Lauri Markkanen scored 30 points through three quarters while Zach LaVine scored seven points during the final two minutes as the Bulls defeated the New York Knicks 110-102 on Monday night. Thad Young came up big off the bench again, recording a near-triple double (13 points, eight rebounds, eight assists) in 31 minutes. The Bulls (8-11) will meet the Knicks (9-13) again at the United Center on Wednesday night.
Lauri Markkanen doesn't say much.
The inscrutable Finn probably loves calling and getting the answering machine. He's said to be a social vegan; you know, avoiding meet. He probably wonders why cats and mimes are so interesting at parties.
It doesn't matter. Lauri Markkanen is again letting his play do the talking, and the Bulls Monday with a 110-102 victory over the New York Knicks with Markkanen's second consecutive game scoring at least 30 points are doing the shouting for him.
The Bulls moved to 8-11 and host the Knicks again Wednesday.
"We all know Lauri's extremely talented and we're seeing his full game right now," said Zach LaVine, who secured the victory with a late three and 10 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter. "Obviously, a lot of people talked about him wanting to have a better year. Offensively, he brings a lot of different things to the game where when he's clicking it's gonna be tough to guard us.
"He's very, very, very good and, you know Lau, obviously we all understand his situation," said LaVine. "He's going out there proving what he's worth. We like that chip on his shoulder."
Markkanen recorded 30 points on 11-of-18 shooting against the Knicks.
Markkanen's story has been much debated, discussed and dissected, a rookie star in bloom who seemed headed toward bust last season with career lows in just about every major statistical category. With several players from his draft class signing expensive extensive contract extensions, Markkanen and the Bulls apparently were antipodal. Markkanen, of course, continued his minimalist financial peroration. It would all work out, he said. And now he's doing.
LaVine put it out there. Lauri may not know where Missouri is, but it looks like he's going to show all of us.
Markkanen is averaging 22 points the last eight games in his return from his Covid absence and now is above 20 points per game for the season, beloved to be the latest he's averaged more than 20 per game. He's also shooting 40 percent on threes in that stretch with six of 12 against the Knicks, including 23 first half points that got the Bulls off with a brief hiccup to the start they needed following the late game abomination against Portland Saturday.
"That's the great the thing about the NBA," said Markkanen. "You've got the next game coming up. We learned from it and we did some execution stuff down the stretch, like in practice just going through what we could've done better. So that didn't creep up to our minds at all. We were focusing on getting stops and just being strong with the ball and executing down the stretch. I think we did a good job today."
There are many memorable basketball quotes.
Wilt said: Nobody roots for Goliath.
Michael said: There's no 'I' in team, but there is in win.
Rodman said: So do you like my wedding dress.
There aren't any from Markkanen, who is delightfully friendly with a puckish sense of humor that's mostly a rumor since it supposedly only is on display for teammates.
The Bulls have had plenty of clever guys; they need more who can put the ball in the basket. Like Markkanen has been doing. What do you know, the Bulls looked again and here's this seven footer who shoots from 30 and dunks with ferocity. Yes, that Lauri Markkanen!
Markkanen against the Knicks showed a lot of it in addition to the threes, most of them without the hesitation, a back door cut for a dunk, a driving drag step we've rarely seen for two years, dribbling full court and passing to LaVine for a dunk.
Markkanen (30 points), LaVine (21 points), and Young (13 points, eight rebounds, eight assists) led to the Bulls in the win.
"I think he's probably heard, ‘You've got to drive the ball more, you've got to get more physical, you've got to play with contact, you've got to get in there and rebound,'" said Bulls coach Billy Donovan. "He's capable of doing it."
Heck, there was Markkanen causing a jump ball against Julius Randle late in the first quarter and then calling for the ball from Coby White, beating R.J. Barrett off the dribble and barely missing a hammer dunk over Nerlens Noel, who appeared to get away with the foul.
"I'm trying to be active, being off-the-ball active, too," said Markkanen. "Giving myself up on a cut that might get someone else an open shot if I just go to the hoop hard even when I don't have the ball.
I've got to go hard; I can't jump that high," said Markkanen with a life-of-the-party smile. "I got to almost go through the guy (Noel). I kind of lost the ball on that one while I was bringing it up. I should've gone off with two hands, but it is what it is. We'll learn from it."
Markkanen says that a lot, though perhaps we're the ones who are doing the learning: About Lauri Markkanen.
That dunk attempt was late in the first half in which the Bulls trailed 59-55. It was a game with 21 lead changes and ties that the Bulls basically controlled (the Knicks biggest last was two) after Donovan called a timeout 50 seconds into the game.
"Well, we blew a pick-and-roll coverage, we gave up an offensive rebound where obviously we talked about being able to rebound the basketball. And something that we've talked about for a long time with us offensively, we turned it over two straight times," explained Donovan. "So there was nothing in those first two or three possessions that we did that we had talked about. I didn't really need to say much to be quite honest with you. I think Garrett (Temple) and Thad (Young) and OP (Otto Porter Jr.) and even Zach, they understood. They were on it and they got it corrected."
Not only the veteran voices but the veteran knowhow. There wasn't going to be an acceptance of defeat after the debilitating loss to the Trailblazers. Thanks especially to Young at the start. The versatile point center with Wendell Carter Jr. out got into what they call the pocket. And stole the Knicks lunch money.
