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Why the Bulls couldn't beat the Knicks and what it means

Will Gottlieb Avatar
March 29, 2022

As I wrote in my weekly look ahead, the Bulls are suffering from a mental fortitude problem.

That problem reared its ugly head in Monday’s 109-104 loss to the Knicks.

“When we went cold and had some missed shots, missed opportunities and turnovers and then they kind of made a run and got back in the game, I thought we have got to be able to move past that stuff from a competitive emotional standpoint,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said.

After leading by as many as 12 early in the second quarter, the Knicks went on a 12-6 run, grabbing the lead and not letting go.

“Once we got down, it was back to fighting that uphill battle,” DeMar DeRozan said.

Same story against the Cavs, same story against the Pelicans, same story against the Bucks.

DeMar and Zach go off but get no help

37 points on 59.1 True Shooting percentage for DeRozan. 27 points on 63.1 True Shooting from Zach LaVine. 22 combined free-throw attempts. Simply put, the Bulls have to win games when those two combine for 64 points.

Everyone not named Zach or DeMar shot 3-for-15 from deep. Coby White continued to struggle in a way that just makes you feel bad for him. Patrick Williams couldn’t crack the rotation late in the game playing 13 minutes and taking zero shots. Worse, his defense on various Knicks players was not good. He’s struggling to get around screens, cut off dribble penetration and prevent breakdowns.

Everyone gets beat in the NBA and it’s silly to criticize Williams for anything at this point during his injury-affected season. But it goes to show where he stands in Donovan’s rotation and whether he’s ready for big playoff minutes.

Right now, he’s not.

Finishing defensive possessions

The Bulls allowed 13 offensive rebounds, 8 of which went to Mitchell Robinson.

“He’s long, he’s really, really long,” Donovan said. “Sometimes when our help’s coming over to help, I want to see the film to see how much was it, we didn’t rotationally block out, or were we trying and his length was just too much for us.”

I went back to watch all of Robinson’s offensive boards and the majority of them, Vucevic had a body on him. The ball bounced long or Robinson reached right over his head to grab the rebound.

There were a few where paint penetration forced Vucevic to step to help giving way to a rebounding lane.

And then there was this:

The Bulls have generally been a good defensive rebounding team this season, ranking top-10 in opponent offensive rebounding percentage. Over the last month, they’re 16th. Offensive rebounds lead to tip-ins and open threes, two of the most valuable possessions in the game. They’ve got to clean up their problems here as they head toward the postseason.

Play in bound?

The Bulls just don’t want to make this easy on themselves. The Raptors and Cavs won on a night where the Bulls lost. They’re now hanging onto the fifth seed by the tiebreaker over Toronto and are just one game out of the No. 7 spot.

“All it takes is one,” Donovan said. “Cleveland was a big game for us. We had an opportunity tonight to keep that thing going. But now we drop this one. It sucks, it’s frustrating. But we gotta let it be frustrating and take it out on Washington.”

Tuesday’s game against Washington is a must-win game. With the Clippers, Heat, Bucks, Celtics, Hornets and Timberwolves — all playoff/play-in teams fighting for position — coming up, there is zero margin for error.

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