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Bulls beat Knicks with another Noah triple
by Sam Smith
Posted on Mar 2
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Talk about your New York minute.
It’s been said as the time between the light turning green and a New Yorker blowing the car horn. It’s lately been the time between when an NBA game starts and the Knicks contemplating the postgame meal.
It was the time Sunday in the Bulls’ eventual 109-90 victory that Joakim Noah had three assists and the Bulls had an 8-1 lead which went to 16-1 after about four minutes, 23-4 before the first quarter was half done and 37-16 by the end of the quarter.
By then it seemed clear the Knicks were coming out of huddles with the chant of, “One, two, three, Cancun,” and the Vatican had selected the Knicks as their official team for Sunday the way they demonstrated a day of rest.
It was the Bulls who delivered the knockout (Knick-out?) blow with yet another all time performance by Noah with a triple-double of 13 points, 12 rebounds and a career-high 14 assists, the latter a franchise record and the most assists by an NBA center in more than 30 years since Sam Lacey in 1978-79.
The Bulls were led by D.J. Augustin, who snapped his short shooting slump with 21 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter as the Bulls piled it back on after the Knicks briefly showed a pulse and got within 80-68 after three. Jimmy Butler had another strong and aggressive game with 19 points and six rebounds, including nine of 14 at the free throw line.
Chicago’s top seven players again all scored in double figures as the Bulls, 33-26 and arguably the hottest team in the NBA the last two months, won their ninth win in the last 10. It was their fourth consecutive win scoring at least 100 points, a first since Tom Thibodeau has been coach, and as beautifully played a basketball game for them as it was poor for the fading Knicks.
The Bulls set a franchise record and league best this season with just three turnovers while getting 30 assists on 39 baskets. The quick, long shot Knicks had 17 assists total, three more than just Noah. Also, ESPN stats reported the Knicks set a season mark for fewest shots in the paint with about 60 percent of their shots being pull up jumpers averaging close to 20 feet in distance.
This while the Bulls put on a basketball clinic for the ABC-TV national audience with 48 points in the paint, nine steals to none for the Knicks, only further pointing to their relative indifference, and the Bulls dominating virtually everywhere on the court.
It’s by far the best the Bulls have played this season and artistically and effectively team wide as well as they have even in leading the league in wins during Thibodeau’s first two seasons.
Which is why even as they seemingly just battle for secondary position and now are third in the Eastern Conference, the Bulls can continue to believe even as currently comprised with the Sunday addition of reserve Jimmer Fredette there still are great things ahead this season.
After all, who expected any of this after the injury to Derrick Rose and the trade of Luol Deng for future considerations. Hardly anyone in the NBA as the Bulls were then bombarded with calls from other teams saying they’d take on players to save the Bulls more money. No, the Bulls explained, that was a one time financial move with Deng to help set the team up for future moves. But this group wasn’t backing down. As Noah put it, there’s no tanking around here. There’s a circle. Get in it or get out.
“It’s exciting coming from where we came from,” said Noah, who also rolled his ankle but said he planned to play Monday in Brooklyn.
“Feels like (crap) now,” he admitted. ”I’m going to play in Brooklyn. I love playing at home. Playing the Knicks, playing Brooklyn. I don’t take those things lightly and for granted.”
And especially not his team.
“People really counted us out,” noted Noah. “Just to be in this position feels good. We’re happy; we’re not satisfied. We’re hungrier than ever. We feel we’re the hungriest team playing in the NBA. When you get that feeling, it’s good.
“We’re fighting, we‘re hungry. We want more,” said Noah. “We’re not satisfied where we are at now. We want to get the best seed possible because we know when the playoffs come we want to play in this building. We know it’s all about playing well in the UC, especially in the playoffs. Everybody knows what this team is going through, playing without our best player. We feel like we’ve come so close to getting that ring. So right now our mentality is we just want to get better, play in those big games and do everything we can to play the best basketball possible so when our young boy comes back we’re ready. I want a ring. I want a ring so bad and I know one day our time will come.”
Which brings us to Carmelo Anthony, who had 21 points, 15 in the first half, while Tyson Chandler had 22 rebounds, but didn’t stop a whole lot of penetration to the basket. But when the Knicks play the Bulls these days there’s the Anthony Question. What will he do? It’s always the question around the Knicks as Anthony can become a free agent after this season.
There was someone wearing an Anthony to the Bulls shirt near the Knicks bench and a few fans scattered around the United Center wearing custom made Bulls jerseys with Anthony’s name. The notion is Anthony could be that famous second star to support the return of Rose and start getting Grant Park ready.
It’s not going to stop the talk until then, but there’s about a one tenth of one percent chance of Anthony ever playing for the Bulls. And I say that because Phil Jackson instructed me you never say never in the NBA.
But not because Anthony wouldn’t be great. I think he would be. He’s not a problem. He’ll play with other players despite what others may believe. He’ll be coached. He is one of the best pure scorers in league history.
The Knicks also know that, and they’re hoping he won’t walk away, which seems doubtful even as badly as the Knicks have played. Because not only would he then have to sign for about $30 million less giving up a fifth year—yes, Dwight Howard did that—but there’s really no big market team likely. The Lakers are said to have no interest and Miami and the Clippers have no cap space. The Suns? Cavs? I don’t think so. If the Bulls started talking trade, the Knicks would start with Noah. That would end talks.
The Bulls if they were to use amnesty for Carlos Boozer and give up both their first round picks would have maybe a $50 million contract for Anthony, thus asking him to sacrifice about $80 million.
