The New York Knicks came into the United Center riding a 13 game win streak and leave, just like Miami, riding a one game losing streak. Jimmy Butler went out and had another big game for the Bulls while Nate Robinson provided 'good Nate' magic for the evening against his former team.
Unlike their previous matchups, New York jumped out to a huge lead and was up by 17 in the first quarter. This time it was the Bulls trying to chip away from behind, and when the bench came in, they were able to do just that. By half time, the Bulls had trimmed it down to five. However, the Knicks quickly opened the game up to 10+ points in the third period forcing the Bulls to play from behind yet again.
With just over four minutes to play in the third period, it looked like the Bulls were toast. They were down 15 points, and then the Bulls defense happened. Consecutive steals leading to Jimmy Butler fast break dunks cut it to 11, and the momentum swung.
J.R. Smith answered with a layup, but the Knicks didn't make a shot for the next seven minutes, only scoring a few points on free throws, and by that point, Chicago had taken the lead on a Rip Hamilton three. The Bulls would grow the lead behind Nate Robinson's offense and with five minutes and change looked comfortably ahead by nine points, but J.R. Smith led a furious Knicks rally to tie the game and force overtime.
At the end of regulation, the Bulls had 14 seconds left and watched Luol Deng play hero ball and try to drive the lane. Not only did he miss an ugly shot where he could have easily been whistled for an offensive foul, but he left 1.5 seconds on the clock for the Knicks to take a final shot.
Why the Bulls did not go to Nate Robinson for a fadeaway jumper to let clock expire while the ball was in mid flight and ensure a last shot is beyond me. Robinson had been hot all night and is easily the Bulls best offensive creator in these situations.
The decision would have prompted a long ass rant today if Carmelo had managed to hit his shot at a game winner, but the Bulls forced a tough look, and the Knicks missed forcing over time. Still, with the Knicks having the momentum of closing out the fourth to capture the lead, it felt like overtime might not go well for Chicago.
Instead Nate Robinson kicked off over time with a three point play, and the Knicks scored just four points in those five minutes while little Nate added eight by himself. Luol Deng chipped in five points as well, and the Knicks never threatened in the extra period.
It wasn't knocking off the fully healthy Heat on the second longest winning streak in the history of the NBA with a make shift roster, but this was still an awfully special win with the Bulls ending New York's long winning streak with their makeshift roster.
Would the Knicks actually fear the Bulls in the playoffs?
The Bulls have swept the Knicks in the season series and snapped their 13 game win streak. There are plenty of caveats on some of the wins though.
The Knicks were missing Anthony once, missing their entire front court last night, and got hosed by the refs for much of the game another night. That said, what has really hurt them is Chicago has defended the three point line well, and New York hasn't been able to deliver their normal shooting against Chicago.
The Bulls have found ways to score in bunches against New York and though they're theoretically improved on defense this year, it hasn't shown against Chicago. That said, the Bulls also swept Miami in the regular season two years ago only to fall in the playoffs 4-1. If the Bulls were to go up against the Knicks I'd say a similar scenario is more likely than not.
How do you figure this team out?
Recent wins: New York, Miami, Brooklyn, Indiana, and Detroit (okay obviously Detroit's not so impressive but the rest of the list are teams above them in the standings, three of them considerably).
Recent losses: Detroit, Toronto, Washington, Dallas (all below .500, two of the worst teams in the NBA, I won't put washington in that group because they've been near .500 with Wall so aren't playing anywhere near worst in the NBA despite a poor record)
It's just bizarre, but it's certainly much more fun than the other way around.
Meet your starting two guard
Jimmy G Buckets
The Bulls are just so much better with Jimmy Butler in the game than when he's not. I've long thought that Butler would simply be the piece that allows them to let Luol Deng go, but he's even better as the piece that allows them to stop scraping the bottom of the barrel for a starting shooting guard.
If the Bulls could find a star two to put in the lineup, then Butler could be relegated to a backup role again, but they sure as hell aren't going to find that guy at MLE money or below. Butler's three point shot from the corner has been awfully steady, and he proven to play with very high intangibles, IQ, and hustle.
For a second year player he displays excellent decision making, and he'll help return the Bulls to a doberman style defensive lineup when everyone is healthy. Imagine what a defensive terror the bulls would be playing a lineup of Rose, Butler, Deng, Taj, and Noah. The only switch in that entire lineup that might hurt the Bulls defensively is Rose onto a center.
The Bulls would need to hope for some more offensive improvement from Butler/Taj to really dominate, but that might be the lineup that has a chance to take down Miami. The Bulls aren't ever going to be better on paper offensively, but what they can do is throw out a line up that can out rebound them and defend the crap out of them. That lineup does that.
You have to keep Nate don't you?
I've long said that Nate Robinson is outta here. There's no way the Bulls can keep him next year, and with three point guards on the roster, they don't really have a use for him. However, you need to keep him as a SG that can lead the offense from the bench don't you?
Let's face it, Kirk Hinrich may be better at running an offense, but Nate Robinson is better at getting buckets, and the Bulls need that second thing a lot more than the first once Derrick Rose is back. I'd rather have Nate Robinson running next to Rose taking those open shots from the corner than Kirk Hinrich.
Hinrich's strength in moving the ball, finding his teammates, and defense are marginal once Rose is back. What does Kirk offer at the two relative to Jimmy Butler? Certainly not better defense, and I don't think he adds better offense either. Particularly if it's next to Rose where his greatest strength in ball movement is mitigated because he won't be the primary ball handler.
I don't see how it can happen, but the Bulls need to find a way to keep Nate Robinson next season. He's been a bit of a goofball in his career, but he's our goofball now, and Chicago can use his enthusiasm and energy. Besides, which, the Bulls opening video where everyone gets all pumped up after big plays would take at least three steps down without Nate Robinson in it.
The Bulls play with a ton of heart on defense, but sometimes have trouble finding guys to provide the fire on offense. Nate Robinson brings the fire. He's Ben Gordon on a minimum salary.