9 observations: Bulls' dive continues with Knicks loss

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The Chicago Bulls showed a glimmer of snapping out of their post-All-Star-break funk with Saturday’s 98-94 win in Cleveland.

That progress was muted by Monday’s 109-104 loss to the 11th-place New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden, to say the least.

Here are nine observations:

1. For the second game in a row, the Bulls got off to a crisp offensive start, shooting 63.2 percent (4-for-6 from 3-point range) and assisting on eight of 12 made field goals in the first quarter. Zach LaVine looked particularly in the zone, scoring nine points on perfect 4-for-4 shooting.

DeMar DeRozan then grabbed the reins and, with a series of midrange moneyballs, thrust a reserve-laden unit forward by scoring nine of the team’s first 11 points of the second quarter. At the 9:47 mark of the second, the Bulls led 39-27, DeRozan had 14 points on 5-for-8 shooting, and the Knicks were 1-for-9 from 3-point range.

2. But Tom Thibodeau quickly adjusted, hurdling a handful of double-teams DeRozan’s way to force the ball into the hands of his Bulls teammates. What followed was a momentum-swinging run.

The Knicks won the remainder of the second quarter 26-11 to carry a 53-50 lead into the halftime locker room. Yes, their shooting improved, a dynamic punctuated by Alec Burks’ 13 second-quarter points. But the Bulls’ decision-making dip hurt worse. They followed up an eight-assist, four-turnover first quarter by assisting on just two of seven made field goals — and committing six cough-ups — in the second. 

That disrupted their flow and allowed New York to find theirs.

3. Still, DeRozan and LaVine got theirs. DeRozan scored 37 points on the evening and 15 in the fourth quarter, including a whopping three successful and-one sequences. LaVine rode his hot start to 27 points, meaning the Bulls’ All-Star duo combined for 64. 

Meanwhile, the Knicks’ two highest-paid players — Julius Randle and Evan Fournier — shot a cumulative 3-for-19 from the field.

Yet, the Bulls lost. Let us count the reasons why.

4. The Bulls have done well for most of the season to hold up on the glass despite routinely playing at a size disadvantage. They entered the All-Star break fourth in the NBA in defensive rebounding rate and third in opponent second-chance points allowed per game.

But ever since? They rank 21st and 24th in those metrics, respectively. It showed in this one as the Knicks dominated the offensive glass by a 13-6 margin and won second-chance points 20-17. Mitchell Robinson led the way in both regards, pulling down eight offensive boards and scoring 16 points in the paint, while deterring the Bulls to the tune of three blocked shots at the other end.

5. The Bulls also got very little in the way of offensive contributions from their non-DeRozan, LaVine and Nikola Vučević (16 points, 13 rebounds) players. Ayo Dosunmu (10) also broke double-figures, sure. But the bench contributed all of 11 points between four players, with Coby White’s 0-for-5 line from 3-point range the most glaring sore spot.

Some of that is by design. DeRozan typically soaks up the majority of shot attempts while leading reserve-laden units. But it was a top-heavy dynamic, all the same, while the Knicks had Burks (27 points) and Obi Toppin (17 points) pick up their off-the-mark stars, and RJ Barrett tally a team-high 28.

6. In all, the Bulls shot 6-for-22 from behind the arc, which particularly stung because of their 6-for-18 line from the midrange, and the fact that they held level at 44-44 in paint points. Whether it be natural regression, opposing defenses adjusting or something else, their post-All-Star-break shooting swoon continues.

7. The Bulls also, after slinging eight assists in the first quarter, handed out eight dimes for the rest of the game — and, in turn, shot just 37.1 percent. For the contest, they allowed New York to score 16 points off of 14 turnovers.

And the mental lapses didn’t stop there. The Bulls also fouled two 3-point shooters — one of which resulted in a four-point play — and sent New York to the free-throw line 35 times, although fortunately for them, the Knicks made just 60 percent (21) of those tries.

8. For the fifth game in a row, Patrick Williams saw his minutes decline — and he’s only played in five since returning from wrist rehab. In this one, he logged 13 ticks without attempting a shot.

Williams did have a couple nice defensive sequences in the second quarter — including a soaring block and strip-steal — but also committed a ghastly turnover trying to pick out a cutter on the short-roll and was largely unimpactful.

Donovan pointed to him still “finding his legs,” and struggles containing Barrett and Burks as reasons for his minutes decrease, but it was notable that the Bulls’ coach turned to Javonte Green to close — over Williams — after Alex Caruso fouled out with 84 seconds remaining.

9. The Bulls remain in the East’s fifth seed after the loss, but, with the Raptors outlasting the Celtics in overtime, fall into a tie by record with Toronto at 43-22.

The Bulls have already clinched the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Raptors and Cavaliers (who trail by one game in seventh), but slipping to sixth or seventh in the conference — and thus, the play-in — is a possibility with seven games left in the regular season.

Next up: At the Wizards for the second night of a back-to-back on Tuesday.

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