The Bulls were without Derrick Rose for the second straight game Friday night with soreness in his hamstring. It doesn't seem too major as Rose went through most of shootaround and even warms before the game before deciding he wasn't quite ready. Also noted before the start of the game was that Jimmy Butler was listed as probably with a left thigh strain and Tony Snell as well with a sprained right ankle. However, both played and no showed no signs of their supposed ailments.
Chicago jumped out to a quick 11-0 start Friday night against the New York Knicks, showing no signs of a hangover from New Year's Eve the night prior. Meanwhile, the same couldn't be said for the Knicks who missed their first 10 shots of the game before a layup by the much heralded rookie, Kristaps Porzingis. The Bulls strong start was due in part to Nikola Mirotic, who hit three of five three's attempted and tallied 11 first quarter points as Chicago took a 34-18 lead. Jimmy Butler chipped in seven and Pau Gasol had six first quarter points, respectively. Chicago's ball movement was much better than it had been in previous games during the opening quarter. The ball wasn't sticking nearly as much and guys were cutting off the ball, finding the open seams within the Knicks defense.
Rookie Bobby Portis continued his strong play, starting the game 3-3 from the field, including a long three pointer. Meanwhile, Aaron Brook picked up where he left off on Wednesday night, scoring the ball well by driving within the teeth of the defense. At one point during the second period, the Bulls pushed the lead to 17, which featured yet another Gasol to Butler alley-oop, making that 10 straight games now. The Bulls were in the driver's seat for most of the first half until the final minutes that featured New York make a run to end the half. Up 14 with around a minute left, the Knicks hit back-to-back three's and followed those with two free throw's to cut the deficit to six heading into halftime. After starting the game 0-10, the Knicks outscored the Bulls 50-45, and shot 20-35 from the field to end the half.
As the second half got underway, Chicago scored two quick buckets to force Knicks' head coach Derek Fisher to call an early timeout. New York preceeded to go on a 17-5 run to eventually take the lead at 67-65. Mirotic picked up his fourth foul in the early goings of the third quarter and had to sit, who was then joined by Brooks by picking up his fourth foul. For most of the third quarter we saw what has marred the Bulls for much of the year, the offense from earlier in the game disappeared, combined with the Bulls inability to get consistent stops defensively, allowed New York to climb back into the game. Although, the Bulls managed to grab a four point lead, 77-73, as the quarter came to a close with the help of Portis' energy off the bench, and Gasol going at the Knicks backup big men.
The fourth quarter was arguably the most entertaining one of the season thus far. Fred Hoiberg started the quarter off with a unit consisting of E'Twaun Moore, Tony Snell, Doug McDermott, Mirotic and Portis. Chicago went on a 7-0 run to start the quarter, extending their lead to 11. After sitting out most of the third quarter, Mirotic started the fourth off strong with a free throw followed by a dunk and assist (finished with a career-high seven!) to McDermott. Moreover, his defense during the final period was absolutely superb, which helped propel the Bulls. Once subbing in Butler with the aforementioned lineup, the Bulls ran off a 19-4 run to go up 22, capped off by back-to-back three's from McDermott, assisted by Butler on both. This final lineup was damn impressive on both ends, but the spacing offensively provided the breathing room that Hoiball needs to be successful. The pace with which the Bulls played with, with this lineup was a lot of fun to watch, getting out into transition, the movement in the halfcourt was phenomenal. Chicago ended up outscoring the Knicks 31-8 in the fourth quarter, McDermott actually outscored New York himself with 11 points of his own. More impressive was the Bulls finished the game with 27 assists to only a mere seven turnovers as the Bulls ran off with a 108-81 win in their first contest in the new year.
One of the biggest takeaways from tonight's game was the play of Portis, who finished with 16 points on 6-9 shooting, including 2-3 from deep, with 10 boards and a team high +30. The game essentially changed when Portis entered during the halfway point of the third quarter, and as the Bulls surged in the final period. In his last three games, Portis is averaging 14.7 points, on 61.3% shooting with 8.7 boards in 27.7 mpg. As the season progresses Portis should be a consistent fixture in the rotation, the kid is ready. Which brings up a predicament for Hoiberg when Joakim Noah returns from his shoulder injury. How does he divvy up those minutes, can he continue to keep Mirotic at the three? Tough decisions will need to be made going forward not only for Hoiberg, but Chicago's front office too.
Chicago takes the floor again Sunday afternoon against the Toronto Raptors at 3:30 ET in Toronto.