Once again Young's interior wizardry that almost had you humming Sweet Georgia Brown led to an assist on every Bulls first quarter basket and an astounding 20 on the Bulls 23 in the half. The Bulls had 30 for the game.
For the third straight game, Thad Young had a near triple-double.
"He's been amazing," said Donovan, not one usually for the enthusiastic adjectives. "He's kind of an unbelievable facilitator and he's got great vision, a great passer. He thinks pass first before shot. Obviously, he's incredibly crafty around the basket with that floater and those little jump hooks. But he just really finds open spaces, finds areas to get into the teeth of the defense. Our guys really trust him. He's been a big piece to the fact that when he's involved the ball movement for our team being really really good in terms of spraying around, moving and cutting. Still playing at an extremely high level."
And once again almost with the first triple double of his career as Young had 13 points, eight assists and eight rebounds. He's now averaging 11.7 points, 9.3 rebounds and 9.3 assists the last three games and one of six Bulls averaging in double figures with Patrick Williams and Garrett Temple both barely below.
"First of all, damn, I can't get this triple double," Young laughed in a colorful TV interview as he walked off the court.
"I'm (not) really playing attention to it like that. I'm really comfortable," Young said. "I want us to have the best shot possible for us to win basketball games; that's all I'm looking to do. Sorry for all the cussing. For real, I'm just in a happy space. The record doesn't indicate how good a team we can be. We just have to continue to play, continue to finish games; we finished this one."
This time the Bulls did thanks also to a Knicks team that former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau may not be fully getting through to yet. We know Thibs is an excellent coach, but it was a curious finish for the Knicks after they came back to take a 97-96 lead with 2:54 left on a Randle driving score. Markkanen played reasonably good defense against the Knicks star who finished with 23 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. Yet, it looked like the Bulls were about to mourn another win that passed away after leading by double digits in the first and third quarters.
The Knicks, 9-13, edged their way back after trailing 78-68 late in the third quarter. The Bulls led 84-81 after three and barely held off the Knicks early in the fourth quarter with Young picking up a rolling loose ball like it was a $20 bill in the wind and scoring and LaVine dropping in a tough step back three. Daniel Gafford with his best game in weeks with 12 points and nine rebounds tipped in a LaVine miss with 3:14 left to reclaim a one-point lead for the Bulls before Randle's drive to give the Knicks that 97-96 lead with 2:54 left.
"Obviously, we've had some really really difficult, tough losses and I think the message has always been to try to learn and grow and get better from those things," said Donovan. "We have to learn how to win games."
It basically just comes down to scoring more points.
This time the Bulls did. The shots went in, at least for the home team.
Young got a layup for a 98-97 Bulls lead with 2:34 left, but it was how he did it. Young in the middle of the floor above the circle took a pass from White. He handed off to LaVine cutting from the right wing and set a screen. As LaVine was cut off by Alec Burks, Young signaled for LaVine to come back behind him. That brought Noel to trap LaVine. Young rolled to the middle and went up past Randle. Even a left hander like Randle forgot Thad goes left.
"He's making great decisions," White said about Young. "Most of the time it's our best offense just hitting him in the pocket or in the high post. He's just being Thad. He knows what he's doing. He just knows how to play the game of basketball. You can't ask for nothing more."
LaVine let out a fist pump after nailing a three-pointer with 22.4 seconds remaining to essentially seal the Bulls win.
The Knicks are the worst three-point shooting team in the NBA. At that point in the game they were five for 25 on threes. They are last in the league in made threes and bottom five in percentage and attempts. The Bulls were small with Young closing with Markkanen, White, Temple and LaVine.
So four of the next five Knicks shots were threes around a Randle turnover. The Knicks made one.
Talk about letting go of the rope.
With the game tied at 100, Young got the ball to Temple on the wing and he made a quick pass to White in the corner. White, who finished with 13 points and was having a rough game, made the three for a 103-100 Bulls lead. Randle lost the ball dribbling and LaVine was basically left wide open on top in another un-Thibs-like-team mixup and added a three for a 106-100 Bulls lead with 22.8 seconds left. LaVine with the fist pump.
"Lauri got hot," LaVine noted about his own four points in the first half. "I feel I'm a really unselfish guy. This year I've learned when we need a basket or down the stretch when we need to close out games, that's when I really turn it up. Billy told me, ‘OK, look up.' He gave me a couple of plays and it's time to win."
And enough time to lose, sure, the Bulls have experienced. But not with those Knicks shooters.
"We've played in a handful of them to where it's never over until it's over," said LaVine. "We played well in the Portland game. I don't want to take that away from us. We had the game pretty much sealed up. You saw the stat where it was, like one-in-20,000 were in a position where you're up five with 11 seconds to go. It's an anomaly. I told the guys, ‘The game's not over. We've been in this position before. Let's not let this one get away.' And we executed down the stretch and got it."
It was welcome, if only just one. But what if Markkanen can be that one we all thought he could be?
Out of the mouth of babes?
"To be honest, he has had it going since he got back from quarantine. Lauri is just being Lauri," said White. "Last year, I think a lot of people gave up on him; except his teammates. This year we know who Lauri can be. He's not just picking and popping. He's putting the ball on the floor, getting to the basket, getting to the free throw line, getting and-1s, creating for others, getting downhill. When Lauri is aggressive, he can't be stopped. He looks like a star. I think last year he took it as, ‘A lot of people doubting me, (so) this year I'm going to prove that I'm still Lauri Markkanen from my first two years; I'm still that dude.' He's been proving a lot of people wrong."