The Chicago Bulls, predictably, got their revenge on the New York Knicks despite the fact that Derrick Rose did not play. They were led by Rip Hamilton, who took on the task as primary offensive initiator in the third period and scored at will.
Now much of this may come out as sounding negative, but I don't feel it in a negative way, it's just how I saw it.
The Bulls would have beat the Knicks on Sunday if Rose sat out
No, the Bulls are not better without Rose, but they struggled badly in his return largely because Derrick was working off tremendous amounts of rust. His lack of ball control and inability to finish hurt the team tremendously. Despite those rust induced deficiencies, Chicago played even worse when he attempted to defer at the start of the game.
Iman Shumpert owned C.J. Watson much like he owned Derrick Rose, but with Rose out of the game, the Bulls went in other directions successfully. With Rose in the game, the rest of the Bulls struggled to play their game when Rose attempted to move the ball around. They fell back into the pattern of waiting around for Rose to bail them out. Everyone became less aggressive.
One of the key things for Chicago to do is to integrate the things they've learned to do successfully without Rose back into the game when Rose is healthy. On top of that, they simply need Rose to swing back into form in short order. If Rose is able to play against Miami, then Chicago will have the ultimate test as to whether they can achieve that goal.
So why didn't Hamilton come back?
It's easy to say Kyle Korver was playing well or the second unit was playing well, but quite frankly that's a load. No other starter would be in that situation if they are playing well. Thibs will ride his bench to the death if the starters struggle (Deng/Rose being the exceptions), but he always returns to his starters when they play well.
Rip Hamilton was lighting it up for Chicago in the third, but we never saw from him again. He continued to play his Keith Bogans role logging just 20:35 in playing time despite being Chicago's best offensive player of the game. Hamilton did a great job of initiating the offense and shifting the focus of the Bulls attack from the PG position, where Shumpert dominated defensively, to the SG position, where the Knicks struggled on D.
He was helped by the ridiculous tightness in which the third period was called as the refs looked like they were trying to fix a prop bet on how many minutes long the third period was. He received a couple of foul calls that were beyond superstar calls, but the ridiculousness of the fouls was on both sides. I have to assume some of the words flying around the court were chippier than usual, and the refs were trying to keep things from exploding.
Either way, we saw Hamilton create plenty of shots for himself and for teammates as he led the team in both points (20) and assists (5) on the night. It's the first quality game from Hamilton since returning from injury, hopefully it's the first of many.
Bulls cleaned up the fundamentals
The Knicks actually shot the ball somewhat better this game than on Easter, however, Tyson Chandler didn't come up with double digit offensive rebounds to give them so many second chance opportunities. Not that you can blame Chandler for not grabbing 10 offensive boards against an elite rebounding team, he still had 15 boards on the night, but on Easter he was able to get his hand on the ball and tap it back repeatedly.
On top of the improved rebounding, Chicago didn't give the ball up all over the place. Their turnovers sat at a manageable 12 vs New York's 16.
With fewer second chance/fast break opportunities the Knicks offense simply couldn't get rolling despite shooting a higher percentage against Chicago. There was no first quarter lay up line, no points scored on the third shot attempt of the possession last night.
If you weren't a PG, you played well
The Bulls played a great team game. Luol Deng had a big night and shot the ball well. The bigs didn't an excellent job on the glass and crushed the Knicks with their interior defense. Gibson/Noah did a nice job when called upon to defend perimeter players to matchup against the Knicks small ball lineup.
Kyle Korver had one of his best shooting nights in awhile, while Ronnie Brewer displayed create energy in his few minutes as well. In fact, everyone had it rolling except two guys.
C.J. Watson and John Lucas.
Shumpert playes some tremendous defense, so it was no surprise that the man who could corral Derrick Rose (even if it was an 80% Derrick Rose) was also able to corral C.J. Watson/John Lucas when matched up against them. His "constantly right up in your grill" defense frustrated the Bulls attack and caused Chicago to struggle to get into their sets.
The Bulls responded by taking the ball out of their PGs hands and allowing Hamilton/Korver/Deng to make more plays from the perimeter. Watson looks a bit overwhelmed when asked to play the Derrick Rose role long term while team's have largely deciphered the one trick that Lucas has in his repertoire causing him to struggle as well.
Despite the Bulls struggling along with Rose's struggles in his return, he can't get back into form soon enough to prepare for the playoff run that's coming.
Bulls have beat every East playoff team they've played without Rose
The Bulls are 7-1 against the Eastern Conference playoff teams without Rose with two victories over Boston, and one over Miami, Philly, Orlando, Atlanta, and New York. Their only loss to a playoff team without Rose was to Boston, and the only EC playoff squad the Roseless Bulls haven't defeated is the Pacers whom Rose has suited up against both times.
There's often a feeling that this team wouldn't be a whole lot without Rose, but they've played a long stretch without him, beaten quality teams, and presently own a 57-25 pace while Rose has been out.
They've done a great job of holding down the fort while Derrick has sat out, and those lessons will hopefully help them perform when Derrick has an off night or faces traps/double teams upon his return.