So this is starting to become a bit of a trend now, isn't it? For the third time in three games this season, the Bulls' defense bottled up the Knicks en route to a 108-101 victory on Friday night at Madison Square Garden. Like the last game at MSG, the Bulls ran roughshod over the Knicks right out of the gate. Also like last game, the Bulls decided to fall asleep at the wheel in the fourth quarter before pulling out the win.
A huge part of the (mostly) great defensive effort was Luol Deng, who manned up Carmelo Anthony from the start and forced him into tough shots for a good portion of the night. Melo did have quite a bit of success as the game wore on and finished with a game-high 39 points on 14-of-32 shooting, but his 1-of-10 start was key in the Bulls running out to their big lead. And Deng's physical defense was a big factor in that slow start, as most of those misses were outside the paint.
Deng was also a monster on the other end of the court, knocking down a vast array of shots and helping the Bulls get going offensively. He was aggressive in looking for his shot, and while he did make some really tough long range jumpers, he also made plenty of plays going to the basket. Lu scored 21 points on 9-of-12 shooting in the first half, and wound up finishing with a season-high 33 points on 13-of-18 shooting.
Back to the Bulls' defense, they held the Knicks to 41.1 percent shooting overall, and it was only that good because of their big fourth quarter. The Knicks did hit 11 threes, but every single one of those makes was in the second half after the Bulls had already built their big lead. The Bulls' defense had some major issues against the Bucks, but those were fixed at the outset of tonight's game. The rotations and recovery were fantastic for most of the night, and along with Deng, Joakim Noah was especially good on that end. I know Tom Thibodeau won't be happy with the 41 points in the fourth quarter, but a lot of that was just Melo and the Knicks chucking up shots.
Offensively, the Bulls racked up 26 assists and shot 57.4 percent from the field. Richard Hamilton finally found his shot after really struggling in his six games since returning from injury (7.2 ppg on 38 percent shooting), scoring 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting in 20 minutes of play. Taj Gibson also made some nice contributions on offense with 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting in 22 minutes (although he did go 0-of-4 from the line). Carlos Boozer's streak of 20/10 games ended at four, but he did still manage 17 points and six rebounds. He also did this:
Beating the Knicks is always fun. Beating the shit out of the Knicks at the Garden is even better. Yeah, it was only a seven-point victory, but like last time, the Bulls dominated for the majority of the game before struggling to close it out in the end. The Bulls' closing problems are well documented, so it really wasn't all that surprising to see this happen. On the other hand, the first half was some of the best ball the Bulls have played all year.
To add to the fun, Noah brought back the finger guns, Nate Robinson did the Discount Double Check and Derrick Rose shot jumpers with the team in warmups. About the only bad part of the night outside of the sloppy finish was watching Kirk Hinrich brick several open threes, but he did finish with seven assists and showed some really impressive hops on a couple of rebounds. So much grit!
Oh, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who would love to see the Knicks in the playoffs. While we know all too well that regular season success doesn't always mean postseason success, the Bulls seem to match up really well with this Knicks squad. It would be one hell of a series, only made better with the returns of Rose and Iman Shumpert.
Suns up next tomorrow.