Of all the depth that the Bulls possess, a facet of the team that's been stretched to the limit this season, one player on the roster who'd yet to really see significant time was Jimmy Butler. Yet in a national TV game in Madison Square Garden, the Bulls rookie played the entire fourth quarter and was able to literally match Carmelo Anthony. Ronnie Brewer was given most of the duty initially, but while Butler is less experienced, he is bigger and a better size matchup. And his expected initial wildness was tempered yet his fearlessness of the moment wasn't. You could even give Butler the scoring edge considering two of Melo's points were on a (strange) intentional foul when his team was down 4 with 6 seconds to go. Anthony did have the opportunity to tie the game later (after Derrick missing another 'clutch' free throw, but he made one! progress) but as is expected more often than not when you're a 40% shooter, he missed.
Butler's performance was merely part of a really fun capping quarter to a very entertaining game. Derrick Rose has looked sensational for five straight games now, with a 4th 30+ effort in that time, and the extra-special addition of 13 assists Thursday. The plight of the Knicks PG situation is well-known (a storyline second on the TNT broadcast maybe only to Rose's humility) but it's quite a feat of roster construction to not only have no true distributors at the position but no real reliable defensive option either. And Baron Davis won't fix the latter. Then again, it's not as if many in the league can even slow Rose the way he's playing now, making a case to where we can actually believe his toe isn't bothering him anymore.
Rose was the ultimate difference, as he was almost matched by Amare Stoudemire but just not quite. Following the common joke leading up to the game, the solution to Stoudemire's struggles was indeed Carlos Boozer. Amare was explosive with his face-up game, and really was active for rebounds and loose balls inside. And this was happening to Taj Gibson as well, so whereas some (most?) nights one can figure if neither is providing offense at least Taj give you defense, Thursday night was the opposite: neither showed much defensively, but at least Boozer was providing points. Boozer had one of his better games with 16 points on 7 shots, and he was the 4th quarter late substitution for once. This may just wind up being a platoon, a disappointment but a reality.
The Knicks were able to do their best when they forced Joakim Noah out of the game and the Bulls lost their best defender against small-ball. This was not the right matchup for Omer Asik (who's struggled in general lately) as he forced to check Stoudemire at times, and then the offense would just look sloppy when trying to force the size mismatch on the other end with he and Taj. That's partly due to CJ Watson not being a classic point guard himself, but that's something that Watson can more than makes up for with his scoring, and he had 12 huge points in the game. Kyle Korver was red-hot to start, and overall he and Landry Fields were more-or-less their own shootout ending in a draw, the same between Noah and (my former favorite Bull) Tyson Chandler, and looking at both teams in total they'd similarly alternate stretches of the game turning the ball over and the other would make a run.
The Bulls aren't going to be that great of a team (right now with the injuries and stuff), the defensive slippage without Deng is noticeable, and It is alarming that again the Bulls didn't have an offensive rebound advantage (32% to 27% in favor of the Knicks), something they've led the league in consistently under Thibodeau. But even without two of their starters, the Bulls are still very good. The renowned defensive issues of New York were a perfect remedy after seeing the intensity brought upon them by Philadelphia the night before. It was a game where Rose was able to attack with impunity, and the complementary options were able to get in rhythm themselves. As presently seen, both teams are likely quite even and a close win or a loss in this one would've told the same story.
But it feels good to have a nationally televised road win, and while they remain on the road the times should only get easier for the Bulls in the next week. Meanwhile they can try and get healthy (Deng may return Saturday) and keep developing the entire (non pseudo-coach division) roster for the playoffs. Or the trade deadline.