Bulls rally from big deficit, fall short against Knicks.

Chicago cut a 19-point advantage to three but ran out of time as New York got the 107-103 win to split the two-game series.
by Sam Smith
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A tough shooting night from behind the arc (6-of-36) proved too tough for Chicago to overcome as the Bulls fell to the New York Knicks 107-103 on Wednesday night. The Bulls split the two-game series with the Knicks. Zach LaVine led the Bulls with 24 points, five rebounds, and seven assists. Thad Young added 19 points and five steals. New York's Julius Randle had big night with a 27 point, six rebound, six assist performance.

Is it too soon for scoreboard watching?

Zach LaVine doesn't think so, which is a good thing because it's the standings that matter to him. Not so good Wednesday when the Bulls lost 107-103 to the New York Knicks to still have their noses pressed up against the playoff window.

"Today was a big game," lamented LaVine, who led the Bulls in scoring (24 points) and trash talking, his running commentary with Knicks players on their ability to defend him helping galvanize a Bulls comeback from an 81-62 third quarter deficit. "It's frustrating because I think if we'd have won we'd have been tied for seventh. A lot of teams lost that we needed to lose today and it would have been a big momentum shift. But it didn't happen. So we have to put a little pressure on ourselves to go out there and get some in Orlando."

Zach LaVine led the Bulls with 24 points (10-of-21 shooting) vs. New York on Wednesday.

That's Friday and Saturday in the next playoff-like pair for the playoff hopeful Bulls, who fell to 8-12. The Knicks are barely ahead at 10-13 in an unpredictable and mostly unexceptional Eastern Conference where the Bulls like their chances.

Though not if the Bulls allow themselves to be pushed around like they did to start the game, the Knicks taking a 34-17 first quarter lead with a template employed by some of the better Bulls opponents, the Knicks not generally being one. But the New Yorkers true to their environment are bigger, louder and fortunately in the end for the Bulls a little denser. So the Knicks huffed and they puffed and the Bulls withered early in the game, not helping themselves with the house of bricks the Bulls were building in shooting six of 36 on threes for the game.

"We've just got to figure out a way when we're not shooting the basketball to figure out other ways to get ourselves into the game," said Thad Young who had a season high 19 points with five steals. "It really starts with the defensive end. We were kind of just letting them go wherever they wanted to go. We didn't start pushing up and getting physical until the fourth."

Or perhaps a few minutes earlier when Bulls coach Billy Donovan experienced his highlight of the night. That was when Patrick Williams missed a three, the ball bounding high with Young surrounded by four Knicks players. Young with an assist from Lauri Markkanen deflected the ball, and then Young dove for it like it was the cliff at La Quebrada. He then pushed the ball to Garrett Temple, who looked like he heard the signal to start a 200 meter freestyle. Temple got the ball and bounced it back to LaVine, who made a 20 footer to get the Bulls within 81-66. Though for Donovan it was how the Bulls got within 15.

"We kind of really elevated our energy when Garrett and Thad went to the floor for a loose ball," Donovan said, his heart apparently still racing about the memory. "I thought we got dirty and grimy and physical, but it needed to be that way a lot earlier. The difference was the three-point line (33-18 Knicks) and I thought early on the physicality. When we're not making shots, we've got to find other ways to put ourselves in a position to win. And for the most part, a good portion of the season, these guys have done a good job putting the ball in the basket. Tonight we didn't put the ball in the basket. I thought we dug ourselves a hole playing from behind for most of the game because we didn't do a lot of the things that we did in the fourth quarter."

That fourth quarter included Williams joining the game as he mostly was a spectator before then, Denzel Valentine with seven of his 13 points (41-26 Bulls bench edge) and the Bulls trailing 94-76 early in the fourth quarter and getting within 99-96 on a driving dunk from Lauri Markkanen on a slick LaVine pass. LaVine led the Bulls with seven assists, again going back to point guard often with Coby White having difficulties. Markkanen cooled off and scored nine points with just eight shots as the Knicks noticed him this time.

Still, it looked like it could become the $250 New York cab ride from the airport to Midtown. Another New Yorker about to wonder what happened.

But it was Feb. 3 and not Feb. 14. Valentine missed a runner and a three after his hot streak and someone named Reggie Bullock made his only three against the Bulls in two games and seven attempts.

"The first 36 minutes of the game we weren't imposing our will on the game," Young agreed. "We tried to essentially win the game in the last 12 minutes. We can't do that. We're not a team that can just flip the switch on. The light has to be on at all times. We didn't start doing it until the fourth quarter."

Zach LaVine

Zach LaVine cut the deficit to five with under 1:30 remaining with a one-handed slam.

