Back-to-backs are always tough, especially when the second game is on the road. You can almost always bank on a loss, even when they are the better team otherwise. This was very much the case tonight, as the Bulls dropped to 15-10 on a 107-91 loss to the Knicks. Not only had the Bulls played last night at the United Center against the Pistons, but they went through four overtime periods only to lose in the end. They got to New York very late in the night, and that showed as their very fast start in the first quarter faltered rather quickly.
Because of the late night, Pau Gasol stayed home in Chicago to rest, pushing Joakim Noah into the starting lineup. Gasol had played 48 minutes on Friday night, but that wasn’t the most on the team (Butler played 55 and Rose 54). Noah was the catalyst for an early surge in the first quarter, but even he couldn’t provide the energy to push them to maintain that lead for very long, as they were down 25-18 by the end of the first quarter. Noah finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds, but had a +/- for the night at -15.
#FreeBobbyPortis. It’s been a fun meme so far this season, but tonight was the first time we saw Portis get any sort of significant minutes. This happened, of course, because Gasol was not even in New York, but Portis may just have played well enough to earn a few more minutes going forward. He had only appeared in four games prior to tonight and had racked up a total of 26 minutes, but against the Knicks he played just under 23 and made them count. Though he was a -3 for the night (his defense is more than a bit shaky), he was second in scoring to Noah with 20 and grabbed 11 rebounds. His three turnovers were costly, but he provided a couple of three pointers late in the game that in other circumstances might have sparked a resurgence.
Unfortunately, the Bulls just looked too worn out. This showed in the lack of crispness on their offensive screens and plays as well as the transition defense. They didn’t shoot particularly well overall, but especially from deep (23.8%). Nikola Mirotic, for instance, made just one shot all night, and was 0/5 from three point range. He had been having a better stretch of games on offense, but the last two nights have not been kind to him. Doug McDermott struggled mightily too; the Bulls later announced he would not return with a sore knee. Hopefully it’s nothing big.
This was the first time I have been able to really watch Kristaps Porzingis, and he is definitely something special. I can only think of perhaps a handful of players I have watched who are as tall with that kind of athleticism. I don’t want to be hyperbolic, but he might even be the only one. At 7’3″ he moves and has the athleticism of someone 7 or 8 inches shorter. I was most impressed with his movement on offense, ball handling, and passing. It’s too early to tell, of course, but Rookie of the Year talk might not be totally out of line.
Along with Porzingis, the Bulls defense could not figure out Carmelo Anthony (+14, 27 points), and Arron Afflalo (+22, 18 points). Anthony especially played well off of assists from Porzingis and Jose Calderon. The Knicks are floating near .500 now, but they have the makings for a team that can make things interesting down the stretch.
Coming up: the Bulls play next on Monday night, when they will return to Chicago to play the 7-19 Brooklyn Nets.