The Chicago Bulls sadly had their four game winning streak ended Tuesday Night in Madison Square Garden via an awful 100-91 loss to the lowly New York Knicks. Butler and Mirotic continued to play well offensively, but a team-wide lack of defensive intensity and hustle doomed Chicago from the opening tip and made for what was a borderline-unwatchable evening of Bulls basketball.
The teams kicked things off by making the seemingly-conscious decision to not play any defense for the first twelve minutes. NY elected to have Courtney Lee guard Jimmy Butler (lol), and Chicago consistently allowed their opponents’ frontcourt players open looks from the perimeter. Both teams shot 66.7% through the first three minutes of the game, and the score stood at 17-14 prior to the end of the first six minutes of action.
But, personally, I could forgive all of that because Jimmy Butler did this:
Meanwhile, Rajon Rondo had an absolutely bonkers first quarter in Madison Square Garden. Although he scored zero points (only took two shots), he still managed to tally eight assists and grabbed five rebounds—two of them offensive. Unfortunately, despite Butler and Rondo running the scoring show on one end, absolutely nobody for the Bulls stepped up on the other. Every single Bull might as well have been invisible on defense, as the Knicks consistently got whatever look at the rim or from the perimeter that they wanted with little to no resistence from their counterparts. As a result, the first quarter ended with a score of 29-24 in favor of NY.
Given Butler and Rondo ran essentially all of the offense through the first twelve minutes, one can likely imagine what happened next when both of them checked out for rest...
The Knicks went on a 10-0 run...
... that lasted five and a half minutes.
Yes, the Bulls did not score a basket in the second period until Jimmy Butler came up with a fortuitous steal and dished to Nikola Mirotic for an And-1 at the rim. The rest of the quarter, before and after, was completely blasphemous basketball. Stacey King sounded understandably pissed off on the telecast, reminding viewers every other minute that the Knicks had no reason to care while the Bulls still have something worth competing for. He also reminded all of the constantly resurfacing narrative the Bulls have cast themselves in for the last two seasons in that they almost always play down to their level of competition. Personally, I believe one could argue they played below their level of competition, as evidenced by the Bulls going down by 20+ points with a little under three minutes remaining in the half. The team did rally a bit during that final stretch to put a dent in the lead before the half, but the Bulls mercifully limped into the locker room down 54-40 at the end of the second quarter.
Oh, and before I forget... Rondo airballed an open finger roll layup, the Bulls’ bench scored only four points, and six Knicks scored at least five points with each shooting 50%+ from the field.
Here’s the TL;DR version of the first half:
The third quarter followed essentially the same storyline as the second. The Bulls could not score during the opening stretch (two points through the first three and a half minutes of the second half), the defense and hustle was non-existent, and the offense looked completely inept without Butler or Rondo.
Then, Maurice Ndour proceeded to completely embarrass all of the best remaining players on the Bulls’ roster in only two plays (thankfully not back to back). First, Ndour completely destroyed Jimmy Butler in the post with a spin move from way outside the paint for an easy lay-in. Then, after a separate scored basket for the Knicks, Rondo attempted to tie his shoe before the inbounds pass entered the court, but Nikola Mirotic proceeded to roll the ball to an attentionless Rondo anyway. Ndour promptly ran down the court and stole the ball before Rondo could get a hand on it, then drew a foul on Niko and headed to the line for two shots.
Bulls turned it over on inbound because Rondo was tying his shoe pic.twitter.com/ZJPXGGmUsk— Cody Westerlund (@CodyWesterlund) April 5, 2017
This was not easy basketball on the
Eis eyes. The Bulls ended the third down 78-66.
It’s worth noting that Rondo suffered an undisclosed injury towards the end of the third quarter, believed to be a concussion. He did not return for the fourth quarter as was not seen on the bench for the rest of the game.
Speaking of which, you know what’s not worth noting? The rest of this game. The Bulls actually saved their best quarter of basketball for last, but given how lethargically the team played in the prior three periods, it didn’t matter at all. Too many easy baskets for the Knicks, not enough energy and hustle (Bulls forfeited 16 offensive rebounds), and not enough help from the supporting cast all culminated in a 100-91 loss for Chicago.
Okay, here’s where it gets really fun in terms of explaining how poorly the Bulls played in this game against one of the biggest franchise laughingstocks in the NBA this season. Carmelo Anthony took 25 shots, made only 9 of them, and yet the Bulls still found a way to lose because they allowed nine of the hilariously awful supporting Knicks to score eight or more points, with five Knicks including Melo scoring in double figures. Maurice Ndour scored a career high 12 points, which makes this the second game in a row versus the Knicks that the Bulls have allowed a role player to tally a career day scoring-wise (last game was Mindaugas Kuzminskas). To quote Kendall Gill after the game, “The Bulls got beat by a bunch of Jakes from State Farm.”
Making matters worse? Paul Zipser, Michael Carter-Williams, and Denzel Valentine all combined to shoot 0-14 from the field and scored zero points in 54 combined minutes (I’m not counting the garbage-time three Valentine hit with eight seconds left in the game). Anthony Morrow scored 15 of the Bulls bench’s 28 points and finished the game as the only Bull with a positive +/- rating (+18 in 19 minutes!!!).
Butler and Mirotic looked like the only two players that actually cared tonight. Butler finished with 26 points on 9-18 shooting, while Mirotic finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds on 7-15 shooting. Everyone else looked like an absolute dumpster fire. If this playing-down-to-the-competition trend continues, the Bulls are in for a surprisingly rough final stretch as they attempt to clinch one of the final Eastern Conference Playoff spots. They will next battle the Sixers in Philly on Thursday, a team they surrendered 117 points and 70 points in the paint to slightly under two weeks ago.