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Knicks 116, Bulls 100: “From not fun at all to really fun“

New York remains undefeated in the OG Era.

Chicago Bulls v New York Knicks Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

That bench. Oh, boy, that bench.

The New York Knicks (19-15) did enough to remain undefeated in the new era they launched on Dec. 30, 2023, by beating the Chicago Bulls (15-21) inside MSG on Wednesday, 116-100.

You could smell the win from miles away, and the fact that Chicago ruled out a bunch of starters and impact players—Lonzo Ball, Torrey Craig, Zach LaVine, and Nikola Vucevic—didn’t help the hapless Bulls.

That said, the Knicks had to sweat the dub more than they (and we) would have liked.

The problem the franchise is facing now is very clear and is one that we all expected once the “consolidation” trade sending RJ and IQ away happened at the end of last month: the second unit needs help and it needs it ASAP.

Julius Randle cooked the Bulls for 35 points. Jalen Brunson added 31 and dished out 13 dimes. Isiah Hartenstein is a legitimate big starter, with 10 points and 20 (!) boards on his stat line. OG had a subpar/limited scoring outing with 11 points, and Donte bagged 11 pops.

That’s five-for-five for the members of the Knickerbocker V hitting double-digit figures on the PTS column.

The bench? Combined for 18 points between the four players getting playing time. Just 4.5 per head. Only Quentin Grimes hoisted more than five shots and found the net more than twice—he went 3-of-9 from the field (2-of-6 from range).

That’s trouble in the making, folks.

I know it might hurt and we go to sleep with our boys getting one more L in their collective bag, but I cannot wait for Friday’s game against Philly to get the true temperature of both the starters and the relievers and see what Thibs can come up with for that matchup as well as future affairs.

It’s not only the scoring, mind you. The bench hemorrhaged points. Nobody outside of Josh Hart (+2) had a positive impact on the scoreboard with Precious finishing at minus-16 in 11 minutes, Miles McBride at minus-15 in 10, and Quentin Grimes somehow posting up a minus-20 plus/minus in 18 minutes while scoring eight points in that time.

The starters, in order, were all in the positive with 35, 32, 31, 18, and 13 plus/minus marks.

Bench in a nutshell, courtesy of Josh Hart.

The main concern about the second unit is not the bench per se, but the rotations that Thibs is employing in order to help those poor souls get some production out of their minutes.

Case in point: Randle and Brunson logging close to 40 minutes, Hartenstein approaching that figure with 37, and OG Anunoby getting 34.

From Monday through Wednesday, the Knicks have played two games. In the 2024 calendar year, the trio of JB, JR, and I-Hart are averaging 37.5+ MPG each. Those are all top-15 averages in the NBA (small sample, I know, but you get the idea).

Brunson has been sublime in that time, putting up 23.5 PPG to go with 13.5 APG and getting near-back-to-back career-high in dimes with 14 on Jan. 1 and 13 on Wednesday.

“It’s a credit to my teammates. They’re finding a way to put the ball through the hoop,” Brunson said in his postgame on-court interview. “All the credit goes to them. I’m just out there running around.”

Achiuwa will need to contribute more than he had in his first two games if the Knicks want to feel good about their big-man rotation with Mitch out for the year. Precious scored his first points as a Knick finishing with four in 11 minutes (perfect 2-for-2) and added three boards, one assist, and one block.

Thibs sounded confident about Precious and his eventual development into a solid piece.

“We think he’s a good young player, and again, he has some experience. And we like the fact that he can improve,” Thibodeau said. “He’s young, so his development will continue, and we’re getting to know him as well.

“We like the versatility playing multiple positions, can run the floor. He can put it on the floor a little bit and make plays that way, but it gives you some more switch ability. We like his speed (or feet). So we’ll see how that progresses.”

McBride kept playing “big” minutes for the role he has, getting 10 of them but not doing a lot, if anything at all. Malachi Flynn has yet to make his debut in Orange and Blue, but Thibodeau warned McBride that there might be some competition for the backup-point role, so he should stay alert, productive, and ready.

“Just stay ready, we’ll see how it unfolds,” Thibs said about the point-guard rotation and the expected battle for minutes between Deuce and Flynn.

Donte DiVincenzo is not scoring 30+ points anymore, which makes sense, but Thibs also discussed (positively) his game.

“[DDV] started the season shooting the ball extremely well. And that’s a testament to him,” Thibodeau said. “He put a lot of time into the offseason.”

The Knicks won the game in the third quarter, outscoring the Bulls 35-23 after entering halftime down 55-51 but putting together a 7-1 run at the end of the second frame turning it into a 15-5 just a bit over four minutes into the start of the second half.

They ditched that advantage, though, and it wasn’t until the last quarter when New York found a way to separate, even with the game never really looking in danger of getting out of control.

As JalenBrunsavior put it: “That went from not fun at all to REALLY fun.”

The Knicks will finish the week on the road, first in Philly and a day later in D.C. facing the lowly Wiz. Tip-off at 7:30 pm on Friday. Don’t miss it. Go Knicks!