Linsanity may have subsided as of late, but as he does when presented with a perceived challenge, Derrick Rose met it head on, leading his short-handed Bulls (35-9) over the Knicks (18-24), 104-99 Monday night at the United Center.
Rose wasnt at his most efficient, but persevered and came up big when his squad needed it the most, while also getting support from his supporting castwhether some of the usual suspects or unlikely candidateswith a penchant for making hustle plays, to hand free-falling New York its sixth straight loss.
Offensive balance appeared to be the Bulls primary objective in the early going, as all five starters were on the board by the midway point of the first quarter. Kyle Korvers (nine points, seven rebounds) outside shooting, Roses (32 points, seven assists, six rebounds) penetration and Joakim Noahs (12 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, three blocked shots, two steals) aggressiveness as a scorerthe ex-New Yorker showed no mercy for the team he grew up rooting for, posterizing the Knicks frontline twice in the opening periodoffset Carlos Boozers (15 points, seven rebounds) two quick fouls, which sent him to the pine.
The visitors werent intimidated by the home team, which entered the evening with the leagues top record, especially center Tyson Chandler (13 points, 10 rebounds), who was familiar with the confines from his early days in Chicago, and made a quick, efficient and meaningful impact from the outset. New Yorks point-guard phenomenon Jeremy Lin (15 points, eight assists), had an uneven start to the gamelike most players, he struggled to stay in front of Rose, but made an impressive block on a layup attempt by the leagues reigning MVPbut managed the game well enough to aid the Knicks in taking a 25-23 lead through a quarter of play.
The short-handed hosts continued to trail early in the second stanza, as Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau was forced to buy time with unconventional lineups, leading to a rough offensive stretch, though swingman Ronnie Brewer (11 points, seven assists, six rebounds) and reserve Taj Gibson (15 points, 13 rebounds) were solid contributors. However, even after reinserting the likes of Rose and Noah back into the contest, the Bulls still had problems scoring the ball, as both Rose and Boozer got off to dreadful starts shooting.
Rose began to assert himself more as a scorernot that it translated into trips to the foul linehelping the home team temporarily regain the lead in a strange affair, which featured technical fouls on both Thibodeau and Knicks head coach Mike DAntoni, as well as a rare first-half appearance by deep reserve and fan favorite Brian Scalabrine. At the intermission, the Bulls narrowly trailed their guests from Gotham, 50-48.
After the break, offense suddenly came much easier for the Bulls, as Boozer, in particular, appeared to have regained his scoring touch, while Rose maintained his aggressive edge, but had more successful results than in the first half. Rosewho gave Bulls fans a brief scare after taking a spill on his tender backby way of fast-break finishes, outside shooting, playmaking, drawing fouls and tough driving finishes, went on to propel a run that led to the hosts seizing control of the contest, eventually obtaining some breathing room as a buffer against the reeling Knicks.
Playing at a faster pace, the Bulls dictated the tempo, while still executing better in their halfcourt offense, as evidenced by Brewer cutting to open areas on the floor and knocking down jumpers, as well as Noah capitalizing on offensive boards made possible by proper spacing.
But New York hung tough behind the star forward duo of Carmelo Anthony (21 points, eight rebounds) and Amare Stoudemire (20 points), both of whom had begun to find their way, drawing within 79-78 heading into the games final frame.
Rookie swingman Jimmy Butler (eight points) sparked the Bulls at the outset of the fourth quarterfirst drawing a charge, then converting a steal into a transition layupenergizing the home crowd, aiding the hosts in again developing a slim cushion. Fellow reserve Gibson did much of the same, beginning with one of his typically thunderous flushes, but then with his relentless work on the offensive glass, which was best exemplified by an out-of-area rebound after a Rose heave to beat the shot clock, resulting in Rose receiving a gorgeous bounce pass from Noah, then throwing down a powerful one-hand dunk in the lane.
As the game entered its stretch run, Rose continued to work his magic, but the Bulls also received timely contributions from the likes of Butler, Noah and Boozerwhether scoring, rebounding, hustle plays or in the rookies case, a vicious follow-up dunkto help the team maintain its narrow winning margin.
Fittingly, following a jump ball forced by a Noah block on Stoudemire, Rose outraced Lin for both a loose ball and a subsequent fast-break layup and while the Knicks made a last-gasp effort that served as at least a wake-up call to the Bulls, it was too little, too late.