Bulls drop a heartbreaker in New York as standings tighten up

The Bulls strutted into New York fresh off a huge win in Cleveland, only to see those good feelings squashed by former coach Tom Thibodeau. Now, they are back in a dogfight to stay out of the play-in game.

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The Bulls’ DeMar DeRozan drives around Knicks guard RJ Barrett during the second half of Monday’s game.

The Bulls’ DeMar DeRozan drives around Knicks guard RJ Barrett during the second half of Monday’s game.

Adam Hunger/AP

NEW YORK — One game after a huge win in Cleveland, the Bulls took a surprise left hook Monday night from the host Knicks, who were supposed to be making summer vacation plans. 

Despite a game-high 37 points from DeMar DeRozan, including 15 in the fourth quarter, the Bulls fell 109-104, settling for a season split with the Knicks. The Raptors, who beat the Celtics in overtime in Boston, now have the same 43-32 record as the Bulls but lose the tie-breaker based on the teams’ season series, which keeps the Bulls at fifth place in the conference standings and the Raptors at sixth. The Cavaliers are now a game back at No. 7.

The Bulls still can’t figure out how to get out of their own way, and DeRozan wasn’t pulling punches afterward.

“Cleveland was a big game for us. We had an opportunity [Monday] to keep that going, but now we dropped this one,” he said. “It sucks, it’s frustrating, but we’ve got to let it be frustrating and then take it out on Washington [on Tuesday]. That’s all we can do. We can’t dwell on it too much. We’ve got to get this feeling off of us.”

Easier said than done, especially with how the night set up at Madison Square Garden. The Bulls built an 11-point lead out of the gate, shooting 63.2% from the field and 4-for-6 from three-point range in the first quarter while the Knicks shot 1-for-8.

But as efficient as the offense looked in the first 12 minutes, it was all lost a quarter later. The Bulls had six turnovers in the second quarter, shot 0-for-6 from three-point range and trailed by three at the half.

“That’s on us,” DeRozan said. “Once we got down, [we were] back to fighting that uphill battle. We’ve got to play hard no matter how we’re playing offensively.”

The Knicks took a 81-75 lead into the fourth quarter, and that’s when DeRozan started to do what he does best this season — take over. He scored nine points in less than six minutes, bringing the Bulls to within four.

Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau expected it.

“I think it’s more the value of the shot,” Thibodeau said of DeRozan’s stellar season. “What people sometimes overlook is what he brings to the team. His ability to get into the restricted [area], his ability to get to the free-throw line, and his ability to create value shots. . . . [And] he’s always been a high-assist guy as well.”

As good as DeRozan was, the play of the game came with 23.2 seconds left after he had cut it to a one-point game. A driving Immanuel Quickley found a wide-open Alec Burks in the corner for a three that ended up being the dagger.

“I’ve got to do a better job,’’ DeRozan said. “All of us, but it starts with myself, Zach [LaVine], [Nikola Vucevic], [Alex Caruso]. We just have too many lapses where we get out of sync, and that dictates our offense and our defense.”

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