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The Bulls crumbled in the face of adversity versus the Knicks

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they’re not the better team, which doesn’t help

NBA: Chicago Bulls at New York Knicks Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Clearly the Bulls, especially without Zach LaVine, are not as good of a team as the Knicks. Theoretically, given their positioning in the standings, they had more desperation going into this contest. But a Tom Thibodeau team doesn’t just always play hard, they are prepared.

So it is tough to get too down on this loss, even with a relative collapse in the final minutes, as the Knicks are not only talented but simply playing better lately. But it’s still disappointing to see two stretches where the Bulls really were not able to hang.

The first was...well, the first stretch of the game. The Knicks starting lineup of Payton/Bullock/Barrett/Randel/Noel played the first 9 minutes and put up a +13 in that time. The first play of the game on both ends was typical of Patrick Williams: on offense, the Bulls ran a secondary action where Williams got off a midrange jumper that he made. But the prior defensive possession saw him get screened and the whole unit breaking down swiftly.

The next-youngest Bull, Coby White, had a poor overall outing and even in his better showings given more responsibility in LaVine’s absence you can tell how visibly frustrated he’s getting. Here he does a now-typical shoulder-slump after the defense fails and compounds it with hogging the ball towards a rushed shot:

It wasn’t just the young ones. Temple was out of position a couple times defensively. You could see Vuc’s usual...difficulties...dropping back defensively, plus he picked up a technical in this stretch. Daniel Theis got called for a foul on a 3-point shooter, a very lame whistle but still a mistake.

It’s not like they rolled over at this point, and there was some shotmaking luck on the Knicks side that the Bulls did not experience with their many misses from distance. But still very annoying to see this team pretty consistently be put in an early hole.

As we saw, they dug out of that hole (aided in part by more bad officiating) and even took a lead just before the 4th quarter. But a very different Knicks lineup of Rose/Quickley/Barrett/Toppin/Gibson played the first half of the period and put up a +11 mark, changing the whole dynamic of the game.

You notice that the Knicks are putting out two guards who can create, whereas the Bulls had Tomas Satoransky at point, so therefore zero players with these attributes.

Sato just got worked at both ends by the Knicks rookie:

Then this play was notable, just effort in bigs running the floor plus the execution you can achieve when employing a point guard:

After this, there was no ‘comeback’, the Knicks kept grinding the Bulls into oblivion.

Here was Billy Donovan after the game on the officials and facing adversity:

Donovan rightly pointed to the early stages of the fourth quarter as the turning point. That’s when the Bulls had trouble containing Immanuel Quickley and the Knicks ran away and hid by quickly turning a one-point lead into a 12-point cushion.

“It’s easy to nitpick an official on three or four calls,” Donovan said. “But what about the 25 pick-and-roll coverages you were in? What about the 25 times you had a chance to block out? What about the 25 times you had a chance to run back in transition? What about the 25 times you had a chance to close out and guard the ball? We have to focus on doing our jobs.”

KC Johnson adds an editorial of “This is the right approach”, but it’s noticeable that in these games the Bulls aren’t following through on the floor.

The schedule, on paper, is looking even tougher. But I am holding out hope that even if the Bucks, Sixers, and Hawks have more talent than the Knicks (and thus far more than the Bulls) they won’t play as hard or as well. Then, maybe, the Bulls can steal one. Straight-up beating good teams is just not happening.