OG Anunoby’s return not enough as Knicks fall to Bulls after Josh Hart ejection

CHICAGO — The Knicks started slow, lost a key player to a controversial ejection and never quite recovered. 

Jalen Brunson carried his offensive share with 35 points and 11 assists, but he didn’t get much help despite OG Anunoby’s return as the Knicks dropped another important game in their playoff chase, 108-100, Friday night to the Bulls. 

The loss was the fourth loss in five games for the Knicks (45-32), who remained fifth in the East but only 1 ½ games ahead of the No. 6 Pacers (who beat the Thunder on Friday).

The No. 4 Magic, who own the tiebreaker over the Knicks, lost to the Hornets on Friday in a shocker. 

“We just need to be better, plain and simple,” Brunson said. 

Josh Hart was ejected during the Knicks’ loss to the Bulls on Friday. AP

In addition to allowing 25 points to recent G-Leaguer Javonte Green, Tom Thibodeau’s was killed on the glass, 57-38.

Part of that was because one of their top rebounders — Josh Hart — was tossed in the first quarter for a Flagrant 2 foul. 

It was a judgment call from the referees on a kick from Hart that looked inadvertent.

It cost the Knicks but they were already in a 10-point hole when the ejection occurred. 

“They got going early. We were back on our heels,” Thibodeau said. “I thought the second half we responded. But our rebounding wasn’t good enough. And we were slow to the ball. And that was probably the difference in the game.” 

Anunoby played well in his return with 12 points in 29 minutes, but his sterling record with the Knicks took a hit.

Jalen Brunson scored 35 points for the Knicks during their loss Friday. AP

They dropped to 15-3 with him in the lineup. 

With Hart in the locker room, Miles McBride, the replacement to start the second half, played well and helped cut the deficit to four in the second half.

But the Knicks ran out of steam and got nothing again from role players Bojan Bogdanovic (nine points, 3-for-9 shooting) and Alec Burks (scoreless in eight minutes). 

Chicago’s Nikola Vucevic buried the biggest shot of the evening, a 3-pointer with about 90 seconds left that gave the Bulls an eight-point lead.

Brunson’s latest big production was wasted and the Knicks missed an opportunity to move to fourth in the East. 

“The East is tough. The East is tough,” Brunson said. “Two through seven, it’s close. It’s close. So there’s no exhaling right now.” 

Andre Drummond (16 rebounds), Vucevic (13) and Green (13) combined to out-rebound the Knicks. 

Javonte Green scored 25 points across 33 minutes off the bench Friday as the Bulls defeated the Knicks. USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

Mitchell Robinson played like he still isn’t ready for high-paced action after missing multiple months because of ankle surgery. 

“We were slow to the ball,” Thibodeau said. “They went big in the second half. We were there and we still got to fight for the ball. Put our bodies on people.” 

Friday was the first of three games against the Bulls in the final 10 days of the season.

It’s not hyperbole that the Knicks’ playoff seeding will be determined by how well they play against Chicago. 

New York Knicks’ OG Anunoby (8) shoots from the outside against AP

Their next matchup is Tuesday at the United Center, which follows a quick day trip to Milwaukee for Sunday’s contest.

In other words, the Knicks are sleeping five nights in Chicago — a rare extended stay in the NBA schedule. 

“I think the one thing probably for both teams is going to be the familiarity piece,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. “You’re coming back and playing against each other again, there’s at least from a preparation standpoint, there is familiarity, which I think for both teams is helpful in getting ready to play.”

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