Thursday, April 11, 2013

Game No. 78 Recap, Bulls-Knicks: Clean Sweep

Chicago Bulls 118, New York Knicks 111

Luol Deng came out and hit an elbow jumper to start the game, but the Knicks were quickly able to jump out to an 8-2 lead less than two minutes in. How, you ask? Of course, via the dreaded three-point shot. As I mentioned earlier in the preview post, the Knicks shot a disgusting 20-for-36 from three on Tuesday, and they started this one with two from the left side, one from Shumpert and Felton each. 

Unlike the matchups in MSG, it was the Knicks who jumped out to a big early lead, 11-2 by the 9:10 mark, forcing a Thibodeau timeout. It was not an auspicious start for the Bulls. 

Out of the timeout, starting "center" Chris Copeland nailed another trey, extending the lead to 14-2. Meanwhile, the Bulls had missed their next five shots after the aforementioned Deng make. 

The Knicks finally missed their first shot of the game at the 7:37 mark, but the Bulls offense could not keep up at the other end. A trey from Pablo Prigioni at the 5:58 mark --forcing another Bulls timeout-- gave the Knicks their 23rd point six minutes in. Small sample size and all, but through just over six minutes of play, the Knicks were scoring at a clip of 1.94 points per possession. 

Luckily, a quick 10-0 Bulls run brought Chicago a step away from the precipice of First Quarter Blowout City. After going down 23-6 halfway through the first, the Bulls held the Knicks to just seven points the rest of the way. Entering the second quarter down 30-23 was just about as close to "winning" a quarter as a team can get while being down seven. 

On the not so bright side, the Knicks continued their sharpshooting ways early in the second, with a long two and a trey on consecutive possessions from Raymond Felton, and another trey from Copeland a couple of minutes later. Although it was only 15 minutes into the game, the Knicks were outshooting their three-point shooting percentage from Tuesday, having shot 7-for-11 from beyond the arc (64%). No matter how many times the Bulls would rally back, there is no way the Bulls could win this one with the Knicks shooting so many relatively uncontested threes. 

A few minutes into the second, Mike Woodson was forced to roll with a four guard lineup, with Copeland as the only big. This is where you start pining for a healthy Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson. Done pining? Okay, let's move to the next graf. 

After a 3-for-3 start from the field, Carmelo Anthony went on to miss 11 straight, which probably had somewhat to do with the Bulls' ability to get back into the game relatively quickly. Also, the Bulls got some solid bench production, with six points from Rip Hamilton (yes, he still exists) and seven from Nate Robinson. 

The Bulls cut the deficit to two at one point, but a 7-1 run by the Knicks --that included technical fouls on both Anthony and Robinson-- brought the lead back up to eight. I'm not sure what was said, but the Nate tech took the wind out of the Bulls' sails for a moment, especially on the heels of the Melo tech. 

Despite a disastrous first six minutes, the Bulls went into the half down just 59-54, powered by a 57% mark from two and 25 combined second quarter points from Robinson and Hamilton. The Bulls' D was not good in any respect, but I'll take 54 points in a half from an undermanned Bulls squad any day of the week and twice on Sunday. 

The second half began not unlike the first. New York started the third quarter on a 14-4 run, extending the lead back to 73-58 and back into the nebulous border region separating the vaguely salvageable situation and Blowout City, USA. 

Carlos Boozer committed his fifth turnover early in the third, out of seven total Chicago turnovers. On this night, Boozer was incapable of dishing out of the double team, which made things easy for the Knicks whenever the Bulls fed him the ball. 

On the defensive end, the Bulls continued to look completely clueless on the pick and roll, leaving Copeland open over and over again, a failing for which Copeland made the Bulls pay. Halfway through the third, he was only 3-for-10 from the field, but all three of his makes were from beyond the arc (where he was 3-for-6). 

None other than Jimmy Butler came through to give the Bulls a spark, grabbing back-to-back steals and slamming home two breakaway dunks, cutting the lead to 11. Still, it was exactly the sort of thing the Bulls desperately needed, as they weren't going to outshoot the Knicks from long-range. 