LaVine missed on a short runner out of a timeout. Elfrid Payton, who this time often had his way with White and had 20 points, lost White on a drive and made a short jumper. Payton then deflected a LaVine pass and it rolled out of bounds off White. White answered back with a three to get the Bulls within 104-99 with 2:37 left in the game. And LaVine added an angry hammer slam dunk with 1:18 left. But that was after a short Julius Randle jumper. Randle with a fadeaway jumper proved too much for several Bulls defenders starting with Markkanen and ending with Young with 27 points and five of seven threes. The taller Knicks had a 19-7 advantage on second chance points and 47-38 on the boards.

The Bulls mostly have been able to disguise their weaknesses with Wendell Carter Jr. out injured. Young playing extensively at center with his basketball Mensa membership complete has been brilliant as a playmaker and facilitator. He's done just about everything, but hasn't been able to grow. The Knicks made that the difference this time and closed out the game with some free throws.

"We just have to go out there and all five have to gang rebound," said Young. "We can't have leak outs; everybody's got to come in and help. I think that's what we've been doing. Tonight we were just kind of spaced out a little bit, and we were just a little sleepy. It was just one of those nights. They're a physical team. When you're trying to double Julius and you've got a guy like Mitch (Robinson) on the glass he's long and active, a guy that can go out there and get five, six offensive rebounds same as Nerlens Noel. Those guys are very very long and agile."

Thad Young scored 19 points (9-of-11 shooting) and added five steals against the Knicks.

And just a bit too much this time even as the Bulls lost for the sixth time by fewer than five points. Of course, that's also the NBA where teams wear tight fitting games like swimwear in the tropics. But it's no day at the beach for the Bulls when teams begin with pressure and force. It's not so much an Achilles heel. Nor really a weak backbone as these Bulls have demonstrated a desire and willingness to fight back. Though to digress, Otto Porter Jr. was out again with back problems. But they no longer seem to settle into mourning when the game seems lost.

These Bulls did fight back. But they got knocked back on their heels, Achilles and otherwise in a 20-8 New York start midway through the first quarter. Donovan saw it coming again with a timeout this time less than two minutes into the game. It took into the fourth quarter to recover.

"The teams that really got after us, the teams tough for us to play have been real physical with us and even if it's not our makeup we have to be able to fake it," said LaVine. "They are a very physical team and I felt they outphysicaled us at the beginning and we tried to respond and it was too late, especially on a night where you don't shoot the ball well at all. There's too much room for error for that. You end up with a loss."

Denzel Valentine

Denzel Valentine provided a spark, scoring off the bench and draining three three-pointers vs. New York.

Randle unexpectedly made three straight threes late in the first quarter after the Knicks were hammering the Bulls inside. Daniel Gafford started again and though one of the taller and more athletic Bulls, he was little match for Robinson. Young was in again quickly, and this time he was scoring more. It didn't help that Williams was passive to start and White continued to be uncertain trying to be the point guard. He's been relentlessly committed to the task to his credit, but the responsibilities seem unnatural and appear to impact his offense. He had 13 points and Williams 12, but the latter two in the first half.

"They were certainly more aggressive attacking the paint and getting downhill," Donovan said. "We're going to have some issues with Wendell being out and sometimes we're going to be a little small. Our team in general is not this overly big, strong, physical team, so we've got to be really conscientious about rebounding."

The Bulls had a big second quarter with LaVine leading with 10 points and repeatedly attacking the basket and reminding Knicks players he did so.

"I didn't shoot the ball well from the three-point line, so stay in the mid range and get to the cup, try to get to the foul line," said LaVine. "Didn't get a lot of fouls, but just try to be aggressive and just show we have some fight to us."

LaVine attempted just four free throws, a mystifying continuing lack of respect and regard from the officials as LaVine was hit in the head enough times on drives to get into the concussion protocol. It's too costly to complain, and proved costly for the Bulls.

New York led 63-52 at halftime and then an indignant LaVine began challenging the Knicks to the rim with 10 more points in the third quarter. LaVine uncharacteristically missed all seven of his threes, but he did try something else.

"I was trying to bring some…I don't shy away from physicality or altercations," said LaVine. "We have to respond it. It's tough. We have to be able to go through that and win a game. That was a game today even though we weren't shooting the ball well we could have relied on our defense and our toughness to grind one out. But we didn't."

The Knicks led 91-76 after three and Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau took a chance with his shaky bench to start the fourth. Four quick turnovers, one with a goofy behind the back pass on a fast break, and Williams and Valentine were leading a 14-3 run that gave the Bulls a good chance with six minutes left. The Bulls turned out to be too accommodating as hosts to accept the gift.

"I think we responded to it pretty good," said LaVine. "We cut the deficit and got to two or three; just couldn't close it out. Sucks."

So they're 11th, a game out of seventh.

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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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