By Teddy Greenstein
NEW YORK – Minus Derrick Rose, minus Luol Deng, minus Jimmy Butler and minus much hope, the Bulls threatened to reach another low Wednesday night.
With 2 minutes left in the first half, they had just 26 points. The all-time franchise low of 49 appeared to be within shouting distance.
But then an amazing thing happened. The no-quit Bulls rallied from 23 points down, tying the game with less than 4 minutes to play on a Joakim Noah put-back.
All that work went for naught, though, as they went cold down the stretch.
Put it in the books as an 83-78 loss to the injury-depleted Knicks, entered the night 5-15.
After Noah’s tip tied it 74-74, the Bulls’ next five possessions went like this: Noah lost the ball; Mike Dunleavy missed a 3; Marquis Teague couldn’t beat two defenders on a layup try; the ball went out off a sliding – and protesting – Taj Gibson; shot-clock violation.
“The fight is good,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I thought Mike had a clean look that would have put us up one. It didn’t go down. You can live with that, but the turnovers … that’s an area we have to clean up.”
Indeed, the Bulls coughed it up 22 times to the Knicks’ 13. And in their three games without Deng, the Bulls’ offense has been largely non-existent.
During a 19-0 Knicks run in the first half, the Bulls missed 13 consecutive field-goal attempts. They shot just 33.3 percent for the game, with Dunleavy leading the way with 20 points. But he missed 17 of 24 shots.
Deng, whose sore left Achilles kept him on the bench, said: “I wanted to play. I set this game as a target but just didn’t feel well warming up. We’re being really cautious about having a setback. I’ll try to practice [today] and hopefully I can be back on the court soon.”
For most of the night, this was the rare low-wattage Bulls-Knicks game at Madison Square Garden. New Yorkers were treated to the sight of Kenyon Martin swatting Carlos Boozer and Noah on back-to-back possessions, but there wasn’t much else to cheer about.
For the Bulls, it was encouraging that Noah suited up after missing the Bucks game with a right thigh bruise. Playing in the city where he was born and mostly raised, though, Noah managed 12 points and 11 rebounds.
The Bulls got a boost in the third quarter when rookie Tony Snell denied a 3-on-1 break, blocking Carmelo Anthony’s lay-in attempt. Then Snell went flying into Millionaires’ Row after a loose ball.
“I was checking for the fans because I elbowed one guy in the face,” Snell said. “But it’s part of the game. You have to hustle.”
The Bulls grinded their way back but then appeared to run out of gas – and scorers.