Bulls prove a kind holiday guest for Knicks


Dec 25

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There was some good news for the Bulls in their 103-95 Christmas Day loss Saturday in New York. The way they played they just might get next Christmas Day off.

“It’s too bad we didn’t get the win,” said Derrick Rose, who did all he could in working on the rarest of games, a quintuple double with 25 points, eight assists, seven rebounds, seven turnovers and six steals.

Whew. I’m tired just reciting it.

“We can hopefully take it out against Detroit (Sunday),” said Rose, who was obviously frustrated with the result with a rare display of postgame emotion as he left the court after earlier tangling with and verbally going at Amar’e Stoudemire.

Yes, the kid tried to do it all, including fight the toughest guy in the building.

“It is tough when you try to fight back or when you do fight back and they are just knocking down shots,” noted Rose of the Knicks uncanny three point shooting, 12 of 22 Saturday after 16 of 24 in Chicago last month. “There was not a groove at all, a lot of turnovers (for us). We were not playing our game at all.”

The Bulls committed 22 turnovers, though it hardly cost the game as the Knicks topped that with 24. But the Knicks, 18-12, were the better and smarter team in taking advantage of the Bulls weaknesses as the Bulls fell to 18-10 and now 2-2 without Joakim Noah in what’s hardly going to be an easy period.

“They played good defense,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau.

That may be your first problem, being thwarted by the Knicks on defense.

“I think we have to execute when we are being doubled-teamed,” said Thibodeau. “We’ve got to make plays. We didn’t do that tonight.”

Actually, it was a noon (Eastern) start, though it could have seemed dark to Thibodeau with the result. He could have decided not only the arena had a funny odor. Bulls/Knicks was the opener of five NBA games for Christmas Day and the old NBA joke was the viewers unwrapped a bakery for the matinee with 16 first quarter turnovers, nine for the Bulls.

It became clear to Rose he was going to have to work hard on the holiday with 13 shots in the first quarter. But it was not the early start thing or the Christmas Day game that explained all the pain, at least on the Bulls’ side.

The Knicks had a good game plan, the right one, actually, and the Bulls fell victim to it.

The Knicks basically decided they weren’t guarding Keith Bogans, for one. Rose has not been shooting the three well of late, five of 18 the last four games (he was zero for two Saturday). So first they dropped under the screens. Landry Fields was guarding–in name, anyway–Bogans, but surprising rookie Fields played more free safety, dropping into the lanes and particularly dropping back to prevent post passes to Boozer or smothering Boozer when he got the ball.

The Bulls did make an adjustment on that as they moved Bogans from the corner, where it was easier for Fields to drop in on Boozer, to above the circle on the wing where it was a longer run to get there.

So Boozer did finish with 26 points and 19 rebounds, six offensively as the Knicks play awfully small up front. It was, especially, where Noah was missed as the Bulls couldn’t fully take advantage of the Knicks’ lack of size. And while the Bulls feasted on second chance points, the Knicks stayed with the Bulls on the boards, being outbounded only 48-44 with three Knicks, Stoudemire, Fields and Wilson Chandler, all with double figure rebounds.

But Boozer also committed seven turnovers as the Knicks collapsed into the paint as well with the Bulls generally weak from deep, and not hitting Saturday.

Boozer does fall into that trap of taking those baseline fadeaways a bit too often, though no one can argue with his scoring these days. But the Knicks obviously decided the Bulls weren’t beating them from the perimeter, so New York did a good job of giving Boozer that fade and the Bulls the outside jumpers, thus freezing the movement at times as the middle was packed.

When Rose did penetrate, which he can against pretty much anyone, they made it tough to kick out by smothering him, thus forcing several of the miscues as well.

Help, more shooting!

Luol Deng was zero for four shooting in the first quarter with two threes missed, and the Bulls didn’t go to Kyle Korver until into the second quarter, though they were only trailing 21-20 at the end of one thanks to Rose.

But Korver, while hitting both his threes in the second, had difficulty staying with the active Fields, one of four Knicks with a double/double with 14 points and 11 rebounds.

As a result, Korver played just under 20 minutes and had seven points on two of six shooting.

The Knicks play small in starting Stoudemire at center and, essentially, two small forwards, Wilson Chandler and Danili Gallinari. So Boozer played Chandler. That did enable Boozer to get on the boards and help keep the Bulls in the game with the second chance points.

But the Bulls constantly got beaten on pick and rolls against the smaller, quicker players, and when they collapsed in rotations, the Knicks worked outside for shots as Toney Douglas and Shawne Williams each hit a pair of threes.

The Bulls started Kurt Thomas on Stoudemire and elected not to help Thomas, and that made sense given the Knicks’ three point shooting. But Thomas got in foul trouble with three in 16 first half minutes. Thibodeau wouldn’t stay long with backup Omer Asik, who got burned in the Stroudemire/Ray Felton pick and roll, especially in the third quarter after the Bulls took their largest lead, 63-57. The Knicks regained control with a 16-4 run, first with the pick and roll and then a barrage of threes.

That all said, the Bulls still were in position to take the competitive (16 lead changes and 10 ties), if not aesthetically pleasing, game.

