Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports
The Bulls used their physicality to take the Knicks out of their game in a huge victory at Madison Square Garden on Friday night.
When the Bulls beat the Knicks at the United Center on Dec. 8, the Bulls held the Knicks to 32.1 percent shooting and 8-of-23 from three-point land. The Bulls also won the rebounding battle 47-40. On Friday night at Madison Square Garden, the Bulls beat the Knicks by holding them to 41.8 percent shooting and 8-of-26 from three. The Bulls also won the rebounding battle 51-40.
Sensing a theme here?
The Bulls bullied the Knicks pretty much all night long, getting into their heads with physicality and forcing them to unravel. The pretty horrendous officiating allowed the game to get out of control in a chippy second half that saw Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler, Joakim Noah and Mike Woodson tossed. With Noah out and Taj Gibson hampered with a sprained ankle, the Bulls were forced to hold on for dear life with a pretty horrendous closing lineup, but they managed (barely) to do so. I know Tom Thibodeau couldn't have been too pleased with how the Bulls closed this game out, as the Knicks did score 45 points in the fourth quarter. But the Bulls unit that was out there really did suck, so whatever.
The Bulls took the Knicks and the crowd away right from the start, roaring out to a 14-2 lead minutes into the game. Kirk Hinrich got the offense rolling with two three-pointers, and the Bulls' defense did a marvelous job defending the Knicks' small-ball lineup. Thibs stuck Carlos Boozer on Ronnie Brewer, daring him to shoot jumpers and defending the hell out of everybody else. The Knicks were kept mostly on the perimeter, and the Bulls never let Chandler and Raymond Felton get anything going in the pick-and-roll game.
Also helping matters was the fact that Melo struggled out of the gates and never really got into a rhythm. The Bulls defended him hard on nearly every possession, limiting the easy baskets and challenging most of his forays to the basket. The Bulls were especially physical with Melo, making him noticeably frustrated when he wouldn't get calls. Melo did finish with 29 points, but it did take him 25 shots to get there and he took himself out of the game with his incessant whining.
The Bulls' offense continued to cook after their initial outburst, with Luol Deng and Joakim Noah doing a ton of damage. The Knicks' small-ball units often left Deng with huge mismatches on the offensive end (like Jason Kidd, LOL), which Lu made sure to take advantage of. He also knocked down a couple of threes, which has been an element missing from his game the past couple of weeks. Meanwhile, Noah dominated the paint and rendered Chandler essentially useless.
The Knicks did make one run to get the game within five points midway through the second quarter, but that was with Deng and Noah on the bench and a strange unit of Hinrich/Robinson/Butler/Gibson/Boozer out there. Once Thibs' stallions returned to the game, the Bulls re-opened their double-digit lead and took a 54-37 lead into the second half.
The game started to take a chippy turn in the third quarter, as the Knicks' frustration truly began to set in. There was tons of iso-ball, tons of bricks, a lot of whistles and multiple technical fouls. The Bulls just continued doing their thing offensively, with Hinrich continuing his three-point barrage (!!!!) and Marco Belinelli getting in on the fun as well. Belinelli actually did a hell of a job driving on J.R. Smith all game, although I'm not sure if that's all that impressive.
The Bulls led by 22 going into the final frame, which led to a flurry of pretty wild play as the Knicks desperately tried to get back in it. Seemingly every possession was a chucked jumper with Chandler under the basket attempting to backtap the offensive rebound. The Knicks made a charge early in the fourth quarter, but they seemed to run out of steam once Smith and Anthony hit the showers. However, they did make that run late after the fight between Noah and Chandler that could cost each guy a game or more.
Aside from the near collapse at the end, this was a great all-around performance by a Bulls team that is really starting to come together without Derrick Rose. Hinrich played almost without a doubt his best game of the season, notching 16 points, nine rebounds and eight assists. He also hit four three-pointers and generally looked much less scared to shoot as he has most of the season. Kirk did appear to grab his groin/hamstring area after a layup in the second half, but he did return and finished off the game. Considering his injury history this season, we'll see if anything comes of this.
Noah, despite shooting 4-of-12 from the field, nearly finished with another triple-double. And as I said before, he helped render Chandler meaningless. Noah's pick-and-roll defense was simply outstanding, whether he was defending the ball-handler or recovering to guard the screener. In a battle of potential All-Star centers, Noah simply whooped Chandler's ass. And as we saw in the fourth quarter, Jo got into Chandler's head.
And Deng. What else can you say about him? Not only did he start the game brilliantly, but he shook off what appeared to be a nasty shoulder injury in the second half and continued to perform well throughout the remainder of the game. Lu finished with 29 points and 13 rebounds on the night, coming up with a bunch of huge shots and playing stellar defense against numerous opponents.
The shoulder injury is certainly something to be monitored, and it would not be surprising if we have another #FredClearedHim situation on our hands. Aggrey Sam interviewed Deng right after the game and Lu said the shoulder was definitely "sore" and that it would have to be evaluated further. We'll just have to hope for the best, because losing Deng would obviously be a monumental setback.
In the end, this is a monster win against one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. The final score says it was a four-point win, but the Bulls dominated most of the night. After two games this season, it's apparent that the Bulls are a bad matchup for the Knicks, and I would love to see these two squads go at it in the playoffs. Especially with a healthy Derrick Rose to finish off games.