After putting up only 84 points on Saturday, the Chicago Bulls needed a much better offensive performance in their game against the New York Knicks. The matchup seemed to favor Chicago. The Knicks had given up point totals of 120, 113, and 118 to start the season. If there was a team the Bulls needed to play to get out of their shooting slump, it was them.
For the first 56-plus minutes of the game, it looked like Chicago was mostly in control. Even though New York crawled back from an 18-point deficit to make the game interesting, things were still in the Bulls’ favor when they went up eight on a Lauri Markkanen 3-pointer off a Wendell Carter Jr. steal with 3:33 to go. From then on it should have been smooth sailing for the Bulls, as all they needed to do was keep getting good looks on one end of the court and let the Knicks keep chucking up shots on the other.
That’s how it should have been. Instead, the Bulls watched Bobby Portis and RJ Barrett come alive in the final minutes to spark a massive rally and win the game 105-98. The Bulls went scoreless for the final three and a half minutes on offense. While the defense was poor on those final possessions as Portis enjoyed his revenge, the offense has to be given a major part of the blame as well. Against a bad Knicks team, the Bulls’ offense shouldn’t have gone silent down the stretch. Zach LaVine and Wendell Carter Jr. had 21 and 20 points, respectively, while Markkanen had 18 himself. Thad Young dropped 15 off the bench, but Chicago still couldn’t get it done.
After the Markkanen made triple with 3:33 left, the Bulls missed their last seven shots from the field, with five of them coming from 3-point land. To say Chicago has struggled shooting the ball from deep would be an understatement. The Bulls are currently 29th in 3-point shooting percentage at 27.5%, with only the Orlando Magic being worse. It’s not like last season where Chicago isn’t even attempting shots from that distance. They rank 11th in 3PA per game at 35.5, but they simply aren’t making them.
Guys like Markkanen and LaVine are getting looks from deep. Coby White is taking step back 3s and Luke Kornet is slipping out to the 3-point line every time he gets a chance. The Bulls have emphasized the importance of shooting more 3-point shots over the offseason.
In this game against the Knicks, we saw the lack of efficiency from Chicago come back to bite them. With 2:56, the Bulls lined up an open shot for Markkanen. They had him come up from the low block with LaVine setting a screen. He looked like he was going to set a screen for Tomas Satoransky, but then he dashed to the 3-point line. Julius Randle got caught up by the LaVine screen and was completely out of position when Markkanen caught the ball. Ideally, this should be an easy 3-point make for the Bulls:
But the shot clanked off the rim and Chicago missed out on a killer basket to stop the Knicks’ momentum.
The Bulls continued to have chances to extend the lead and keep the game out of reach. In crunch time and with New York only down one, a basket was desperately needed. LaVine had some space after a WCJ screen but still was a long way from the basket. The ball was in his hands and with 14 seconds left on the shot clock, there was certainly time for a quality look:
While LaVine has shown us that he certainly has the range to drill these shots in his sleep, it’s hard to argue that this was the right decision. There was still time for the Bulls to draw up a play for anybody. LaVine could have driven his way to the basket to draw foul shots or kick it out to an open shooter. Otto Porter Jr. or Markkanen could have run off a screen for a catch-and-shoot look. Instead, it was a quick possession and was the last time Chicago had the lead against New York.
The Bulls offense can score; we have seen it. LaVine has grown to be one of the most fun score-first players to watch in the league. Guys like Porter Jr. and Markkanen can punish teams.
However, they still need to execute down the stretch, and that includes generating and knocking down open looks. Against the Knicks on the road, Chicago was out of sorts on both sides of the court in the final minutes. It has been a steep learning curve for these young Bulls. With a lot of the season left to play, hopefully these early failures can help them execute better in crunch time in the future.