Playing on the second night of a back-to-back set, the Chicago Bulls led wire-to-wire in a hard-fought 105-102 win over the New York Knicks on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden. The Bulls improved to 19-6 this season and 2-2 on their season-long, nine-game road trip.
Following Wednesday night's disappointing 98-82 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, the Bulls had a much more well-balanced attack against the Knicks (8-14), placing five players in double figures, including four starters. Voted in as an Eastern Conference starter for the 2012 NBA All-Star Game before the game, Derrick Rose was masterful all night, taking advantage of the Knicks' well-documented weakness, the point guard position, dropping 32 points, 13 assists and four rebounds while shooting 12-for-26 from the field and 2-for-5 from three-point range in almost 40 minutes of action. Kyle Korver and Carlos Boozer, the latter of whom had plenty of criticism directed toward him after Wednesday's game, scored 16 points apiece. C.J. Watson picked up right where he left off Wednesday and posted 12 points and three steals. The backup point guard once again received extended minutes alongside Rose in the backcourt -- a situation he admittedly desired much of last season and during the prolonged offseason -- and took advantage of it. Joakim Noah added 10 points and nine rebounds, although he dealt with foul trouble in the second half and did a lot of his damage in the first two quarters, running the floor and finishing with two-handed dunks in transition.
The game exhibited a quick pace from the outset, as the Bulls led 29-25 through one quarter of play and 55-44 at halftime. The Bulls' bench bounced back against the Knicks after being outplayed and outworked by the Sixers' reserves Wednesday. Especially in the second frame when the Bulls outscored the Knicks 26-19 and capitalized on the home squad's nine turnovers. New York had 13 first-half turnovers, which Chicago scored 15 points off of. The "Bench Mob" had 25 points while the Knicks got just six points off their reserve corps, all of which from Toney Douglas.
However, the Knicks continued to hang around and hung 31 points in the third quarter. They turned it over just once in the second half. Amar'e Stoudemire put up a season-high 34 points on 16-for-27 shooting to go along with 11 rebounds, while Carmelo Anthony poured in 16 of his 26 points in the second half. The Bulls were ahead 77-75 heading into the fourth quarter, and it was clear they needed a big-time fourth quarter out of Rose, who had scored 30 or more points in three straight games before Wednesday's game.
The reigning league MVP did just that, scoring 15 points in the final quarter, including the Bulls' first seven. From hitting a three-pointer to beat the shot clock to making double-clutch, acrobatic layups, the 23-year-old was garnering oohs and aahs from the Madison Square Garden crowd at several points during the night. Rose said Monday that he is very comfortable with his floater shot, and it showed again against the Knicks. The uncanny release kept his defenders off balance and left Knicks players shaking their heads.
Taking advantage of another opportunity for more playing time, Bulls rookie Jimmy Butler impressed the Bulls and their fans yet again, with seven points, two steals and critical play on both ends of the court during crunch time. The 6-foot-7 swingman, who played a season-high 20 minutes, 43 seconds, connected on a pair of free throws and a 13-foot fadeaway jumper late in the game, making the Knicks pay for leaving him open while double-teaming Rose. Butler even did a solid job of defending Anthony, who missed 4-of-5 shots in the fourth, one of which blocked by Butler.
The Bulls, who were again without both Luol Deng (wrist) and Rip Hamilton (groin, thigh), shot 52.7 percent from the field; 6-for-13 from beyond the arc; 21-for-29 from the free throw line; and piled up 10 steals and nine blocks. Although, coach Tom Thibodeau was visibly upset with his team's defense at times. The Knicks shot almost 49 percent from the field, and while both teams were even on the glass at 37, New York grabbed 13 offensive rebounds to the Bulls' nine. Still, the Bulls, led by their star, brought much more energy than the previous night. They appeared like a much different team from top to bottom, which could very well be a byproduct of this compressed, 66-game schedule.
Next up, the Bulls have a day off Friday before facing the Milwaukee Bucks (10-11) on Saturday night at the Bradley Center.