Bulls little ones finish off Knicks Big Three


Mar 13

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The Bulls Monday, with a combination of Derrick Rose and trying harder, demonstrated they could beat the East’s secondary Big Three of Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler, which the Bulls did 104-99.

The larger question is whether the Bulls can handle the league’s elite Big Three, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, which they’ll get a chance to do at the United Center Wednesday.

“It’s gonna be a big one Wednesday. We’re excited about it,” said Joakim Noah, who had 12 points and 10 rebounds as the Bulls crushed the Knicks on the boards 56-38 and 22-9 on the offensive boards with a 24-6 edge in second chance points. “People in Chicago are excited and we’re very excited. It’s going to be competitive. What else can I tell you?”

Derrick Rose

Perhaps how the Bulls can beat a team like Miami. Heck, you look at the rosters, especially Monday with Luol Deng, Richard Hamilton and C.J. Watson out, and you wonder how the Bulls beat the Knicks.

Sure, there’s Rose, who had 32 points, seven assists, six rebounds and at least that many uncharacteristic hard stares at the officials as he was experiencing something of his own temporary insanity playing against Jeremy Lin.

Rose, who rarely does his highlight dunks anymore, had a thunderous dunk, though, midway through the fourth quarter to give the Bulls some space with a 91-84 lead in a game that would have 17 lead changes and 13 ties.

“I gotta be the only superstar in the league that’s going through what I’m going through right now,” said Rose. “But I can’t say too much about it.”

The NBA doesn’t look favorably on criticism, though Carlos Boozer added, “My opinion is I feel like he gets hit every time he goes to the hoop. D-Rose makes a move and I think everybody is in awe of how long he hangs in the air, three, four, five seconds, and I think some of the refs are watching and in awe a little bit. He gets hit on every play. My opinion, he probably should have shot eight, 10 more free throws.”

Though if the NBA was looking to punish someone, I did see Jeremy Lin put his hands on the official at the end of the first half, which usually is good for a suspension.

Meanwhile, asked about that spectacular windmill dunk off a bounce pass from Noah as Lin was caught looking for the ball, Rose said he couldn’t recall.

“I don’t usually dunk it,” said Rose. “It takes me a lot to dunk. I guess I was mad. I’d have to see it to go through it again to tell you how I felt. After that, I don’t know what was going on. I probably blacked out a bit. I was just mad I wasn’t getting any calls.”

Rose did get nine free throws, though the Knicks had a 31-28 margin from the free throw line. But you felt more Rose was taking on the challenge of the much celebrated (at least in New York) Lin and the star studded, if more star crossed, Knicks, a possible first round playoff opponent.

“Definitely. Who’s not right now?” Rose said about looking forward to a matchup with Lin. “He’s a good player, playing well for his team, controlling the game, getting people open. I play with a lot of confidence in myself when I’m out there. No matter who I’m playing against, I’m trying to win the matchup.”

Surely rare stuff from Rose, which Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau would discourage. And Thibodeau did in his post game comments discount any Rose/Lin match to say all anyone cares about is team. That is certain with the Bulls. But Rose, for all his outward tranquility is a smoldering volcano of competitiveness, every bit as much as the more legendary figures about whom there is so much myth. Bring in stars like Anthony and Stoudemire while the Bulls start Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer, and bring in the supposed next great thing into his home court and Rose takes notice. He was 12 for 29 shooting, but with those three players, all scorers, out and Boozer in foul trouble it was left to Rose to take on a team filled with mercenary scorers.

“That’s really the beauty of Derrick,” said Thibodeau. “We needed him to score more tonight. And we needed him to play more. We were hurt with the foul trouble. He played extended minutes. He provided the scoring we needed, the playmaking.”

The Bulls raised their record to a league best 35-9 while the Knicks fell into a tie with Milwaukee for eighth at 18-24.

