team with Damyean Dotson. But LaVine blew by him also down the left side. Mudiay came over late, grabbing LaVine’s arm with .02 left. The official under the basket immediately called the foul, but there was, of course, a review. LaVine went to the free throw line and swished the first for point No. 41. LaVine finally revealed a bright smile. As soon as the ball caromed off the backboard on the second free throw the game was over.
“I was up for this game,” said LaVine. “We were ready and earned this win.”
Because Zach LaVine did just about everything he could to produce some of his own history.