Yes, the Bulls won this game, 104-97, to improve to 16-9 on the season and 5-5 at home. But that’s not the story of this game.
Jimmy Butler provided a rare bright spot in this drab, listless affair, shooting his way to a career-high 35 points on an array of jumpers including 4-7 from deep. His was the only all-round good performance on the night as the Bulls let the Knicks hang around and even briefly lead in the fourth quarter.
Butler’s final line: 35 points on 11-21 shooting came with 7 assists (two shy of a career-high), 4 steals and 5 rebounds.
New York entered the game already checked out on the season having lost 17 of 22 games. Carmelo Anthony was in street clothes and the Knicks’ trotted out a lineup consisting of Travis Wear, Jose Calderon, Amar’e Stoudemire, Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Cole Aldrich. Hardly an all-world unit.
Despite that, Chicago decided to play down to their inferior opponents as is their habit this season at home. New York was down just a handful of points at halftime despite shooting below 50% from the field and attempted just two shots from behind the arc in the opening two quarters.
The third quarter was bad enough as to persuade me not to truly recap it but leave instead an image of a car crash or falling building. Probably one of the worst 12-minute stretches of the season.
Butler, however, made sure the game was swinging back towards the Bulls in the fourth quarter. Butler’s steal and dunk capped off a quick 7-0 run and brought his total up to 30 points on the night after the Knicks had taken a two-point lead at the start of the frame.
The Knicks hung around the rest of the way, frequently keeping the game a one-possession affair, notably thanks to some throwback buckets from Stoudemire and a Hardaway deep ball.
Ultimately, the Bulls drew the game out at the free-throw line as the Knicks total lack of rim protection with Stoudemire on the floor let the Bulls grab two consecutive offensive rebounds to end the contest.
Butler’s career-night aside, the Bulls looked thoroughly uninspired for a game on National TV despite not playing for a few nights. That Butler had to play 45 minutes on the first night of a back-to-back set with Memphis on the road tomorrow is a real disappointment.
Noah returned and looked out of sync offensively again, shooting 1-8 but did grab 13 rebounds, the final board sealing the game as he looked great defensively against admittedly poor opposition.
Aaron Brooks added 17 points off the bench and in somewhat good news, Kirk Hinrich ended a scoreless-streak that encompassed more than 60 on-court minutes dating back to the final seconds of the December 13th game against Portland.
Butler is the most productive player on the team so far this season.