It’s possible Deng and Watson could return for the Heat Wednesday, though Hamilton is likely out several more weeks. So the matchup, while likely entertaining and intriguing, takes on less meaning, like those early last season games between the teams when principal players were out. The Bulls won all three regular season games last season, though lost 4-1 in the Eastern Conference finals to the Heat.

Miami is mostly healthy, except for Mike Miller, who has a sprained body.

Though the larger question comes down to the intangibles.

There’s no way on paper — or reading anyone’s paper — can anyone suggest the Bulls should beat Miami. Yes, the Bulls have the reigning MVP, but it was difficult to say the Bulls Monday had more basketball talent on the floor than the Knicks. But the Bulls clearly outworked a Knicks team that everyone who travels with them agreed played their best and most enthusiastic game in weeks.

But it’s a wildly dysfunctional group with Anthony clearly difficult to play with as the Knicks fell to 2-8 since Anthony came back from injury. One time he barked at Lin and clapped his hands in disgust when Lin didn’t pass him the ball when Anthony felt he had post up position on Jimmy Butler. Anthony led the Knicks with 21 points while Amar’e Stoudemire had 20, though Stoudemire had just two first half shots as the Knicks go long stretches without looking for him. Both he and Anthony play one-on-one basketball and Stoudemire barely rebounds, getting three in 34 minutes while Taj Gibson had 15 points and 13 rebounds, eight offensive.

“We played great defense, holding them to 43 percent shooting,” said Chandler. “But we didn’t finish the job. Our offense was good enough to win. A lot of those rebounds have to do with Rose. He gets to the basket and draws two defenders which lets the rest of them get to the glass.”

Not that money can buy you rebounds or rings. But Stoudemire makes about $18 million and Gibson about $1 million. It appeared Stoudemire had gotten a copy of Eddy Curry’s guide to rebounding.

Chandler basically is the Knicks’ defense as he matched Noah with 13 points and 10 rebounds, though Noah crossmatched to defend Stoudemire more often. Lin actually was solid as the crowd chanted “overrated,” which, of course, they did in Milwaukee to Rose, at least before he hit the game winner. Lin had 15 points and eight assists, but also three blocks, including one on a driving Rose, and three steals, including a nice from behind strip of Rose. Lin is a legitimate starting point guard, and I give him respect for not caving into Anthony’s demands for the ball every time, especially for a novice. But Lin does have a target on him as the usually more gentlemanly Bulls rocked him to the ground several times, including one time when he got sandwiched between Gibson and Butler and Butler hammered him down from behind.

A word about Butler, whom I thought did excellent work staying in front of Anthony and had a big time follow slam dunk on a Noah miss to make the score 95-88 with 3:29 left.

Although it’s a disappointment to the team to be without Deng, it finally forced Thibodeau’s hand to give Butler some time. Butler had eight points and two rebounds in 29 minutes. He played all but three seconds of the frantic fourth quarter. He plays not only aggressively, but confidently. He’ll be a valuable player in the playoffs with his defense, and now Thibodeau will have confidence in him in using him in contested games. Though John Lucas had some issues and the Bulls can use having Watson back.

Taj Gibson

The Bulls went into the fourth quarter leading 79-78 on a late jumper by six gun Noah. It would be anyone’s game, and it was the Bulls who never gave up the lead in a quarter in which they relentlessly attacked the boards with nine fourth quarter offensive rebounds, five by Gibson. Gibson was so good Noah refrained from calling him Taj-a-woo.

“They’re the reason we won,” Rose said about Gibson and Butler. “Making huge plays, rebounding the ball, big shots, diving for balls, saving balls. I take my hat off to those guys. That’s what it takes, especially playing a game like this with guys (out). We’re pulling it off right now.”

And Rose could add Kyle Korver, who didn’t shoot well but made several big saves of balls going off the Bulls that led to a Butler fast break and Rose three.

“Korver made two huge hustle plays, and I thought Jimmy had one, too,” said Thibodeau. “Those things, you need that stuff.”