And then hope Rose is fully healthy.
Yes, probably a lot to ask anyone.
To get Anthony a maximum four-year deal which would cost him “only” $30 million, the Bulls would have to amnesty Boozer, trade Taj Gibson for nothing into a team’s cap space, renounce the rights to D.J. Augustin and Kirk Hinrich and then forgo trying to sign Nikola Mirotic. You’d have to do all that before Anthony would agree to sign. That would all be on spec. Obviously, there could be so called wink/wink scenarios. But then say LeBron calls Carmelo, or Chris Paul, and they say they’ve got a plan and he can join them. Think he follows through on an illegal promise to sign with the Bulls? And the Bulls don’t do that sort of thing, anyway.
So, yes, this is likely all fairy tale stuff, and I’m sure we’ll see plenty more of it in July. You have to have your dreams, we always hear.
But Sunday was a reality, particularly harsh for the Knicks, who plummeted to 21-39 amidst a bunch more post game player observations of it being embarrassing.
“Embarrassing,” Anthony said. “It’s frustrating and it’s embarrassing.”
“They played harder,” observed J.R. Smith. “Plain and simple. They played harder.”
It was mostly embarrassing for the TV network, for the game and for defeated coach Mike Woodson, who seems to wear a permanent glaze in his eyes.
Woodson put out one of the more curious starting lineups, which also had something to do with the Bulls setting a season high for any quarter with 37 points in the first. Most fault understandably is put on the players. But it’s not clear what Woodson could have been thinking with essentially four perimeter players and Chandler. Anthony thus was guarding Noah, and Noah cut him up with perimeter passing. The Bulls dominated the boards like they were playing a fifth grade team, 19-7 in the first quarter and seven to one on the offensive boards.
The Bulls simply shot and just went back up every time they missed.
Chandler was running back and forth to help like he was trying to stay off a hot bed of coals as there was no one to help on the boards. So trailing 14-1 less than four minutes into the game after Noah grabbed a rebound and went all the way for a score, Woodson subbed in two more guards, Smith and Tim Hardaway Jr.
There really is no tanking in the NBA, perhaps other than in Philadelphia. You’d say Woodson and the Knicks were. Except they have no draft pick, having traded it in the Anthony deal. Another reason they aren’t giving up on him so easily.
So the Bulls just pounded away relentlessly with Butler, who defended Anthony, working as hard on the offensive end. Though his shot can be a bit crooked, Butler continues to be the team’s toughest player along with Taj Gibson in attacking the basket (they are the most athletic) and a consistent competitor.
“Jimmy was terrific,” said Thibodeau. “You can’t say enough about his game. He and Jo. He is out there battling against Carmelo and that puts enormous pressure on you. Jimmy got off scoring in the first half and made some big plays for us off pick and roll. I love him mindset. His demeanor is terrific. There are plays he defends as well as you can and they make. The next time he comes back to do it over and over again. When you make a scorer work for his points, that’s all you can do. To carry what he does offensively, to run the floor, to move without the ball, get into pick and roll, to post. We’re asking him to do a lot on that end. He’s playing on a very high level right now.”
And then there are the Knicks. I know having grown up there it’s a better-get-your-own city, but supposedly not in basketball. But I did leave there in the early 1970’s, the last time they were passing the ball. The Knicks actually made a bit of a run in the second quarter behind Amar’e Stoudemire—hello, Woodson, tall man—and got within 51-42 while the Bulls had a stretch of thinking this one was over and trying out the Knicks’ playbook.
But Noah with a jumper and Gibson with a powerful slam on yet another uncanny Noah interior pass closed the first half strong for the Bulls.
“What can you say? He is playing MVP basketball,” said Gibson. “He is doing everything in all facets of the game, offensively, defensively, making plays for other guys and we are feeding off of that.”
Noah got his second triple double of the season and fifth in his career, trailing only Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen on the franchise career list
Many are noticing. Minnesota’s Kevin Love posted a tweet during the game reading, “Joakim Noah can really pass that thing…crazy respect for his game.”
The Bulls led 59-48 at halftime.
“I think we gave up at least seven or eight backdoors tonight,” observed Woodson.
Did he say trap door?
The Knicks hung in during the third quarter as Woodson started the second half with Stoudemire. Though the brilliance in the Bulls’ play continued as Noah in one set from the top of the floor signaled for Butler to slide back door. Noah angled the pass in and as the Knicks reacted this time, Butler fired baseline to Boozer who passed out to Mike Dunleavy who directed the ball to Kirk Hirnich for a three and 77-61 Bulls lead. The last time five Knicks touched the ball was at the mandatory autograph session.
“The (offensive) balance has been big,” Thibodeau added. “We have a stretch where guys are healthy. They are sharing the ball, making quick decisions and playing strong defense. If you do those things, you are going to give yourself a chance to win. We have a bunch of guys willing to pass the ball.”
Then it was Augustin, who’d been in a bit of a shooting malaise, breaking out with four fourth quarter three pointers and those 21 points to have the Knicks clear their bench with 4:39 left and trailing by 18.
Shortly thereafter, Thibodeau sent in newly signed Fredette, who got a nice ovation from the Jimmer hungry public and made his first shot, a 20 footer. Now with a career 50 percent shooting percentage he’s one of the best in franchise history.
Yes, it’s happy days around the Bulls these days and they’re starting to tell the world about it with their play.
“I love the fact that we are playing together and sharing as a team,” said Thibodeau. “When you do that and you get a group that makes that type of commitment they’ve made to each other something special can happen.”