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Bulls can't hack it in the clutch
If you want a reason why the Bulls haven't put together a three-game win streak since April 2007 or have failed to win consecutive road games this season, this is as good as any:
Their mental lapses often drop their basketball IQ to that of a rec-league squad.
Failure to secure loose balls. Failure to recognize a hot hand. Failure to heed time and score, leading to bad shot selection.
All those missed opportunities in Monday's matinee added up to an aggravating 102-98 loss to the Knicks that mostly obscured what is clearly better effort of late.
Yes, Chris Duhon gutted out back spasms to score 19 points, including the game-winning layup with 31.2 seconds left. But if the Bulls want the real reason they failed to win a very winnable game, they need to look past former Bulls to the current ones.
"It's frustrating and it seems like that's a habit almost," guard Ben Gordon said. "We do everything to stay in the game. And then when the game is on the line, we don't come through."
That comment proved far more accurate than Gordon's shot, which uncharacteristically deserted him at Madison Square Garden, his favorite NBA arena located 20 minutes from his hometown.
Gordon missed 12 of 15 shots, including an air ball on a three-point attempt with 11.8 seconds left and the Bulls down three. The play featured little movement or creativity, and Gordon took the shot despite sitting from the 9-minute, 42-second mark until Duhon's hoop with 31.2 seconds to go.
"I was kind of cold and wasn't able to get a great shot off," Gordon said. "The way the Knicks were playing, they were switching everything. So it wasn't like I could get an easy shot off a pick."
Yet Gordon's miss was hardly the only—or even the worst—transgression.
Inexplicably, Luol Deng, who tied Derrick Rose for team-high honors with 20 points, attempted just one fourth-quarter shot in 81/2 minutes. This after Deng had shot 9-for-15 through three quarters.
"We went to the pick-and-roll and they stayed with him," coach Vinny Del Negro said. "We were trying to roll and open the court up a little. I didn't think we picked it apart real well. We got a little stagnant at times."
The Bulls also shot themselves in the foot when Tyrus Thomas failed to corral a loose ball, leading to Quentin Richardson's three-pointer on the same possession that tied the game at 97-97 with 2:15 remaining.
"Those are the plays you have to make," Del Negro said. "We had an opportunity to pick the ball up and we didn't. And it cost us."
As did Kirk Hinrich's decision to launch an open three-pointer in transition with the Bulls leading 98-97 and 48.9 seconds remaining. Del Negro consistently talks about playing off instinct and giving players freedom, but with just four seconds off the shot clock, second-guessing will follow.
Worse, Thomas, who packed the box score with 19 points, 10 rebounds, five turnovers and three blocks, rebounded Hinrich's miss and missed a point-blank follow-up.
"At the end, we didn't get loose balls and convert around the basket," Del Negro said.
The Bulls still had a chance after Duhon's driving layup. But Rose, who also had eight assists, missed a driving layup under defensive pressure from Wilson Chandler, which Rose acknowledged altered his shot.
Duhon, who almost had a triple-double in the teams' first meeting, then added two free throws with 22.8 seconds left.
"Du played really well," Gordon said. "But we had our chances."