Holy shit, what a basketball game.
It looked like the Bulls were going to experience a brutal case of déjà vu from the Blazers game after going up 21 points in the first half on the Knicks and then blowing it. But in a frenetic finish, it was DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine coming up with the big points down the stretch, with a little bit of Alex Caruso and Lonzo Ball defense mixed in to pull out a thrilling 119-115 victory.
This game truly felt similar to that Blazers game in a lot of ways, though obviously this final outcome was much happier. After two days of rest, the Bulls had fresh legs and blitzed the Knicks in the first quarter, going up 37-19 after one behind Nikola Vucevic (13 points), LaVine (11 points) an incredible two-way stint from Caruso and hounding team defense. The Bulls scored 10 points off eight Knicks turnovers in the opening frame, and New York wasn’t pleased with the officiating early on after Taj Gibson got questionably tossed just minutes into his stint.
Chicago’s offense kept cooking in the second quarter as DeRozan got hot with 14 points, but the Knicks got going thanks to a parade to the free-throw line as the officiating evened out in a big way and arguably overcorrected. Again, that’s how the Blazers managed to keep that first half from being a total laugher.
The Bulls still held a 69-51 lead at halftime, but the wheels almost totally fell off right away in a turd quarter. The Knicks scored at will inside and outside to start the third, with Evan Fournier and Immanuel Quickley catching fire from deep. Chicago’s offense malfunctioned in ugly fashion, though there weren’t quite as many turnovers in this turd quarter as there were in the Portland game.
The 18-point lead was trimmed to one in under seven minutes of action, with Billy Donovan waiting way too long before subbing in Caruso. The Bulls were able to stem the tide and didn’t give up the lead in the third quarter, taking an 89-83 lead into the final frame.
DeRozan went to work immediately in the fourth quarter, but Chicago just couldn’t get any stops. The Knicks kept crushing the Bulls in the paint and got them in foul trouble early, setting the stage for the wild finish. Vucevic hit a pair of big 3s to keep New York momentarily at bay, but Lonzo Ball bricking a host of wide-open corner triples (this happened all game) hurt, and the Knicks finally got the lead at 106-105 with 4:45 to play behind Julius Randle.
From there, it was time for DeRozan and LaVine to play closer. They scored the Bulls’ last 14 points, with DeRozan putting the finishing touches on the game with the last six and 18 total in the final frame to wind up with a game-high 34 points on 12-of-19 shooting and 10-of-11 from the charity stripe. This bucket to put the Bulls up four with 20.1 seconds to play was a thing of beauty:
Some great defense by Ball on Quickley to contest a 3-pointer got the big stop the Bulls needed, and DeRozan salted away the game at the line.
Speaking of great defense, it was Caruso who had one of the very biggest plays of the game just moments earlier. After Vucevic missed a great look from 3 with the game tied at 111, Caruso stole the ball from Randle and got the ball ahead to LaVine, who was fouled and made two free throws to put the Bulls ahead with just under a minute to play. A missed Derrick Rose 3-pointer on the other end then led to DeRozan’s dagger.
Caruso finished this game with a crazy stat line of six points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals. He badly missed some wide-open 3s, but he was a plus-21 and a noticeable difference maker from the very start of this game. He came off the bench like a man possessed and was dropping some crazy dimes, and he also finished this ambitious alley-oop pass from Ayo Dosunmu:
LaVine and Vucevic both finished with 27 points apiece. LaVine had 18 of his points in the first half before a terrible turd quarter, but he was able to make just enough plays in the end. While he did take some questionable shots down the stretch (nothing new here), he made one of them and got to the line for several big free throws. As for Vooch, it was great to see him hot from outside again, as he shot 10-of-18 overall and 5-of-9 from 3-point range. This version of Vooch just makes the Bulls so much more dynamic offensively, though he sure did get roasted a few times by Randle on the other end.
To be fair, Randle was doing plenty of roasting when he wasn’t turning the ball over (seven giveaways), finishing with 30 points on 14-of-21 from the field to go along with 12 rebounds and six assists. The Knicks bashed the Bulls inside with 66 points in the paint, and that was with Taj going out early and Nerlens Noel not playing. RJ Barrett also missed this game, and the Knicks missed their presence on defense.
Some final Bulls rotation notes: We saw Ayo play a little more than the last couple of games (17 minutes) now that Coby White is out again, and we also saw a little bit of Troy Brown Jr. Brown did have a nice hustle bucket off an offensive rebound and a 3-pointer in the first half. Derrick Jones Jr. had six points, two blocks and two steals in 14 minutes, but it’s tough to play super small against this Knicks team.
All in all, an absolutely wild game and a huge win for the Bulls to pick up to get to 15-8 heading to Brooklyn. There obviously has been a somewhat troubling trend of relaxing and blowing these huge leads, but to bounce back and still win these last two games after melting down is a great sign. They need to tighten things up more when getting these big leads, though these big swings do happen a ton in today’s NBA. Being able to get up off the mat after taking that big punch and coming away victorious is huge, even if it’s bad for our collective blood pressure.
The Bulls play the Nets on Saturday in a battle of what’s currently the two teams with the best records in the East.