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Lauri Markkanen dropped career-high 33 points to win unicorn battle again

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And had a dunk we’ll never forget

NBA: Chicago Bulls at New York Knicks Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Thirty nine games into his professional career and Chicago Bulls rookie big man Lauri Markkanen already has a signature, ‘highlight-reel-on-loop’ type of dunk.

Could Markkanen’s stuff last night enter a category of legendary Bulls dunks? We remember when Derrick Rose dunked on Goran Dragic seven years ago and when Taj Gibson slammed home a full-extension putback dunk in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals in 2011. Of course The Dynasty had several of Michael Jordan’s aerial acrobatics and Scottie Pippen’s dunk and step over on Patrick Ewing in Game 6 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Semifinals.

Neither Markkanen’s head coach Fred Hoiberg nor his teammates will forget it anytime soon.

“I damn near passed out when he dunked that one,” Hoiberg said. “That was unbelievable. Just to see attack in transition; he’s shown the ability to rebound and push the ball down the floor -- to rise up and do that, it was just such an exciting play ... to come in on the big stage in the world’s most famous arena, hit eight 3s, and play against arguably as good a power forward as there is in this league in Porzingis, to play 46 minutes and then hit the big free throws late, shows you everything you need to know, tells you everything you need to know about Lauri. He’s just such a competitor and a guy that’s going to come out and play the right way. Just spectacular play after spectacular play tonight.”

Kris Dunn, an accomplished dunker in his own right, was equally impressed.

That’s probably one of the dunks of the year,” Dunn said. “Got to be put a top 10 on that. I didn’t even know how to react to it. I’ve seen him do a lot of dunks, layup lines and all that, but I didn’t expect him to go raise up like that. So when he did it, I kind of did a 360 [turn] to look at everybody and see what was going on; I was in shock mode. That’s the first time I’ve ever seen him react like that, too. That’s big time.”

The dunk was one of many climatic moments in an epic battle at Madison Square Garden last night that ended with the Bulls just edging the New York Knicks 122-119 in double overtime.

Markkanen poured in a new career-high 33 points on 10-for-22 from the field and 8-for-15 from 3-point land. He added ten rebounds to post his ninth double-double of the season which is second among rookies only behind Ben Simmons (18). For the third time in a row, Markkanen thrived in his matchup against Kristaps Porzingis who finished with 24 points on 11-for-24 from the field.

Markkanen scored in familiar ways last night. His ability to get down the floor faster than most opposing big men then put himself in spots on the floor where he can score before defenses set creates confusion for the opponent. He’s also still floating to the 3-point line off high pick-and-rolls and getting good looks there as well.

But, as the league has seen more and more of the young star, there’s been widespread adjustments which Hoiberg had to creatively counteract with off-ball action to get him open looks. The Bulls offense as a whole, which has a much-improved offensive rating of 105.2 since Dec. 8 (start of the seven-game winning streak), is beginning to turn some heads.

“They play free, they’re young, they run up and down. It’s pretty fun to watch them play,” Porzingis said.

After hitting a bit of a rookie wall, Markkanen looks to be back to his early-season level. In the last five games, Markkanen has averaged 20 points per game on 52.2 percent from the field and 48.7 percent from behind the 3-point line to go along with 8.8 rebounds per game. His 3-point shooting remains unprecedented for a rookie. He also tied Dirk Nowitzki for most 3-pointers made in one game (eight) by a 7-footer in NBA history.