NEW YORK — The NBA’s leading scorer in fourth quarters kept coming at them and the New York Knicks wouldn’t buckle.
They finally stopped DeMar DeRozan in the final minute, continuing a winning run that’s likely too late to save their season but they feel is important nonetheless.
“The big thing is we’re playing all these young guys and they’re getting valuable experience, and you’re never eliminated until you’re eliminated,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “So I don’t want a quitting spirit in our team.”
RJ Barrett scored 28 points, Alec Burks had 27 and the Knicks beat the Chicago Bulls 109-104 on Monday night for their fourth straight victory.
Obi Toppin had 17 points for the Knicks, who remained 4 1/2 games behind Atlanta for 10th place in the Eastern Conference and the final play-in spot with only six games remaining. But they’d rather keep trying for that, as unlikely as it is, than lose a few more games to potentially better their draft position.
“First of all, we fight, so that’s not an option for us. We fight no matter what,” Barrett said. “We’re a very good team and we’ve been disappointed with how we started the season, but we’re a very good team and we’re pulling out these wins and we’re scratching and clawing and playing very well. So when you have something like that, you try to build on it.”
DeRozan scored 37 points, including 15 in the fourth quarter. But he missed a jumper and then was called for an offensive foul in the final 45 seconds, cutting short Chicago’s comeback attempt.
Zach LaVine added 27 points but Chicago fell into a tie with Toronto for the fifth-best record in the East.
“It’s frustrating. We’ve got to let it be frustrating and then take it out on Washington (on Tuesday),” DeRozan said. “That’s all we can do.”
Toppin played most of the fourth quarter in place of struggling Julius Randle and had eight points in the period. His dunk while being fouled led to a three-point play and an 89-79 advantage early in the period but DeRozan, who has 573 points in the fourth quarter this season, kept Chicago from ever falling too far behind.
His three-point play cut it to 104-103 with 1:17 left, but after his missed jumper Burks knocked down a 3-pointer from the corner to make it 107-103 with 22 seconds to go. Randle then hit two free throws after DeRozan’s offensive foul to put it away.
Mitchell Robinson finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds for the Knicks. Randle was 1 of 9 for five points, though he did grab 13 rebounds.
Bulls: Nikoka Vucevic had 16 points and 13 rebounds.
Knicks: Thibodeau still isn’t sure if Derrick Rose will return this season. He said the point guard has increased his workload to include basketball activity but still not contact as he recovers from a procedure for a skin infection on his surgically repaired right ankle. … Rookie guard Quentin Grimes missed his second straight game with soreness in his right knee after recently returning from an injury to the knee. Thibodeau said Grimes was day to day.
After shutting him down recently because he was feeling pain while working his way back from January surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee, the Bulls will try to ramp up Lonzo Ball again toward the end of this week. Coach Billy Donovan isn’t sure what the team will do if Ball has the same problem this time.
“Everything’s been kind of forward thinking. Hey, let’s shut him down for a little bit, then let’s get him back up and then try to address it there,” Donovan said. “But they have not said to me, ‘Hey, listen, if we try to try to ramp him back up and he does not respond’ – they haven’t said it to me yet but I’m sure we’ll get to that point.”
The game took place on the 27th anniversary of Michael Jordan’s “double nickel” game, one of the most famous Bulls-Knicks matchups. Just nine days after returning from retirement, Jordan scored 55 points in Chicago’s 113-111 victory at Madison Square Garden on March 28, 1995.
Bulls: Visit Washington on Tuesday.
Knicks: Host Charlotte on Wednesday.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism