Markkanen gets best of Euro rivals as Chicago Bulls beat Knicks
The Chicago Bulls and the New York Knicks can essentially stage their own European championship whenever they square off.
On Wednesday night at the United Center, Latvia lived up to its billing, the Bulls got an uncharacteristic off night from Montenegro, France fouled out, Turkey missed a chance to tie the score, and, ultimately, Finland was the big winner.
The Bulls shook off a sluggish start to defeat the Knicks 92-87 and improve to 9-2 in their last 11 games.
Finland's Lauri Markkanen produced the go-ahead basket with 39.2 seconds left. After contesting a Courtney Lee miss, Markkanen turned upcourt, caught a long pass from Kris Dunn and threw down a fastbreak dunk to snap an 86-86 tie.
"We work on that play, the throw-ahead to the rim-runner every day," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "That's the first thing we do in our script offense."
Montenegro native Nikola Mirotic has been carrying the Bulls through their sudden turnaround, but he scored just 4 points Wednesday.
On the New York side, Latvia's Kristaps Porzingis scored a game-high 23 points but had just 1 basket in the fourth quarter. Rookie guard Frank Ntilikina from France had some good moments, but he fouled out late in the game. Turkey's Enes Kanter had a good look at tying 3-pointer with 6.2 seconds left but clanged it off the side of the rim.
Dunn was a catalyst for the Bulls, scoring 17 points with 5 assists. Markkanen finished with 12 points.
When the Bulls bottomed out at 3-20 a few weeks ago, no one could have imagined the sudden change in success.
"I think the chemistry is the biggest thing right now," Dunn said. "We're just clicking as a unit. Everybody's liking each other, everybody's positive. We're listening to the coaching staff and following the game plans."
The Bulls' winning streak began with a set of back-to-back games, with the second leg against the Knicks at home on Dec. 8. The same circumstances applied Wednesday, with the Bulls coming off a win in Milwaukee, while New York had a day off after playing on Christmas.
At the start of the game, the Bulls (12-22) seemed to be running in sand, while the Knicks were determined to make amends. The Bulls shot 38 percent from the field in the first quarter, and when they fell behind the shot selection suffered.
After trailing by 15 in the second quarter, the Bulls chipped within striking distance, first with an 11-point outburst by Dunn in the third quarter, then with 5 straight points from David Nwaba. The Knicks' lead was down to 73-71 heading into the fourth.
Both teams struggled offensively in the fourth quarter. After missing several chances, the Bulls finally tied the score on a Justin Holiday 3-pointer with 2:59 left. Holiday, who played in New York last season, turned and faced the Knicks' bench after hitting the shot. Neither team could score again until Markkanen's fast break.
"We've done a really good job with our composure. I think we're hanging in there through tough times," Hoiberg said. "When we got down 15, those guys had their heads up in the huddle. They were paying attention, they were talking to each other and they found a way to get us back in the game."
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