As the clock wound down ending the first half Thursday night, the opponents were streaming to the locker room with an 18-point lead, the fans at Madison Square Garden were shouting their disappointment — and Julius Randle and Evan Fournier were arguing in full view of everyone.
If it seemed like the wrong sort of fight for the Knicks on this night, a rift happening in front of a sellout crowd of 19,812, the Knicks came out of the locker room and corrected that notion. Suddenly, they were all together, battling, scrapping and fighting their way back into the game.
But it wasn’t enough. After rallying from a 21-point second-quarter deficit to go ahead by a point in the fourth quarter, the Knicks fell to the Chicago Bulls, 119-115, and dropped to 11-11.
The first half was mired in frustration almost fr om the start. First, Taj Gibson was hit with two technical fouls and ejected with 4:14 left in the first quarter — just 3:13 after he’d entered the game. Then, as the finishing touches were being put on a dismal first-half performance, Randle and Fournier very openly argued.
"I just saw something and the biggest thing is communication," Randle said. "I can’t let things stay in and be frustrated. I’ve got to talk to my teammates.
"I think the biggest thing is, you saw that interaction, it looks like we’re arguing. Whatever it was, we went to the locker room, yo, talk it out. We say regardless, at the end of the day, we’ve got each other’s back and we’re in this together.
"That’s important. You can have differences. You can communicate and talk and say what you see on the court. But at the end of the day, we’ve got to know that we’re riding with each other regardless. I think that was very clear communication between us, between all of us."
Said Fournier, "It was a disagreement over, I think, the last defensive play, about the double and the rebounding. But it was just frustration. But I think the key was it was communicating. I would rather have that than not saying anything and hold grudges and stuff. So stuff like that happens all the time and I’m glad it happened, because we played much better in that third quarter."
Randle’s free throw with 1:25 remaining in the fourth quarter tied the score at 111, but Zach LaVine hit two free throws and DeMar DeRozan drove for a layup and then hit two free throws to give the Bulls a 117-111 lead with 11.1 seconds left.
DeRozan scored 18 points in the fourth quarter and 14 in the second en route to 34 points for the Bulls (15-8). LaVine and Nikola Vukevic added 27 apiece.
Randle had 30 points and 12 rebounds and Fournier added 16 points and four steals, including nine points and three steals in the third quarter.
Down 69-51 to start the second half and having trailed by as many as 21, the Knicks took just over six minutes to cut the deficit to 79-78 on Mitchell Robinson’s putback dunk, hitting 11 of 13 shots to start the half. Midway through the quarter, Fournier was screaming again — but this time standing at center court and imploring the Garden crowd to get loud as the Knicks fought back.
The key wasn’t the shooting as much as it was the change in ferocity, with the Knicks suddenly scrambling all over the floor.
Obi Toppin scored on a strong move inside and then slipped a pass to Robinson, who was fouled and converted a pair from the line to close the gap to 97-94. Alec Burks (16 points) then tied it with a three-pointer with 8:11 remaining.
Randle’s bank shot gave the Knicks a 106-105 lead and his short fadeaway made it 108-107, but they would not lead again.