10 observations: Bulls lose another clutch game to Knicks


Another night, another "clutch" loss for the Chicago Bulls. And another overtime one at that.

Wednesday's 128-120 loss to the New York Knicks moved the Bulls to 11-16 on the season and 3-11 in games that fall within a five-point margin with five minutes or less to play. A sobering statistic for a sobering season.

Here are 10 observations:

1. The Knicks stormed out of the gate to an 11-2 start to this one, breaking the Bulls' defense down and making three of their first four 3-point attempts. Typically, that would be grounds for a quick-trigger timeout by Billy Donovan. But in this one, he let the Bulls play through it and they trimmed an eventual 10-point deficit to 14-10 by the game's first stoppage (at the 6:08 mark).

In all, the Bulls lost the first quarter 29-28, snapping a three game streak of winning the opening frame. In some ways, it could have been worse.

But it also could have been significantly better if the Knicks had not dominated the possession battle. Despite shooting 34.6 percent from the field in the period, the Knicks scored seven second chance points off six offensive rebounds, three points off three Bulls turnovers, and seven points on nine attempts at the foul line.

2. Javonte Green played in his second game back after missing three with a bone bruise in his right knee — and remained in a reserve role.

This is significant because Donovan said last week he intended to return Green to the first unit, where he played for one game before getting injured, when healthy. But the Bulls' coach has now gone beyond simply easing Green back into the rotation by starting Patrick Williams over him in two straight contests. When asked about the dynamic pregame, it does not sound like the plan to reinsert Green is as set in stone as it once was.

"I think Patrick's played well, I think the group's played well while Javonte was out. I just decided to go with it. We'll have to see how it is going forward," Donovan said pregame of his decision to start Green against the Hawks. "In a back-to-back, I just didn't feel comfortable starting him at that point in time.

"I think as he (Green) gets back into playing, that, to be honest with you, has been tough. Because, to be honest with you, Javonte has played really well, Patrick has played really well and Derrick has played really well... I'll take a look to see what it looks like going forward."

Green, who Donovan added is not under a playing-time restriction, had an impactful stints in the first and third quarters, hitting a 3-pointer, generating a trip to the free throw line off an offensive rebound, cutting baseline for a dunk and generating a couple transition opportunities with his activity. The Bulls were plus-five in his 10 minutes.

3. Ball security was again a problem for the Bulls in the first half, another complaint Donovan lodged during his pregame session. The most troubling stretch came in the first half of the second quarter, when the Knicks turned three takeaways into seven points, expanding a one-point lead to 11.

4. But the Bulls reversed that script in a third quarter that saw them flip a nine-point deficit into, at one juncture, a one-point lead. That run was catalyzed at the defensive end, where they forced five Knicks turnovers (and scored six points off of them) in a span of less than eight minutes:

However, the Knicks did course correct to drain three 3-pointers down the stretch of the frame and carry a 92-88 lead into the fourth.

5. Other than fastbreaks, Nikola Vučević was the Bulls' most reliable source of offense through three quarters. At that juncture, he had 19 points and four assists — and did most of his work in the post. But that post work was not primarily against mismatches — he took Knicks centers Mitchell Robinson and Isaiah Hartenstein to the school of hooks and shot fakes as well.

(Unfortunately, he then hardly touched the ball until overtime, when he missed a corner 3-pointer and was blocked by Robinson on a hook shot.)

6. DeMar DeRozan grabbed the reins to start the fourth, scoring eight points in a roughly six-minute span to spark a back-and-forth stretch run. DeRozan finished with 16 points in the final frame, including eight straight (six of which came from the free throw line) in the final 2:07 of regulation and send the game to overtime.

7. Donovan closed the fourth quarter and rode out overtime with his starting lineup, enlisting Alex Caruso and Williams around DeRozan, Zach LaVine and Vučević.

Williams, in a refreshing development, scored 11 points and came up with two of the biggest plays of the game down the stretch; with 0:28 to play in the fourth and the Knicks ahead 117-115, he blocked a Randle layup, which directly led to a DeRozan fastbreak layup that tied the game 117-117. Then, on the Knicks' final possession of regulation, he forced Randle into an airballed stepback jumper.

(Donovan also saved Williams from a potentially devastating error going on his record by challenging a shooting foul on Randle that would have sent the Knicks forward to the free throw line with New York ahead 114-111 and 1:30 to play. It's the second game in a row Donovan has won a critical challenge in the final minute of the fourth quarter.)

8. But the Knicks won overtime 11-3. And the enduring storyline of the game will be that their "Big Three" outdueled the Bulls' star trio:

  • Randle was a largely unanswerable problem, scoring 31 points. Fifteen of those came in the first quarter on the back of drilling his first two 3-point attempts. He was effective at burrowing in and using his physicality to visit the foul line 15 times (making 12). And even when he did not score, the defensive attention he commanded — the Bulls primarily guarded him with Williams and Caruso, but often had to send doubles and help aggressively inside — opened him up to sling seven assists.
  • Brunson, who had been questionable with a foot contusion, was his crafty self, darting in and out of the lane for 30 points on 11-for-21 shooting (3-for-6 from 3-point range).
  • Although RJ Barrett fouled out late in the fourth quarter, he also contributed 22 points and four 3-pointers.

That adds up to 83 points and 16 assists. Meanwhile, DeRozan (32 points), LaVine (25) and Vučević (19) combined for 76 points. But LaVine did sprinkle in a few suspectly-selected shots late in the fourth, and DeRozan and Vučević combined to miss five potentially momentum-swinging field goal attempts in overtime.

9. Two statistics that swung big moments of the game: The Knicks entered play last in the NBA in 3-point percentage (39.1), but were hot from long range throughout the night, finishing 18-for-34 — a sizable advantage over the Bulls' 9-for-28. And the Knicks dominated the second-chance points battle, scoring 20 off of 15 offensive rebounds.

The latter was a massive factor in the fourth quarter, when Robinson pulled down three offensive boards, each of which came in back-breaking sequences. And to the point of the former, Quentin Grimes hit three dagger 3s between the fourth quarter and overtime.

10. Ayo Dosunmu, still nursing an abdominal bruise suffered in Sunday's game, did not suit up for this one, leading again to increased opportunity for Coby White. And, like in his second half against the Hawks, White took advantage. He had 12 points (5-for-8 shooting, 2-for-4 from deep), four rebounds and two assists. Beyond the numbers, he also made sound decisions while pushing pace offensively.

Next up for the Bulls: Back home to face the Knicks again on Friday.

Click here to follow the Bulls Talk Podcast.

Contact Us