Sometimes on the way to the playoffs, a little rain must fall.
Or in this case, a hot-and-cold team like the New York Knicks could start raining 3-pointers.
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The Knicks got hot from long range before and after halftime Sunday night, and the Bulls' late rally fell short. The 100-89 loss at Madison Square Garden ended a seven-game winning streak and knocked the Bulls out of the No. 3 slot in the East with two games remaining.
If the playoffs began Monday morning, the Bulls would be the No. 4 seed and face Brooklyn in the first round. There's still a chance the Bulls could pass Toronto for third place, but they need the Raptors to lose one of their final two games, against Milwaukee at home and at New York.
It's also possible for Washington to catch the Nets for the No. 5 seed, but only if the Wizards win their final two games while Brooklyn loses twice.
The Knicks (34-45) were eliminated from the playoffs Saturday but decided to show the home fans and new team president Phil Jackson what could have been. Overall, New York wasn't great from 3-point range (9-for-25) but strung some makes together when it counted.
"Normally, we're able to count on our defense," coach Tom Thibodeau told reporters after the game. "Our defense wasn't very good tonight."
The Bulls (47-33) held their own in the first half until the Knicks finished the second quarter with a 9-0 run to take a 45-39 edge into halftime.
Not a big deal, except when the Bulls let mercurial shooting guard J.R. Smith drain 3 straight 3-pointers early in the third quarter. When Raymond Felton added another long one, New York led 60-46 with 8:36 left in the third.
"J.R.'s been on a roll from the 3. We let him get going," Thibodeau said. "I thought (Tim) Hardaway really hurt us. Carmelo (Anthony) made plays when he was in there. I thought their ball pressure hurt us. We turned the ball over early; that wasn't good. We've got to turn it around."
In some ways, the hot shooting could have worked in the Bulls' favor, because from that point, the Knicks couldn't unleash 3-point shots fast enough and missed most of them.
But this was another night when the Bulls were not clicking offensively. They ended up shooting 39.2 percent from the field overall. Jimmy Butler led the Bulls with 17 points, while Joakim Noah barely missed another triple-double, finishing with 13 points, 17 rebounds and 9 assists.
At the same time, guard D.J. Augustin (12 points) and Kirk Hinrich (11 points) combined to go 3-for-14 from 3-point range.
The Bulls trailed 89-72 with 7:28 remaining after Amare Stoudemire hit a short jumper while Taj Gibson was hit with a technical foul.
But it wasn't over yet. Noah knocked down a jumper, Augustin was fouled behind the arc and hit all 3 free throws, then drained a 3-pointer for a quick 8-0 run. When Noah found Gibson for a power slam and 3-point play, the Bulls were within 93-87 with 3:50 left.
The Bulls didn't follow through, though. After gaining possession down 6, Augustin missed a runner and a 3-pointer. The Knicks got the rebound and Hardaway was fouled on a fastbreak to make it an 8-point game.
With 2:08 left, Hinrich missed an open 3-pointer that could have brought the Bulls within 4.
Monday's game against Orlando will be the last home date of the regular season. The Bulls will open the playoffs at the UC either Saturday or Sunday.