After a slow 4th quarter for both teams, with less than a minute left in the game, Lauri Markkanen helped Chicago take the victory. Markkanen is still going through a slump and didn’t have a great night, scoring 12 points on 5 of 15 shooting, but came up big when Chicago needed him with plays on both sides of the court.
Dunn long pass to Lauri Markkanen who dunks pic.twitter.com/0HwKNyFxi4— ⓂarcusD (@_MarcusD2_) December 28, 2017
The first play occurred on the fast break after a Knicks missed field goal. With around 41 seconds left, Courtney Lee misses a jumper and the Bulls are off to the races. Nikola Mirotic grabs the rebound and instantly gives it to Kris Dunn, who begins to push the ball up the court. Meanwhile, Markkanen starts sprinting to the Bulls basket as soon as the shot went off the rim and finds himself ahead of the pack. As soon as Dunn looks up, he set Markkanen behind the Knicks transition defense and fires a pass over the top to the big man. Markkanen catches it in stride as he enters the paint and slams the ball home despite Lance Thomas’s best effort to foul him.
The dunk gives Chicago the lead but they aren’t out of the water just yet. In the very next possession, Markkanen comes up with a big play defensively.
As was the case throughout the game, Markkanen started the possession guarding Kristaps Porzingis (who he gave trouble to for much of the night). The main ball handler in this sequence is Lee, who is being guarded by Justin Holiday. At the top of the three-point line, Lee gets a screen from Porzingis as he drives to his left into the lane. This forces Markkanen and Justin Holiday, who was initially guarding Lee, to switch. The rookie does a good job of realizing the switch early and slides over to stop Lee’s drive. This halts Lee right in his tracks and forces him to retreat his dribble back to the three-point line. Lee tries to crossover Markkanen but dribbles the ball off his leg and it rolls to the corner. Luckily for New York, it’s picked up by Doug McDermott but he’s being hounded by David Nwaba. Thinking quickly, McDermott makes the only play available and tries to fire it back to Lee. However, Markkanen reads the play beautifully and leaps in the lane to pick off the pass. He is able to shrug off Lee as he rumbles down the court and then flips it to Dunn who then passes it back to Nwaba. Nwaba gets fouled as he goes into the lane and draws two free throws.
This late game sequence showed some qualities about Markkanen which always aren’t talked about. First, his ability to run in the open court and in transition, something rare for a guy his size. Second, his ability to guard against quicker guys on switches and being comfortable to hold his own in those matchups.
The main theme of this season is player development, and one big part of it will be how the young guys perform in crunch time, a time when each dribble of the ball is maximized and the smallest mistake can result in losing the game. These types of games are great learning experiences. To see young Bulls come up in the clutch (Markkanen against the Knicks and Dunn against the Bucks) shows they have some potential to be very solid players in the NBA.
Also, seeing the United Center explode when Markkanen dunked was pretty cool.