Tom Thibodeau isn’t used to losing in Chicago. So no wonder the former Bulls coach looked more hostile than usual Monday night at United Center, lashing out at referees and his players in a dispiriting 110-102 loss to the mediocre Bulls.
The Bulls broke a three-game losing streak as Thibodeau’s club fell to a season-worst four games under .500 at 9-13. The Knicks coach said the club didn’t play with “great effort for an extended period of time.’’
The Knicks have lost five of six games as they had defensive breakdowns, offensive breakdowns and even Thibodeau’s postgame Zoom call got interrupted, sustaining technical difficulties due to Bulls’ arena issues.
The Knicks were as cold as a snowstorm from the 3-point line (6 of 29) and didn’t come up with any clutch scoring plays late. They looked flat to start the game and fell behind by 11 points in the opening quarter, then came out in a fog to begin the third quarter and a four-point halftime deficit grew to 11 again.
“I just think we’ve got to mentally lock in and get off to better starts, first and third,’’ said Julius Randle, who finished with 23 points, 11 rebound and seven assists. “Specifically the third, we dig ourselves out of holes. We’ve got to come out with more of a sense of urgency.’’
Early in the fourth, Thibodeau blew his stack when Bulls point guard Coby White snuck into the lane and fed a wide-open Derrick Gafford underneath for an easy dunk. Thibodeau called timeout and lashed into the team on the bench.
“Just not the effort that we’re capable of,’’ Thibodeau said. “I know that we have the makings of a very good defensive team and it’s when we’re concentrating and we’re giving maximum effort, we’re usually pretty good. Just using the timeout, trying to fix it.”
After a Randle turnover, Bulls guard Zach LaVine, whom Thibodeau once traded from Minnesota to Chicago, hit the dagger 3-pointer with 22 seconds left to put Chicago up six with Randle slow to get out on him.
LaVine, who has been speculated as someone who could be on the trading block later in the season or this summer, scored 10 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter to repel the Knicks’ comeback attempt.
“Me and Thibs are cool,’’ Lavine said when asked if the win was extra sweet. “Playing against old coaches, I’m going out there to win. It’s not a grudge thing for me. My grudge game was the first time we played against the Timberwolves. I got that out of my system.’’
Thibodeau thought the Knicks did a nice job on LaVine, a budding All-Star, until late.
“You got to get to the shooter at that point of the game,” Thibodeau said. “You need consistent effort for 48 minutes, particularly on the road, to come up with wins, and right now we’re not there.’’
With 3:00 left, rookie point guard Immanuel Quickley gave the Knicks their first lead since early in the first quarter when he drained a 30-foot straightaway 3-pointer, putting them up 95-94, but there was no more magic.
Alec Burks (18 points) tied the game at 100-100 with a minute left on a 3-pointer. But White answered with a 3-pointer and Chicago didn’t look back.
Quickley finished with 16 points and seven assists, but there wasn’t enough support elsewhere.
After a 10-game streak in which he shot 50 percent, RJ Barrett looked winded in the Windy City on the second night of a back-to-back. He finished with 14 points and missed all three 3-pointers, including one wide-open attempt late.
Thibodeau chose to close with Nerlens Noel at center, keeping Mitchell Robinson on the bench. As promised, Thibodeau gave Kevin Knox did not play for a second consecutive game and the Knicks lost both.
And Thibodeau yanked rookie lottery pick Obi Toppin after he played the first two minutes of the fourth quarter to bring back Randle, who played 39:12. Thibodeau said he needed Randle’s rebounding.
Across the contest, Thibodeau looked irritated as the Knicks didn’t seem to be defending with much more zeal than when giving up 129 points to mighty Clippers in Sunday’s loss. Thibodeau was making just his third return to Chicago since getting fired there in 2015 after an outstanding five-year run as coach.
Thibodeau didn’t blame the loss on the miserable 3-point shooting, continuing his team’s trend of being ranked last in 3-point makes.
“I thought we had some good looks at the bucket,’’ Thibodeau said. “They didn’t go down for us. We have to count on our defense.’’
Finland’s Lauri Markannen, the big man former president Phil Jackson eyed in a 2017 draft-night trade, killed the sluggish Knicks on his way to 30 points, bagging 6 3’s — the same amount as the entire Knicks’ squad.