Bulls defeat Knicks again and again and again


Jan 12

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The Knicks are supposed to be the second best team in the Eastern Conference, even beyond their 23-13 runner up record to the Miami Heat. The Bulls Friday in New York defeated the Knicks 108-101 for the third consecutive time this season, and in a game Knicks’ players have been saying they had circled after the beating they took from the Bulls last time the teams played.

This win in which the Knicks never led and trailed by 22 going into the fourth quarter came a week after the Bulls went to Miami and defeated the Heat in a game Miami never led in the second half.

The Bulls are 9-1 against Eastern Conference teams on the road and 16-6 overall against the conference, the best record in the East against common opponents. The Bulls’ 10-5 road record is the best in the Eastern Conference.

“We’ve showed it this year, when we really focus and lock in, whoever we play we’ve been able to play with them, all the top teams, play them close whether we win or lose,” said Luol Deng, who had a season high 33 points Friday. “We know that when we show up and stick to the game plan, we can really play with anyone in this league.”

And, yes, without Derrick Rose, who is supposed to return sometime after the All-Star break as he’s traveling with the team now.

So who is anyone to say the Bulls are not contenders in the Eastern Conference? No one is supposed to given the absence of Rose. But you go on the road and defeat the Heat and the Knicks in consecutive weeks.

Luol Deng“I don’t think we have had a full deck against this team,” whined Knicks coach Mike Woodson, whose much advertised new defensive team held the Bulls to 57.4 percent shooting. “Raymond (Felton) is a big part of what we do.”

Hello! Anything up there (picture me knocking on Woodson’s head)? The Bulls are missing the league’s 2011 MVP. You are missing the guy you got for Jared Jeffries and Dan Gadzuric and who was booed out of Portland last season.

“We have a pretty good mindset,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, who was surprisingly serene despite the Bulls giving up 41 fourth quarter points and the lead falling to seven with just over a minute left. “I think we understand what it takes to win.”

Yes, the Bulls still are taking some losses from the likes of Charlotte and Milwaukee. But you go on the road and in consecutive weeks defeat and in some respects expose the two top teams in your conference, you have a right to wonder, “Why not us?”

The Bulls dominated Miami on the boards to the point they immediately began casting around for help in the form of someone capable of rebounding. Then the Bulls come into New York with Carmelo Anthony, who basically got half his points after the Bulls were up 22, supposedly rested coming off a suspension and with a determination to beat the Bulls after being embarrassed last game and being ejected. And the Bulls end up exposing the hoax that this was a new, defensive oriented, unselfish Knicks team.

In addition to the Bulls shooting almost 60 percent for the game, the Knicks’ offense was basically J.R. Smith and Anthony dribbling around and shooting. They can get hot as Anthony did in the fourth quarter. But they took 49 of the Knicks’ 90 shots. No one else got more than eight and the Knicks had a measly 17 assists while the Bulls had a solid 29 on 39 field goals.

“I think it was a big game,” said Joakim Noah, who was raised in New York. “A lot of people watching and everybody was saying the Knicks were going to get revenge for what happened last time, nah, nah, nah. We held it down again.”

In one of the sub plots, this game was looked upon as perhaps the decisive one for Noah or Tyson Chandler being selected by the coaches for the All Star team. Neither was dominant as Noah had nine points, eight rebounds and four blocks while Chandler had nine points and an impressive 18 rebounds.

But it was Deng, defending Anthony to the point he was four of 14 in the first half while the Bulls were taking a 21-point lead, who was the most impressive and perhaps works his way into another All-Star game.

“He (Deng) got going early. He got the hot hand, made a lot of good plays,” noted Thibodeau. “Thought he guarded Carmelo about as well as you could guard him. Carmelo is the ultimate scorer. You have to make him work for his points, but he finds a way to score. For the most part, I thought we played very well for three and a half quarters. And then we didn’t close out the game the way we should have. (But you) build a cushion like that you can withstand things not going your way.”

