Shorthanded once again, the Chicago Bulls pulled out a hard-fought 104-99 victory over the New York Knicks on Monday night at the United Center. The Bulls improved to 35-9, 16-3 at home, this season, good for the best record in the NBA.
The Bulls placed five players in double figures against the Knicks (18-24). Derrick Rose, who came out of the gate aggressively on both ends of the court, dropped 32 points, seven assists and six rebounds while shooting 12-for-29 from the field in 43 minutes of action. Taj Gibson gave his team a tremendous lift in the fourth quarter, when he scored five points and grabbed six rebounds, and ended up with 15 points and 13 rebounds (eight offensive) in 26 minutes. Carlos Boozer suffered foul trouble for most of the first half, but the power forward posted 15 points and seven rebounds in 22 minutes. Both Joakim Noah (12 points, 10 rebounds, five assists) -- who missed Saturday night's 111-97 rout of the Utah Jazz because of an illness -- and Ronnie Brewer (11 points, seven rebounds, seven assists) stuffed the stat sheet on this night, as the Bulls turned their energy level up a notch in the second half and made up for the fact that they were again without Luol Deng (wrist), Rip Hamilton (shoulder) and C.J. Watson (ankle).
As both teams wore special jerseys in honor of the Noche Latina (Latin Night) program, it was a fast-paced game from the outset, as the Knicks took a 25-23 lead through one quarter of play. The Bulls fared well on the glass early in the game but spent the first two quarters shooting under 40 percent from the field. While the visitors were getting out in transition, coach Tom Thibodeau's bunch looked stagnant offensively and dealt with plenty of foul trouble in the first half, which Boozer, Gibson and Omer Asik all finished with three fouls each. Both teams racked up 16 fast-break points in the first 24 minutes, but it was the Knicks who led 50-48 at halftime, thanks in part to a few odd sequences by the Bulls late in the second frame, including an air ball three-point attempt by Brian Scalabrine.
With Rose on the attack and playing much more comfortably, the Bulls put up a 31-point third quarter that gave them a 79-78 lead heading into the fourth. After shooting just 5-for-15 in the first half, the Bulls' reigning league MVP scored nine points and made 3-of-5 shots in the third. Although Thibodeau won't be pleased with the Knicks' offensive output, he has to love that his squad thoroughly outworked New York, outrebounding the road team 56-38, including grabbing a season-high 22 offensive boards.
It has been a reoccurring theme for the Bulls all season: Whenever they're down a man or two, other players step up. Rookie Jimmy Butler had eight points, two rebounds and a pair of emphatic fourth-quarter dunks -- as Rose had one, too -- to go along with solid defense on Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, who poured in a team-high 21 points but missed 13-of-21 shots. The Bulls looked forward to facing Jeremy Lin, who held his own with 15 points and eight assists, up close and personal and earned a solid win against an opponent that they know has plenty of star power. Once again, it was an all-around attack, with Gibson's high-energy performance, deserving of the game ball, leading the way in crunch time.
Next up, the Bulls have a day off Tuesday before the highly anticipated national TV showdown against the Miami Heat (31-9) on Wednesday night at the United Center. Rose and his teammates will look to avenge their 97-93 loss to the Heat on Jan. 29 in Miami and certainly know that they failed to capitalize down the stretch of that contest.