But is it enough when the talent is A level, like with the Heat? The Knicks’ clearly is a rung below or more given their lack of chemistry. Which is not to say a team cannot win because of its intangibles, which are tangible, though not the stuff of big contracts and fantasy league stats. The Bulls are more opportunistic. Can you measure that? They dive on the floor, tip balls out, chase missed shots even when lacking in size like with Gibson (who had one fewer offensive rebound than the entire Knicks team) and work on harmony.

“It’s the confidence we have in each other,” says Rose. “We hold each other accountable on the floor. We know the way we practice we can compete with some of the best teams in the NBA if we go out and do the game plan.”

Chance No. 2 comes Wednesday.

Though the Knicks aren’t a team to take lightly. They are suffering now, but they have the offense to make anyone nervous in a series. They added some defense to that Monday, and it was hardly easy for the Bulls.

Though the Bulls got off fast ahead 12-5 with Korver giving a preview of later attractions with an out of bounds save leading to a Ronnie Brewer (11 points, seven rebounds and seven assists) score and Rose attacking Lin, the Knicks shot the ball well. Thibodeau even went in and out of zone at times, a rarity for him, as the Knicks took a 25-23 first quarter lead.

Despite the win, Thibodeau was sort of cranky as he’s felt the defense has slipped in recent games. It probably doesn’t help that Deng is out, but Thibodeau, after all, still is coaching the same.

These were some of Thibodeau’s post game observations:

“I thought our defense could have been better.”

“I thought overall we did what we had to do.”

“I think he (Butler) can play (Carmelo) better that he did.”

“We have to get better though, we are not playing well.”

“You have to be ready to defend multiple pick and rolls against them, and he (Rose) did that. He had multiple efforts all night long. That being said he can do better defensively. He’s improved greatly defensively, but he’s still capable of doing more.”

“Jo, I thought he’s playing well but his conditioning is not great right now.”

Sure Mrs. Lincoln, but what did you think about the show?

Actually, Thibodeau had his usual across the board praise for the effort, the reserves taking on bigger roles, and, of course, Rose. Though he doesn’t suffer fools, or mistakes, as it were.

It’s repeated by everyone often, but like the team plays every game, Thibodeau cares about only each possession. It was late in Monday’s game and the Bulls looked pretty much in control leading 95-90 with 2:07 left. That wasn’t long after Butler’s emotional flying follow dunk.

“Our rebounding was outstanding,” said Thibodeau. “Taj was great. The second shots he got us, particularly in the second half. I thought that was the difference in the game.”

It was shortly after that Butler play with the Knicks about to expire that Noah took some sort of wild, twisting, left handed underhanded drive that missed badly and may even have disturbed his pony tail. Noah then did tie up Stoudemire on a drive for a jump ball, which the Bulls would get.

“Offensive rebounds, loose balls, and second chance points were the difference,” said Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni. “We played well for long stretches. The second chance points got us.”

Thibodeau called a timeout right after that and lit into Rose as he came to the bench. It seemed obvious he was letting Rose know you don’t pass the ball to Noah then for a shot like that.

Though Rose had 10 fourth quarter points and accounted for 16 of the team’s 25 in the quarter in playing the entire 12 minutes. Thibodeau wasn’t letting this one slip away.

Noah tapped the ball to Rose, who sealed Lin and got the ball for an open run to the basket for a 97-90 lead with 2:01 left. Anthony went to post Butler at the free throw line, but Lin looked him off and drove to the basket. I like that kid. Lin missed the layup attempt, Boozer rebounded, and Rose was fouled for basically no reason by Anthony and Rose made both for a 99-90 lead with 1:37 left. That pretty much was it, though the Knicks got within 99-95 on an Anthony three after a Bulls five second out of bounds violation.

The Knicks then fouled Korver, who made one of two. New York then missed three attempts around the basket with Bulls flying at them before Korver came out with the loose ball and made two free throws to effectively end it with a 102-95 lead with 19 seconds left.

It was a nice preliminary. The heavyweight main event is next. The Bulls seem to like their chances even if hardly anyone else does.

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