Though it was enough as Marco Belinelli with 12 off the bench and combining with Richard Hamilton for 26 points at shooting guard converted five of six free throws in the last minute to assure the win as the Bulls had clearly backed off a bit with such a big fourth quarter lead. Of course, after losing a 27-point lead and losing to Milwaukee earlier this season, you’d figure the Bulls would be somewhat more concerned. But in building up such a large lead all game long and dominating the Knicks, it seemed obvious if you could take this Knicks team seriously as a threat then a Bulls team with Rose even playing just a bit has to be right there.

“I kept getting open looks and my shot felt great,” said Deng, who also was three of five on threes. “I kept shooting the ball. I don’t go out trying to get big numbers in points. I am trying to get the team going, be a leader out there. We have showed it this year that when we are really focused and locked in whoever we play we have shown we can play with them. We know when we show up and stick to the game plan we can play with anybody in this league.

“We match up well and our game plan against them (Knicks) has been great,” Deng added. “They hit late threes. But we did a good job of taking away the three. All year they have been doing a great job of spreading the floor and hitting threes.”

There’s that old saying about living with jump shots and then losing because of them. The Knicks did hit six threes in the fourth quarter in desperation mode. But they were zero for five in the first half from three as the Bulls continued to be perhaps the leagues best team in chasing shooters off the three point line with such active defense.

You need the effort to play that sort of defense. But the Bulls also took advantage of the Knicks often isolation play when under pressure. It’s easy to move the ball and involve everyone when you are running up big margins with mostly uncontested threes. But when they are being challenged, you show who you are as a team with your reaction. It became same old Knicks as Anthony, who ended with 39 points, was four of 14 in the first half and the only Knick in double figures. Smith finished with 13 points on four of 17 shooting while Chandler got the next most shots at eight, and most of his are tips.

There’s been considerable talk the last week among fans with rumors the Grizzlies want to trade Rudy Gay. Given the Grizzlies have a good front court, the obvious target would be Deng and maybe draft picks. I’ve said I’d prefer to have Deng over someone like Gay given Deng has a better all around game, and Friday’s win was a classic example.

It’s difficult to play someone like Anthony, who just as a scorer is probably the best in the NBA. But no one defends him like Deng. Yes, he gets his points. But he becomes so desperate to do so he basically takes the rest of his team out of the game. He did so again Friday as the Bulls plan again was too frustrating for him.

Mostly early, the Bulls sent a second player to help against Anthony once he put the ball on the floor. Anthony isn’t very good passing off the dribble, so the Bulls avoided the early double team that gives Anthony time to survey the floor. Then the Bulls formed a sort of wall as Anthony made his move, making him see multiple players. He’s so good he can score against even those sorts of defenses. But it takes him much more shots to do so and essentially leaves out his teammates on offense. And when that occurs, Anthony reverts to being the indifferent defender we saw in Denver as when guarded by Anthony, Deng shot more than 80 percent.

“Melo started slow. J.R. never got out of his shooting slump,” said Woodson.

Hello! It’s because they were being guarded. It’s what happens when the other team has a plan and a commitment.

“I don’t think (Luol) Deng did anything to be honest,” protested Anthony, who at least didn’t use his other excuse that opponents were saying bad things to him. “Chicago tries to make it tough on me. They tilt the court.”

How dare they! Don’t they know who he is?

“The shots that I normally make weren’t going in tonight,” Anthony went on. “They play really hard. They play well and shot the ball well. We take our hats off to them.”

As an aside, I wish the players would come up with better clichés. That “take your hat off” thing is an old British expression, which I guess Deng could use since he was raised there. But I don’t see it as congratulatory to take off a Yankees baseball cap, which many of the players wear, I’m told, for style. Oh, yes, I digress.

“They beat us three times,” agreed Anthony. “At this point, it is on to the next one. We are not worried about Chicago at this point. They do what they do and we will see them again.”

Rivalry! Well, not quite yet as the Knicks have won one playoff game in the last 12 years.

