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USATSI

CHICAGO -- Carrying a 4-0 record heading into a Thursday night matchup with the New York Knicks, the Chicago Bulls fell in a hard-fought 104-103 loss after DeMar DeRozan failed to convert what would've been a game-winning mid-range jumper at the buzzer. The Bulls had to fight tooth and nail to get in that position after being down by nine points with a little under two minutes left. 

But DeRozan went to work late in the fourth quarter, converting an and-1 opportunity, and then dishing an assist to Nikola Vucevic for an open 3-pointer. All of a sudden the Bulls found themselves down by three points with 40 seconds left in the game. An easy dunk by Zach LaVine closed the gap to one, and two missed free throws by Knicks forward Julius Randle put Chicago in position to steal the win on a night where it was honoring former All-Star big man Joakim Noah.

The final possession was an option play designed to give either DeRozan, LaVine or Vucevic an opportunity to get the last shot. After an inbounds pass from LaVine to DeRozan, the former San Antonio Spurs star faked a handoff to LaVine, and elected to take it on his own and missed a jumper as time expired. The play went something like this:

At first sight, it certainly looked like it was going in when it left DeRozan's hands, but he didn't get enough air under the shot and it fell flat just before reaching the rim. After the game, DeRozan was satisfied with his shot selection, even if it didn't go in.

"I'm happy with the look, I really didn't expect to be that open," DeRozan said. "I tried to get my feet set, I kind of rushed it at the end, I'll live with it. It sucks, especially when you don't get it for the team. We fought extremely hard to get that win, I wanted to pull it off for them, but can't make every shot."

It was the first real test Chicago had this season, after drawing the Detroit Pistons twice, the New Orleans Pelicans and Toronto Raptors to open its 2021-22 campaign. But even in the loss, there were positives that showed the Bulls are capable of fighting back to get within striking distance, and even potentially win it. It's something LaVine echoed after the loss.

"I think it was a good game, it was our first real test, we need games like this and we're going to have a lot more on this next stretch," LaVine said. "Obviously we wanted to come away with a better result, we fought back into the game, I just wish we got back into it a little bit sooner, where we could've taken the lead and that momentum and had a little more time to put the game in our hands. But we played well, they played well. I think we could've attacked our matchups a little bit better, and we'll do that in the future."

LaVine entered this game with a torn ligament in his left thumb, an injury he plans on playing through. However, even with the injured thumb, it didn't stop him from racking up 25 points, six rebounds and three assists. But the All-Star guard did admit to some pain from the injury throughout the game, saying that it wasn't "pleasant" to deal with, and that it "was like dribbling with four fingers," but it's "doable" to handle going forward. 

In other injury news for the Bulls, second-year forward Patrick Williams left the game in the third quarter after taking a hard fall on a dunk attempt. He didn't return, and during his postgame press conference, coach Billy Donovan said Williams has a left wrist sprain and doesn't know much else about the injury going forward. 

Williams' absence in the second half meant that Chicago was severely undersized in the frontcourt, especially matching up against Randle in the paint. The Bulls opted to throw Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso at him, the team's best two defenders despite being undersized, and it resulted in Randle getting foul calls and getting his points at the line in the second half. When Williams was guarding Randle in the first half, the All-Star Knicks forward was held to just two points, but he impacted the game in other ways in the form of assists and crashing the boards. Randle finished the night just one assist shy of a triple-double (13 points, 16 rebounds, nine assists), as he showed other facets of his game outside of just playing bully ball in the paint. 

For the Bulls, as LaVine said, Chicago's slate of upcoming games doesn't get any easier after this loss. They'll next play host to the Utah Jazz on Saturday, who after losses by Chicago and Golden State on Thursday, are the NBA's lone unbeaten team. After that, the Bulls face the Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers twice, Brooklyn Nets, Dallas Mavericks, Golden State Warriors and both L.A. teams, all of whom were playoff teams a season ago. 

It'll be a tough road ahead for the Bulls, and while the fight to get back into the game with the Knicks was a spirited attempt, they'll need more than a late fourth-quarter push to come away with wins against their upcoming list of opponents. After starting the season hot, we'll get a better understanding of who the Bulls are over the next few weeks.