Until a brutal four quarter stretch in which the Bulls went more than eight minutes without scoring and had just four points in the first 10 minutes of the quarter. By then, the Knicks had taken a 97-87 lead and it was pretty much over despite a brief surge to within 99-93 with 52 seconds left. But Thomas then threw the ball out of bounds looking for Rose and it would not be a merry Christmas for the guys from Chicago.

Earlier in that fourth quarter, Rose once again took a hard shot, a stray elbow, from Stoudemire, the second time in the game, and this time Rose had some unusual—for him—animated conversation with Stoudemire. They were separated as they jawed at one another, and Boozer did get called for a foul soon after for an elbow on a cutting Stoudemire, which was good to see.

The Bulls soon brought Thomas back into the game as he’s the only one who’ll really protect Rose, who was once again run through numerous screens and took some hard shots in pick and roll, especially from Chandler. Thomas did deliver a bruising screen on Ronny Turiaf as the Bulls seemed to be trying to send back some message.

“We know Chicago is a team to beat right now,” said Stoudemire, who had 20 points and 10 rebounds to complement Felton with 20 points and 12 assists. “They’ve been playing great this year with the help of Carlos. The great thing about it that we got the win. It was a tough hard fought battle but it was a total team effort.”

Rose never says anything publicly about such rough stuff and calls it part of basketball, like he did with Dwight Howard’s assaults last season. But it’s not, and the Bulls need to begin more diligently watching the back of their young star.

“He was trying to stop me going to the hole. It’s just a basketball play,” said Rose. “It’s going to get physical, especially if someone keeps driving. That’s what he’s supposed to do.”

Perhaps it was a coincidence, but after the contretemps with Stoudemire, the Bulls failed to score on the next 10 possessions and took a half dozen jump shots. Did Stoudemire make an effective point?

The Knicks then closed it out with another effective mismatch as they put Boozer in pick and roll against Chandler. Chandler went on to finish twice at the rim and score the Knicks last eight points of the game.

“That’s real important (beating the Bulls) because we’re chasing them,” said Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni. “One thing is that we play them three games and we’ve won two so we get the tie breaker now. That helps. It’s just a little thing, but there’s a lot of basketball to be played. You have to beat these teams at home, especially. It’s a good feeling game that’s for sure.”

The Bulls were feeling good after that rout of the 76ers and hanging on in a fairly poor effort over Washington. But you want to beat the good teams, and the Knicks were one of the few coming lately, fortunately for the Bulls without Noah.

But it would never look like much of a game the Bulls could control.

Stoudemire had six blocks and has been terrific this season. He got Rose several times in the first quarter as Rose had four of his attempts blocked in the first, then after one hitting a 16 footer and waving playfully to the crowd. Yes, Rose was into this game and wanted it, though you’d see that more in his expressions after a miss or turnover than anything he’d say afterward.

Yes, this one hurt.

The Bulls did a good job in the second quarter adjusting their pick and roll as they moved it from on top to the side. When they do, they’ll swing a pass along the baseline to a shooter, like Manu Ginobili does, and then pass back on top, where they find Korver for threes.

When New York adjusted to that, they instead found the cutter diving from on top instead of waiting for the pass in Ronnie Brewer. That enabled the Bulls to recover from a 38-29 deficit to tie it at 38 with Rose attacking Stoudemire and scoring.

The Bulls took a 54-52 lead at halftime with Boozer and Rose getting 15 each despite the Knicks still shooting an impressive 55 percent (53.2 for the game). The Bulls were maintaining their edge with follow ups and hitting the offensive boards, but they would not be able to recover to the Knicks shooters.

The Bulls tried to get Luol Deng going after  a poor, one of seven shooting first half. But it was the Knicks who took advantage of Gallinari against Deng in the third with Gallinari spotting up while Deng was trying to help on the blown pick and rolls inside. Gallinari hit three three pointers in the quarter as the Knicks edged ahead 73-67.

Deng went back at Gallinari for a score and would finish with a reasonable 15 points and six rebounds. Rose then finished the third with two highlight play drives, a stunning reverse from the left side and a 360 degree spin around Felton for a layup to bring the Bulls within 85-83 going into the fourth.

But after a Rose jumper off a Boozer screen with 10:10 left in the game to tie at 87, the Bulls didn’t score again until 1:52 remaining on a Boozer hook. Chandler answered with Boozer hesitant to go outside with an 18 footer and finished off the game with his scoring.

The Bulls got a bad break during that dry stretch with 3:16 left and the Knicks leading 95-87 when a Boozer drive in which he scored and seemed to be fouled was called a charge. Replays showed Stoudemire clearly in the circle, which should have been an automatic foul.

And even though the teams went to a timeout, that is not reviewable given a referee judgment call. The Bulls could have drawn within 95-90 with the free throw, though they again would be poor at the line at just 55 percent.

But the Bulls didn’t have anyone to blame for this loss but the guys in Christmas red. They’ll have to reassure themselves with the realization the Celtics and Lakers lost Christmas Day  as well. Though it is the only time for now those three will be mentioned in the same sentence. The Bulls now are 0-5 against the teams in the East with winning records. It was the shooting that stole Christmas, or lack, anyway.

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