10 observations: Bulls fall to Knicks in OT in season finale

10 observations: Bulls fall to Knicks in OT in season finale originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich

NEW YORK --- The Chicago Bulls closed their 39-43 regular season with a 120-119 loss to the New York Knicks in overtime on Sunday afternoon.

They closed their regular season one game worse than last season but one seed better.

They will face the Atlanta Hawks at 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday at the United Center. If they win that game, they’d face the loser of the Philadelphia 76ers-Miami Heat matchup on Friday on the road.

Here are 10 observations:

---The Bulls played their NBA-high 11th overtime game and 44th clutch game, the third-most in the league. They led the NBA in clutch minutes played and clutch victories with 27 despite the loss.

---Despite being locked into the ninth seed and a home play-in game Wednesday against Atlanta, the Bulls treated the matinee like a regular game. DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vucevic and Alex Caruso rested on Friday in Washington.

DeRozan, who led the NBA in minutes with 2,988, played 44. Vucevic logged 42, while Caruso played 41 and Coby White 43.

“I think there’s always that fine line, right? Guys obviously missed the back-to-back, which was good for them. And then having this game and a few more days until we play again, I think there always has to be a balance of what their comfort level is in terms of playing to keep a rhythm. So you have to rely on them,” coach Billy Donovan said. “There’s nothing medically that is holding them out. I think for them the repetition of playing is important. So you want to give them what they feel they need on the court.”

Asked about the potential for second-guessing if any players suffered injuries, Donovan grew philosophical.

“When you’re dealing with players, they could get hurt in practice Monday or Tuesday. Something could happen---god forbid---driving home. I think if you get into situations where you’re just constantly trying to play protection mode, you may not be getting ready or prepared for what’s in front of you,” he said. “I do think the players have to have an ownership into that as well in terms of what they need to get themselves ready to play. You’re always trying to thread the needle. The main thing is you don’t want to get anybody hurt. Every team in the postseason feels the same way. But I think players do have a rhythm and things that are important to them to get ready to play.”

---In Year 15 and the final regular-season game, DeRozan was still fresh enough to throw down a vicious dunk over Precious Achiuwa early in the fourth. DeRozan finished with 30 points but missed a potential go-ahead shot with 2.8 seconds left on the Bulls’ final possession.

“I’m still upset about that,” DeRozan said.

---The Bulls remained without Ayo Dosunmu and Andre Drummond. The latter ditched his walking boot for his sprained left ankle.

“Ayo is having issues with the running and the starting and the sprinting and the stopping. There’s been some discomfort there for him. He has to get over that hurdle. I think there is hope he can clear those hurdles. Andre still hasn’t been able to do much with his ankle. I don’t know where he’ll be at and if he’ll be able to do anything,” Donovan said. “I think there’s some hope that Ayo can participate in some practices before Atlanta. But until he gets past that point, I don’t know. I would just say this: Nobody has told me those guys are definitely in or out for Atlanta. It’s one of those things that’s up in the air.”

---Nikola Vucevic sank his first five shots and finished with 29 points. The Knicks played small at several times, and the Bulls did their typical job of sometimes not recognizing Vucevic’s favorable matchup. Vucevic's 45th double-double ranked seventh in the NBA.

---Coby White finished as one of three players in the league with at least 1,000 points, 325 rebounds, 400 assists and 200 3-pointers. White, who broke Zach LaVine's franchise record for most 3-pointers in a season this season, joined Luka Doncic and De'Aaron Fox in this rare air.

---Alex Caruso spent the majority of the stretch run of this game diving for loose balls. He said he was trying to preserve himself somewhat but then the game got competitive and he couldn't help himself.

Caruso, who is expected to repeat as a first-team All-Defense member, is the only player in the league with at least 130 3-pointers, 100 steals and 60 blocks.

---Dalen Terry continued to deliver his solid minutes down the stretch, particularly defensively. He had two blocks and a steal in his first rotational turn, although he airballed his first 3-point attempt. Improving his shot is Terry’s main offseason focus.

---The Bulls struggled with turnovers early, committing five in the first quarter. But the only committed 12 and set a franchise record by only averaging 12.1 per game. The broke the franchise mark of 12.8 per game, set during the 2021-22 season. The NBA first started tracking turnovers during the 1973-74 season.

---The Bulls dropped to 5-19 on November 28 in Boston following a lethargic loss in which DeRozan and Zach LaVine both left the game with injuries. That night marked a low point. The postgame locker room felt like a funeral.

Asked how the Bulls pulled out of that to make the play-in, Donovan again grew philosophical.

“I think I’ve said this: I always respected the locker room in terms of the intentions of the guys and what they were trying to do. There was obviously a lot we had to deal with earlier in the year. Then the injuries came. And I do think guys like Vooch and Caruso and Torrey Craig, some veteran guys . . . I think through film you could see there were things we could control that we just weren’t doing at a high enough level. I would say at that point after that Boston game, I didn’t even know if we’d have a chance to play after today. So I think it’s a tribute to what those guys did,” Donovan said. “But we also paid the price of those 14, 15 games where we didn’t play good enough basketball which has put us in the situation where we have to earn our way into the playoffs. But I really appreciate what those guys have done because of what we’ve had to endure and what we’ve had to overcome. It’s not where we certainly want to be. But I will say this: It could’ve been a lot worse. And it speaks to the character of those guys in the locker room.”

Click here to follow the Bulls Talk Podcast.