The Bulls got right into this one with an overwhelming start as Deng and Hamilton scored 17 of the team’s 29 first quarter points and the Bulls took an early double digit lead. Kirk Hinrich, who was questionable with an elbow injury, started and ended up playing almost 38 minutes. It was apparent Thibodeau didn’t want to go back to Nate Robinson late as Robinson played only two second half minutes. The ball moved more swiftly and Hinrich did a good job shutting down the Knicks’ playmaking by frustrating Jason Kidd, who had one of the worst games of his career with zero points and zero assists in about 20 minutes. Hinrich seemed to tire late, though Thibodeau preferred to stick with his defense.

Richard Hamilton“We were a step slow to start the game and then we couldn’t make shots,” said Woodson, acting like it was serendipity as opposed to an active opponent. “When you aren’t making shots then you have to make sure they don’t make shots. We went the total opposite way.”

Anthony remained notorious for not trying to get over screens on defense, thus giving Deng some open shots which he converted. Deng hit a three for the Bulls first points and Hinrich penetrated the Knicks’ loose defense for a layup. Chandler doesn’t get much help. It wasn’t coming from former Bull Ronnie Brewer, who was replaced in the starting lineup for scoring by James White. With Iman Shumpert, who suffered an ACL tear the same day as Rose, looking to return soon, it appears Brewer may be without a role as he never did get in the game.

The Bulls had all the fast break points to start in getting ahead 27-12 late in the first. Going to the bench in the second quarter changed little as Taj Gibson with 12 points was strong inside, Robinson had a nice sequence of scoring and Deng continued to overwhelm Anthony with 21 first half points. And Carlos Boozer with 17 points and six rebounds ending his double/double streak at six hustled on a fast break to get a long pass from Deng and later had a booming poster dunk over Anthony. Kevin Garnett immediately ordered posters for his whole team.

It takes work to play like the Bulls do, to chase shooters off the three point line while helping inside on penetration and doubling the big scorers. But the Bulls did so with élan as they shot more than 50 percent in each quarter and held the Knicks to 33 percent shooting through three quarters.

Deng had it going so well he was calling for the ball in the post in mismatches as the Knicks went to a smaller lineup after halftime trying to score. Hinrich was zipping passes deep inside to Noah as the Knicks failed to react and when the Knicks tried to find shooter Steve Novak, the Bulls went to whomever he was guarding since he doesn’t really defend anyone. So Belinelli closed the third with a three over Novak.

The Bulls seemed to have an answer for everything the Knicks tried and the Knicks had little response as the Bulls moved the ball impressively for better shots. After the Knicks opened the fourth with a little run, the Bulls got a few run breaking scores, one from Boozer with a jumper, another from Deng against the clock and Gibson on a sharp interior pass from Boozer. When Boozer rolled in on a pick and roll from Belinelli to make it 103-84 with 2:37 left, the Bulls seemed to take a breath. The Bulls bollixed some free throws giving the few fans remaining some hope. The same as when New York subway commuters try to avoid the pools of vomit. It’s just too difficult to be realistic.

The Bulls are now 20-14, two games behind New York and three behind Miami. They give up the third fewest points per game and rank in the top 10 in rebounding and shooting defenses. They’re not supposed to be taken seriously without Rose. It just seems they don’t know that.

“Overall, I was very pleased,” said Thibodeau, which tells you how good a win it was. “I thought defensively it was very good. The rebounding wasn’t quite what we had hoped (41-39 New York). So we have to clean that area up. But a lot of guys stepped up and played well. I thought Jo was very active. I thought Carlos did a great job. They went small, so there was a lot of match up issues that we had. But I thought we stayed big and our big guys fought and did a good job.

“I thought Taj came in and gave us a good lift,” Thibodeau added. “I thought we had great production from Rip and Marco. It was a balanced effort. I thought the ball was hopping.”

Like they say about New York and it seems to be applying to the Bulls. It is a great place to visit. Maybe the Bulls will see them again in May with their little buddy this time.

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