Last gasp falls short, Thibs hands Bulls their first defeat
The Bulls started the day 4-0, but beating the Pistons, Pelicans and Raptors did nothing to prepare them for facing a Tom Thibodeau defense.
The Bulls not only struggled to score, they got over-the-top frustrated playing against the back-alley brawl style preferred by the New York Knicks.
Stuck in a double-digit deficit for much of the second half, the Bulls finally came to life and got a chance to win in the final seconds. Trailing by 1, the Bulls ran a play where DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine crossed after the inbounds pass. DeRozan kept the ball instead of handing it off and air-balled a 20-foot just before the final buzzer.
The miss sealed a 104-103 victory by the Knicks, the first loss for the Bulls after their first 4-0 start in 25 years.
"I'm happy with the look, I really didn't expect to be that open," DeRozan said. "I tried to get my feet set, kind of rushed it at the end. I'll live with it. It stinks, especially when the team fought extremely hard to get that win, I wanted to pull it off for them, but you can't make every shot."
If it's any consolation, it's been a while since a team got so excited about beating the Bulls. Knicks guard Kemba Walker walked down the tunnel slapping fives, pounding trash cans and hugging every friendly masked face he encountered. Once inside the locker room, cheers from inside were audible.
"I felt our guys matched the physicality to be honest with you," Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. "It was a physical game. I was really proud of the way our guys competed.
"I think being able to run and execute offense against a good defensive team is just a way for us to get better. I think the game was really good for us in a lot of ways."
LaVine played with his left thumb taped and didn't seem to be bothered by the partially torn ligament, diagnosed after Monday's game in Toronto. LaVine scored 25 points, DeRozan had 20 and center Nikola Vucevic had 22.
Bulls forward Patrick Williams left the game in the third quarter with a sprained left wrist.
The Bulls trailed by 13 with 2:59 left, then finished the game on a 12-0 run, which included a 3-point play by DeRozan and 3-pointer from Vucevic. When it comes to who takes the final shot, Donovan said he's glad the Bulls have multiple options.
"It's a two-man game and they've got to make a read," he said. "DeMar faked it, which I'm totally fine with. I actually told him in the timeout they're probably going to jump out on Zach, so if you see a lane drive it, and he did.
"With 4 ½ seconds, I like the fact that we have different options and things we can do to get all those guys somewhat involved at the end of the game."
Nothing came easy for the Bulls offensively. They settled for outside jumpers, couldn't get many to fall and got frustrated by the lack of foul calls.
At one point in the fourth quarter, LaVine came down on a two-on-two break, had the ball slapped away by Walker, and emphatically said to referee Nate Green, "Call the foul!"
Meanwhile, it seemed like everyone who saw the floor for the Knicks contributed something important, from Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson to Walker and R.J. Barrett, who combined for 41 points. The Bulls may be undersized on the front line, but in this game, it looked like speed on the perimeter was a bigger issue.
Heading into the contest, it appeared the Bulls' biggest challenge would be trying to slow Knicks power forward Julius Randle. The Bulls used frequent double teams to get the ball out of his hands and he finished with just 13 points, 16 rebounds and 9 assists.
With Williams out of the game, the Bulls used guards Alex Caruso and Lonzo Ball to guard the 6-9 Randle at times. Donovan also used backup center Tony Bradley and rookie Ayo Dosunmu in the second half.