Let me state up front that I wasn’t thrilled with the Bulls’ defensive effort last night.
The Knicks scored 102 points and posted an Offensive Efficiency of 108.5, well above their season averages of 95.0 and 97.1, respectively. They also finished with an Offensive Rebounding Rate of 31.7, up from their season average of 24.5.
What’s more, the Bulls let Amar’e Stoudemire explode out of his season-long slump. STAT finished with a season-high 34 points on 16-for-27 shooting to go with 11 rebounds, 2 assists, a steal and a blocked shot. Stoudemire had a fantastic game…although it may be worth mentioning that he posted a game-low plus-minus score of -11 in his 41 minutes of PT.
All that said, Chicago still managed to pull out the win, no small feat considering the circumstances: Minus Luol Deng and Rip Hamilton, playing in Madison Square Garden, the second night of back-to-back games following an embarrassing blowout loss, their fourth game in five nights, midway through a season-long nine-game road trip.
Said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: “We always say you got to find a way, and the good teams in this league find different ways to win games. Ideally, you’d like to count on both your offense and your defense.”
But last night, the Bulls did it on offense. They shot nearly 53 percent from the field and posted an Offensive Efficiency of 111.7. Their Offensive Rebound Rate was a solid 27.3 and they had a Free Throw Rate of 39.2 (and, ultimately, a 29-14 advantage in free throw attempts). Basically, the Bulls were scoring at will.
Especially Derrick Rose.
Fresh off being voted a starter on the Eastern Conference All-Star Team, Rose scored 32 points (12-for-26) and dished out 13 assists. Derrick exploded for 15 of those points during the fourth quarter. He scored 7 of those points in the first 2:15 of the fourth via a three-pointer, two free throws and a 15-footer. Rose scored another 7 points in a 1:19 stretch by knocking down a 16-foot jumper, hitting one of his patented driving layups and then drilling a three on back-to-back-to-back possessions.
The only blight on Rose’s fourth quarter was a missed free throw with five seconds left that could have iced the game. Fortunately, Carmelo Anthony missed a desperation three-point attempt at the buzzer, allowing the Bulls to escape with the win.
Of course, Rose’s foul shots wouldn’t have been necessary if Ronnie Brewer hadn’t accidentally fouled ‘Melo with six seconds left and the Bulls leading 104-100. Thibs had instructed Brewer to foul if the Bulls were up by only three points in that situation to prevent the Knicks from tying things up. Only the Bulls were up four.
Said Thibodeau: “That was a mistake. And again, those are things you’d like to work on in practice. So it was a miscommunication on my part with Ronnie. Up three we would like to use [that strategy]. Up four we want to stay down and not react to a shot fake. And not put ourselves in position where they could have a four point play. So that was on me. That was a miscommunication.”
Still…pulling out the win was sweet. Especially, as I pointed out, considering the circumstances.
Said Thibs: “It says a lot about our team. For the most part, this team will play hard every night. 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 we have a team of leaders. It’s not any one particular guy, it’s a whole group of guys.
“I think we have guys that have great will to win. I think they play for each other. So whenever we lose we’re 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 you’re winning or why you’re losing, and I think this group does that.”
Added Rose: “[We] stayed together. We’re a team where in those type of situations, that’s when we come together as a team and just try to fight through it.”
That’s what these Bulls are all about: Staying together.
It’s obvious the team is really missing Luol Deng. And I’m not just talking about the numbers. I’m talking mostly about his stabilizing presence. Well, that and his defense. And his skill set. And, heck, the numbers too.
But they got by thanks to Rose and contributions from Carlos Boozer (16 points, 7-for-12, 9 boards), Kyle Korver (16 points, 3-for-5 on threes, 5-for-5 from the line), C.J. Watson (12 points, 5-for-9, 3 steals), et al.
And let’s not forget about Jimmy Butler. As ESPNChicago’s Nick Friedell writes:
The irony was not lost on Luol Deng.
As he walked past rookie Jimmy Butler in the visitors’ locker room, he couldn’t help but crack a smile. The rookie swingman had just polished off the best game of his young career. He scored seven points in 21 minutes of play. He played solid defense against New York Knicks’ star Carmelo Anthony and even managed to knock down a huge basket with 1:29 left in the fourth quarter that gave the Bulls a much-needed cushion. The fact that he did all of this on the big basketball stage at Madison Square Garden was lost on no one. That’s why Deng and his teammates were so happy for the easy going Marquette alum.
“Jimmy!, Jimmy!,” Deng chanted as he ducked out to go see some of his friends.
It was nice to see the rook get some burn and make meaningful contributions. Heading into the season, I never thought it would have happened. Not because Butler doesn’t have the talent. It’s just that the Bulls looked too talented and too deep for the rookie to get any meaningful minutes. Injuries have changed that situation in a hurry. And suddenly Butler is getting clutch PT.
And coming through.
Said Butler: “It felt good. I think it felt even better to know that the coaching staff believed in me and my teammates believed in me to take on a matchup like that, so that definitely boosted my confidence and I just went out there and played hard.”
Added Thibodeau: “We’ve liked him from the start. We love his attitude and approach and the way he works every day, his demeanor. And we know he’s going to get better and better. The hard thing for him is right now, we’re not practicing. He’s doing a lot of individual work with the assistant coaches. … We have a lot of confidence in his ability and he’s already got a defensive mindset. As he gets to learn the league and the tendencies of the players and the teams, he’s only going to get better and better. But he’s got a very serious approach to the game. I thought he made a lot of big plays down the stretch for us.”
And Rose: “I’m not surprised. “Coach loves him as a player. He comes in, does his work. He’s very professional. Doesn’t bother the team. He’s a great rookie.”
And Joakim Noah: “I think he played great. He played [with] a lot of heart out there. He really affected the game in a lot of ways. His defense was great and he hit a big jump shot at the end. I’m real happy for the rook.”
Butler’s success, and the obvious affection and support he’s getting from the coaching staff and players, is yet another indicator (as if we needed one) of how good the Bulls’ team chemistry is.
It’s going to need to be to finish this road trip and still have the best record in the East.
Quote of the Night:
“Every time I step on the court, they’re coming at me. I love it where it’s a challenge like that. I’m not backing away from it, and I don’t want them to back away from it. It’s just ‘be on’ every night.”