The Bulls winning streak ended at
8 7 on Sunday night with an unexpected loss to the Knicks in New York. The loss ended the Bulls chances at 50 wins for the season, and with a Toronto victory earlier in the night bumped them back down to the fourth seed in the East.
And if the Bulls were trying to strategically align for a seed instead, they didn't show it with their rotation, which was their usual 7-strong. The Knicks, in contrast, saw their playoff chances were over before the game and sat Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler for the entire 4th quarter. But the Knicks still outplayed the Bulls for a good portion of the game.
The Knicks did play, er, 'loose' to start in a way that would suggest they would roll over for a Bulls team still gunning for the playoffs. But the Bulls had too many scoring droughts, and combined with 9 first-half turnovers saw them perform just as sloppily as New York. The Knicks finished the second quarter on a 9-0 run and went into halftime with a 6 point lead over the Bulls 39 points.
Considering the circumstances and the teams, you still would expect the Bulls to surge their way into the victory column in the second half. However, though the Knicks had started 0/10 from three-point range, they exploded early in the 3rd quarter, with J.R. Smith hitting three straight and the team overall hitting 7 of their next 11 three-pointers. At one point the Knicks were up 17.
Perhaps feeling a bit too good, the Knicks were definitely running offense in a way that gave the Bulls opportunities to climb back in the game. But while the Bulls had those opportunities to go on one of their momentous runs, they just didn't shoot well enough. Combined, Hinrich and Augustin went 7/26 from the field and 3/14 from three, and the team shot 6/22 from three overall. So even after getting some stops, and completely dominating the offensive glass (29.2% ORR to the Knicks 17.5%) to create more opportunities, the Bulls just couldn't capitilize.
The Knicks reserves then started the 4th quarter against the Bulls closing lineup, usually that magical Boozer-free time (he's not even worth complaining about, anymore) where they do damage. But while the Bulls cut the deficit to under single-digits with 6 minutes remaining they never got much closer. Iman Shumpert, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Cole Aldrich all logged serious minutes and actually produced, grabbing just enough loose balls and making just enough run-stopping shots to keep the New York lead.
For the Bulls, Joakim Noah was pretty spectacular yet again, falling just 1 assist short of a triple-double (and I think he was trying a bit too hard to get one at the end) to go with 13 points and 17 rebounds. Jimmy Butler was the Bulls leading scorer with 17, playing over 45 minutes and tasked with guarding Carmelo Anthony for the relatively short period of time he was in. Though Anthony was rested and is nursing a sore shoulder, he started the game extremely hot and finished with 17 himself in his 28 minutes.
Meh. As it has been speculated, the #4 seed actually could wind up the better one, and nobody got hurt. AND, horrible end-of-season basketball will be over soon enough. Let's start these playoffs already.