“It Don’t Come Easy” was the title of Ringo Starr’s hit single in the 1970’s.
In 2021, it was an apt description for what happened to the Knicks last night at Chicago’s United Center.
The Knicks saw a late 13-point lead evaporate in a hurry, and they literally had to hang on for dear life as they avoided a brutal choke job with a 104-103 win over the Bulls. “A win is a win, that’s all that matters at the end of the day,” Julius Randle said.
It was “Joakim Noah night” in Chicago so the emotions were riding high in a tough place to play against a Bulls’ team that came in with a 4-0 mark. “We did a lot of good things and to win here the way this team [Bulls] has been playing. It’s tough to win the on the road,” said coach Tom Thibodeau, who coached Noah when he was the head coach of the Bulls.
The Knicks led 104-91 with three minutes left, but they began to follow the blueprint for a collapse. The Bulls took advantage of some foolish fouls and poor decisions by the Knicks down the stretch to cut the lead to one with less than ten seconds remaining.
Randle was partly responsible for the 13-point lead, but he was also a factor in how the lead dwindled down to one. Randle made mistakes down the stretch including trying to tip in a missed shot with 41 seconds left instead of grabbing the rebound and taking it back out and running clock.
Randle did not have a good shooting night (3/11, 0 for 2 from three, 13 points) but he did grab 16 rebounds and had 9 assists. The Knicks’ MVP has a tendency to be careless with the ball. With the players on this roster, he doesn’t need to hold the ball so long when teams send two and three players at him.
After Zach LeVine, who was playing with a torn ligament in his left thumb, went in for an uncontested dunk with less than ten seconds left, Randle was fouled on the ensuing inbounds and missed two free throws with 4.7 seconds left, giving Chicago a golden opportunity to hand the Knicks are crushing defeat.
The Bulls’ DeMar DeRozan, who scored 20 points, took the inbounds and drove to the right of the lane for the final shot, but R.J. Barrett did not leave his feet, played great defense and forced the 13-year veteran to shoot an air ball as the Knicks let out a sigh of relief.
“RJ Barrett, huge, huge. Scoring, but his defense over the top, disciplined on that last play. DeRozan’s great at utilizing the shot fake,” Thibodeau said.
Like the season opener against Boston, the Knicks were able to pull one out after blowing a substantial lead in a game that they should’ve won easily. “The big thing is understanding the intensity of the fourth quarter is different. The game’s called differently, it’s played differently,” coach Thibodeau said after the game.
The Knicks did not need to shoot their usual amount of three pointers (29 attempts) as they were able to have their way inside. Knicks had 50 of their points in the paint as the smaller Bulls team was unable to slow that down. Combine that with 11-three pointers made and the Knicks had 83 points in the paint and beyond the arc
Barrett had his best game of the season as he got to the rim on a consistent basis and scored 20 points but it was his defense on the final play that stood out. In the first half, LeVine was taking it to Barrett, but the third year Knick turned the tables in the second half.
Kemba Walker had another good shooting night as he was 5 for 6 from three and scored a team high 21 points.
Derrick Rose led the bench scoring (31 points) with 12 points while Taj Gibson had a very productive 19 minutes with 6 points on 3 of 4 shooting with six rebounds and three blocked shots.
It’s an exciting start for the Knicks who improved to 4-1 and 2-0 on the road. Now all they need to do is work on those final few minutes.