The Chicago Bulls came into tonight's game tied with the Washington Wizards for the second-best record in the Eastern Conference. They ended the evening tied with the Brooklyn Nets for the best record in the Eastern Conference, essentially stepping into the number one seed. In a tough back-and-forth game, the Bulls managed to take down the New York Knicks 109-103.
The Set Up
The Chicago Bulls returned home to the United Center to take on the Knicks after five games on the west coast. This is a good thing for the Bulls because they get to play in front of their home crowd again (though Denver sure sounded a lot like Chicago). It is also good for my bed time. Both are equally important.
Coming into town was the 9-7 Knicks. There was hype surrounding the Knicks leading into this season similar to the Bulls. They got off to a 5-1 start, including a 104-103 win over the Bulls. Then, the Knicks went 4-6 leading up to tonight. Still, even without Mitchell Robinson, this is a great Knicks team with an impressive big man in Julius Randle, and the Bulls have shown that they struggle to keep up with teams that have a dominant post presence.
The Bulls have had some sluggish starts to basketball games this season, but they came out firing in this one. They combined that with intense defensive pressure on the Knicks. It seemed clear they wanted to make a statement after their one-point loss to the Knicks earlier this season.
Still, the Knicks weren't just going to go away. After the Bulls got out to a 20-8 lead in the first quarter, the Knicks went on an 8-0 run to pull within 4. Simultaneously, the Chicago Bulls went cold shooting the ball, and the quarter ended with a 25-20 Bulls lead.
As the second quarter kicked off, the man driving the Bulls was none other than Chicago's own Ayo Dosunmu. He had a 3 early on and a pull-up jumper as the Bulls were struggling to shoot. Then, he had a nice steal and an assist to DeMar DeRozan all in one sequence. Also, DeMar DeRozan banked in a pull-up three. I just wanted to include that. Oh, and Julius Randle passed the ball to a ref. That is amazing.
Most likely, the most memorable thing from the second quarter was both Alex Caruso and DeRozan picking up technicals for arguing with refs. Caruso received his for arguing when he was called for a foul, and DeRozan got his for arguing a no-call after experiencing a few others throughout the first half. All in all, it seems they had good reason to be upset. In the first half, the Knicks had 18 free throw attempts while the Bulls had 8. Still, the Bulls built a 51-45 halftime lead.
Once the second half started, the Knicks were the ones who came out looking to build momentum. They continued to out-muscle, out-hustle, and out-flop the Bulls until they took a 59-58 lead. The foul calls continued to haunt the Bulls as Caruso, Ball, and Javonte Green had four fouls before the third quarter was halfway finished. It seemed as though the Knicks continuing to attack the basket and take advantage of mismatches was a better strategy than the Bulls' plan of passively playing iso ball and shooting contested threes and midrange shots. They built up a six point league before the Bulls whittled it down to a 74-72 Knicks lead.
Coby White started out the fourth quarter with a three to put the Bulls back up 75-74. He followed it up with a nice dish to Derrick Jones Jr. for a second three, and—just like that—the Bulls were leading 78-74. Suddenly, the Bulls had life again. Coby and company kept the pedal to the metal and kept hitting threes to put the Bulls up 91-84 with seven minutes left. White had 9 points in the opening five minutes of the quarter.
Still, the Knicks kept fighting. They were hitting seemingly everything to keep the game close. They did a great job yelling, "Hey!" and subsequently going to the free-throw line. As the game entered the final minutes, it stayed incredibly close. Caruso fouled with a minute and a half left, which left the Bulls without one of their strongest defenders. However, with 28 seconds left in the game, LaVine hit two free throws to put the Bulls up 106-99, and that was essentially the dagger. The Bulls walked off the court after the final buzzer with a 109-103 victory.
DeRozan Continues MVP Campaign
DeMar DeRozan had 31 points on 10/20 shooting, 2/2 from deep, and 9/9 from the line. Almost every time the Chicago Bulls needed a clutch bucket, DeRozan delivered. He was a game-high +21 when he was on the court, and he's now averaging 26.6 PPG on 48.8/33.3/88.5 splits. While DeRozan probably won't top anyone's MVP list, he's a legitimate name in the race right now, and that has been a revelation for this Bulls team.
What's On Tap Next?
The Chicago Bulls have a back-to-back and will face the Indiana Pacers on Monday at 7 PM CST. The Pacers are currently 7-11 and will want to show they're better than their record suggests. Meanwhile, Chicago will be looking to make this a 3-game win streak. Either way, it will be good to see how the Bulls handle Damontas Sabonis and company at home.
Make sure to check out the Bulls On Tap podcast for further postgame reaction as well as Chicago basketball analysis and commentary all season.