This wave of momentum was momentarily interrupted, as J.R. Smith shot faked his way to the rim for an easy two out of the timeout. However, the Bulls rallied to score the next eight points, cutting the lead to five once again near the end of the third. A Robinson corner trey in transition with 2.8 seconds to go miraculously sent the Bulls into the final quarter down just 82-80. 

A quick check on the Anthony/Smith "high-usage, low efficiency" barometer: through three, they were a combined 17-for-42 from the field, good for just 40%. Good, good. 

Starting the third, a Boozer two and a Hamilton three gave the Bulls their first lead since the beginning of the game. The crowd woke up and Chicago's defense had picked up a notch or two since the beginning of what at this point was a 21-3 run (!). 

Nate hit a big trey, but on the next possession attempted a no-look lob pass to Rip Hamilton on the break, resulting in a turnover and an easy New York two at the other end. But, that's Nate, and this is what he does *insert Eminem Chrysler ad soundtrack*. 

Good Nate returned a few minutes later, pitching in a two and a big trey to give the Bulls a seven point lead with 6:16 to go. Again, the Bulls would not have been in this position if not for the combined +35 from Hamilton and Nate off the bench. The duo had 39 of the Bulls' 97 points at this juncture; sometimes I think this Bulls squad is literally made of adamantium. 

Nate next two treys didn't fall, however, and the Knicks managed to whittle down the once nine point deficit to just two with under two minutes to go. The next Bulls offensive possession would be crucial. A Felton shoulder to Nate noggin sent the latter to the line for two, where he got a fortunate bounce on the first and calmly sunk the second. 

The Knicks again cut it to two and Jimmy Butler failed to convert in the lane on the ensuing offensive possession. In a scary moment, the Bulls left Jason Kidd open for three, but his shot was off the mark. Again, though, the Bulls failed to put the game away, and the Knicks had the ball with 18 seconds left and the chance to tie or win it. 

Melo received it up top and immediately drove right, drawing a Butler foul. He swished the first, and then the second, tying the game at 105 all. The Bulls now had their turn at the final possession. 

Deng drove right and launched an off-balanced shot, through some contact, off the glass that was just too strong. With 1.5 seconds to go, Carmelo's attempt at a game-winning dagger was off the mark. Naturally, this game had to go to overtime. 

The Bulls jumped out to an early four point lead after a big Nate and-1 and a Deng trey. 

A tremendous sequence of Butler defense on J.R. Smith led to, of course...a Smith technical foul! I bet you didn't see that coming. Or maybe you did, because you were watching the game and already saw these things I am writing about. 

Once again, Good Nate drove to his right and flew by Iman Shumpert for an easy finish off the glass, giving the Bulls a seven point lead with 1:36 left. Another strong drive for a layup from Deng just about sealed it up.  

For the second time in the past month, the Bulls saw an opponent come into the United Center with a long winning streak and said bastante. Things looked grim early, as the Knicks looked like they were simply continuing their impeccable performance against the Wizards on Tuesday. 

But, as always, the Bulls were resilient. Also, despite the occasional case of brain melt, Nate Robinson played like the John Lucas III 134.0 that he is, scoring 35 points on 10-for-18 shooting, just one shy of Melo's 36 (on just 13-for-34 shooting). Yes, Nate Robinson was the best player on the floor in a game featuring Carmelo Anthony. 

For a regular season with exactly zero Derrick Rose minutes, this sure has been quite the ride. The victory puts the Bulls a half game ahead of the sixth place Hawks, with one fewer loss. With four games to go, the Bulls will need to continue this sort of play if they are going to avoid a first round matchup with an Indiana team that gave the Bulls all sorts of problems this season. 

Nonetheless, a sweep of the best Knicks team in many, many years is no small feat, and is simply further proof (not that you needed any) that the Bulls can beat any team in the league despite a whole mess of injuries and a bench full of tumbleweeds. 

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