Quite frankly, the Bulls had zero business having a chance to beat the Knicks on the last possession of Thursday night’s game at the United Center on Joakim Noah Night. Tom Thibodeau’s Knicks soundly outplayed the Bulls for almost the entire game and held a 104-91 lead with a tick under three minutes to play, but a furious Chicago rally and some serious New York choking (yikes, Julius Randle) had the score at 104-103 with 4.8 seconds to play.
Billy Donovan drew up a play with Zach LaVine as the inbounder passing into DeMar DeRozan, with a handoff option back to LaVine for the final shot in the middle of the floor. DeRozan kept it himself, though, and dribbled into a potential game-winner. Unfortunately, a pump fake and some poor spacing with Nikola Vucevic in the corner resulted in DDR trying to force up a difficult shot over two defenders. It caught nothing but air, ending the Bulls’ four-game winning streak to start the season:
I don’t hate DeRozan taking the final shot here, but didn’t love the decision-making on this particular play. Once he kept it himself (you could argue he should have given it back to LaVine), he needed to be more aggressive getting it to a better spot and just getting the shot up. Once he pump faked (maybe he was trying to draw a foul), it was a wrap, especially with Vucevic’s defender right there.
Here’s another angle:
Good play design by Billy on this to force the Knicks to decide who to guard.— Will Gottlieb (@wontgottlieb) October 29, 2021
Personally, I'd prefer to get Zach going downhill than DeMar to the sideline, BUT I like this view because it shows how both jumped to Zach
Super tough bang bang decision but he did have the jump pic.twitter.com/k4iegdzddc
While the Bulls fell just short, it was still nice to see them fight until the very end after the Knicks controlled almost the whole game. The Knicks clearly looked like the better team from the second quarter on until that last stretch, though the Bulls were able to stay within striking distance and never let it get out of hand. They finally got some stops late (and some luck), with Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso really ramping it up defensively. Those guys played their asses off, especially when switched onto Randle time and time again in the post.
LaVine led the Bulls with 25 points on 7-of-17 shooting overall and 2-of-6 from 3-point range as he played through his thumb injury. The Knicks were very aggressive defensively against LaVine and he got noticeably frustrated at times in the second half, which is when it looked like things were going to unravel for the Bulls. But he got it together and still had himself a solid overall game, though he admitted after the game the injury felt “unpleasant” and that he felt some limitations, especially while dribbling.
However, it sure sounds like LaVine is going to play through this, or at least try for a while. During the broadcast, it was reported that the injury can’t get worse by playing and it’s more of a pain tolerance thing.
Vucevic had a nice game himself with 22 points, eight rebounds and six assists, with a number of really nice passes for open looks. It was also great to see him get that 3-point stroke back, as he went 3-of-5 from deep and hit a clutch triple during the big comeback that made it 104-101.
DeRozan finished with 20 points on 7-of-18 shooting to go along with five assists. He took four 3-pointers as the Bulls actually got up more than the Knicks (32-29), but he only made one. The fact that he’s showing a willingness to get up 3s is a good sign, though, especially with Coby White out.
The absence of White continues to be glaring for the bench unit, which was clearly outmanned by the Knicks’ reserves in terms of offensive prowess. The Knicks’ bench did mess around a bit at times during moments where they really could have expanded their lead against some messy Bulls lineups (Billy Donovan dusted off Ayo Dosunmu and Tony Bradley in the second half), but former Bulls Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson had a number of nice plays and New York won the bench scoring battle, 31-24.
Getting White out there to chuck up more 3-pointers and add a bit more ball-handling juice will be helpful, whenever that may be. I’m really looking forward to the White-Caruso duo, because Caruso continues to be outstanding as long as long as he’s not trying to do too much offensively. We got a Carushow moment in this one:
Back to the negatives, the Bulls also got smashed on the boards again, with the Knicks grabbing 49 rebounds to 37 for Chicago. New York grabbed 11 offensive rebounds to just five for the Bulls, with Bradley getting three of those in his six second-half minutes. Alize Johnson was totally ineffective in three first-half minutes (minus-12), leading to Donovan going with the bigger Bradley in the second half.
While there was plenty of excitement on this night between the game itself and the Noah festivities, there was a major bummer in the form of another Patrick Williams injury. Williams got off to a sluggish start before waking up in the second quarter, but then he suffered a sprained left wrist while going up for a dunk early in the third quarter. There was a flagrant foul on the play and he tried to stay in after making two free throws, but he soon left and didn’t return. We’ll see how long he’s out, but this is now three different injuries for the youngster to start the season. Brutal.
As for Joakim Noah Night, there was a lot of great stuff:
Thank you, Joakim! ❤️ pic.twitter.com/1DDEa8cUSR— Chicago Bulls Archive (@BullsArchive) October 29, 2021
Tons of former Bulls were in the house for the celebration, so it was a jovial night even despite the loss. Noah was also named an official Bulls Ambassador before the game.
The Bulls will now have to regroup for another tough game against the Jazz at the UC on Saturday night. Let’s hope for another fun one and a victory this time.