NEW YORKIt wasnt a Broadway play, but with all of Derrick Roses aerial acrobatics and a game that was entertaining throughout, basketball fans in the Big Apple were treated to a show Thursday night.
Rose (32 points, 13 assists), named an Eastern Conference All-Star starter earlier in the evening, thrilled an audience used to another guard representing Chicago making memories on a big stage, as he led the Bulls (19-6) to a 105-102 victory over the Knicks (6-14).
He was great from the start, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said of his point guard. He got everybody involved early.
A back-and-forth contest right out of the gates, the atmosphere in the revamped Madison Square Garden suggested, despite the home teams disappointing start to the season, a prime-time matchup.
Knicks power forward Amare Stoudemire (34 points, 11 rebounds) and second-year swingman Landry Fields (17 points) were aggressive in the early going and as a result, received encouragement from the crowd, which was behind the duo that played so well a year ago, but were struggling in the current campaign scoring New Yorks first 17 points of the contest.
For the visitors, Rose focused on distributing at the outset and one of the prime beneficiaries was sharpshooter Kyle Korver (16 points), who knocked down three quick triples. Rose then began looking for his own shots and scored on a variety of drives and pull-up jumpers, propelling the Bulls to a 29-25 advantage at the conclusion of the opening period, following a late-quarter jumper by Knicks rookie guard Iman Shumpert (10 points), a native of Oak Park, Ill.
Just trying to make plays. Thats what I think I didnt do in the 76ers game. Making plays for others when people are trying to play that type of defense its kind of like a soft blitz, when I come off pick-and-roll, the big is staying with me until I pass the ball and then, when I passed to Joakim or Booz, they knew what they were doing and that makes the game easier, Rose said afterwards.
Backup point guard C.J. Watson (12 points) showed he was continuing to progress in his recovery from a right-wrist injury, building on Wednesday nights solid performance in a losing effort at Philadelphia and displaying his adeptness at both shooting from the perimeter and penetrating to the rim for crafty finishes, giving the Bulls a slim cushion.
You know when C.J. is in the game, hes going to give you his all. Score the ball, run the team, play defense. He plays great defense and I think thats what people sleep on, praised Rose. The people that we have on the bench, they come in, do more work sometimes than our starters. Theyre always ready, they respond great when guys are out and thats all we can ask for.
We hate losing. We have winners on our team. If we lose, the next game, for sure, we know that team is going to get our all that night, he continued. For sure, knowing that last night, thats a terrible game. Theyre a good team, the Sixers, and tonight, we were just trying to redeem ourselves with this game.
Meanwhile, Stoudemire continued to carry the Knicks offensive load in the close-knit affair while playing center former Bulls draft pick Tyson Chandler (nine points, eight rebounds), an offseason free-agent acquisition for New York, was catching a breather the position where he excelled prior to last years blockbuster Carmelo Anthony trade, in a second-unit lineup.
Speaking of Anthony (26 points, six rebounds), the East All-Star starter got somewhat untracked (though not in concert with Stoudemire, a major concern for the Knicks), but Chicagos offensive execution (plays were successfully run to set up open jumpers or favorable one-on-one opportunities), tough defense (exemplified by rookie swingman Jimmy Butler) and overall effort (native New Yorker Joakim Noah, in particular, stood out in this category), something highly scrutinized following a lackluster performance in a loss at Philadelphia the previous evening.
We always say, Youve got to find a way, and I think the good teams in this league find a way to win games. Ideally, youd like to count on both your offense and your defense, and on most nights, if you can be consistent with your defense, it gives you a chance to win on the nights when you dont shoot well. We were fortunate tonight because we were able to score the ball, but we know thats not the way youre going to have success over a long period of time in this league. We have to make the corrections to improve our defense, said Thibodeau.
It says a lot about our team. For the most part, this team will play hard every night and the thing to me that was disappointing about the Philly game was just the turnovers. But I love the resiliency of our team, the resolve of our team, the bounce-back ability of the team. We got great leadership from Derrick today and all our guys. The thing about this team is I think weve got a team of leaders. Its not any one particular guy. Its a whole group of guys, so I thought getting ready to play was a challenge and were looking at four games in five nights, and you can give yourself that excuse or you can find a way to win, and thats what I like about our team.
With their balanced, unselfish and opportunistic offense the guests had 10 fast-break points and nine second-chance points at the half and an aggressive mindset on the defensive end, the Bulls went into the break with a 55-44 lead, after an Anthony putback at the halftime buzzer.
Selfless offense continued to be the Bulls trademark after the intermission, as Rose orchestrated the show, setting up Korver, Noah (10 points, nine rebounds) and Carlos Boozer (16 points, nine rebounds) alike, when he wasnt creating for himself.
However, while the visitors were able to maintain their double-digit edge over the hosts, New York consistently went inside to Stoudemire and Chandler drawing Noahs fourth foul and cut into the deficit, as perimeter players Anthony, Fields and Shumpert also made contributions.
Rose briefly took matters into his own hands, scoring on two consecutive possessions when the hosts trimmed it to a two-point differential, before the Knicks used a trap to force the ball out of his hands, then narrowed the gap behind Anthonys potent scoring.
Anthony tied the game with under a minute left in the period, but after three quarters of play, the Bulls clung to a narrow, 77-75 edge.
With Watson alongside him to start the final stanza and assist with ballhandling duties to combat New Yorks double-team strategy, Rose went on a scoring tear, scoring the Bulls first seven points of the period, mostly on an array of floaters, soon coming to be his patented shot.
He was countered, however, by his counterpart in a No. 1 jersey, Stoudemire, who again stepped up his production with Anthony out of the game, though Roses show-stopping ability, which mesmerized the Garden crowd prevented the Knicks from overtaking their guests.
We stayed together. Were a team, where, in those types of situations, thats when we come together as a team and just try to fight through it. We still had a tough time with stopping them toward the end. They were hitting some great shots. Theyve got great players on their team. We were just trying to hold on to that lead, Rose explained.
I love playing here, man. The crowd really loves basketball, they love basketball and I just love the energy here. They love their team, they talk about you and all that. I love it.
It remained a close-knit affair as the game entered its stretch run when Noah made a huge block on Anthony shot inside, Butler, the rookie Thibodeau left him in the game for defensive purposes hit a pull-up jumper to make it a four-possession game, only to see Anthony match him to make it 101-98 with under a minute remaining in the contest.
Following a timeout, Fields scored to cut the deficit to a single point and the Knicks subsequently engaged in a late-game free throw exhibition, which the Bulls survived, though Anthony following Rose splitting a pair had to miss a game-tying three-point attempt at the buzzer to ensure the contest wouldnt go to overtime.
Finally hit a damn free throw. Thats what Im happy about. Hit one, so hopefully next time, I hit both of them, Rose joked. But just trying to stay positive, just trying to do anything to win. It was me passing the ball earlier in the game and that loosened everything up, and I was just hitting shots tonight.
Added Thibodeau: I think we have guys who have great will to win. I think they play for each other, so whenever we lose, were disappointed as a group, but we try to learn from every game, both when we win and when we lose. I think every game reveals something to you and you should try to learn, and understand, why youre winning and why youre losing, and I think this group does that.