With Derrick Rose sitting out due to a sprained right ankle, the Chicago Bulls earned an impressive 98-86 victory over the New York Knicks on Tuesday night at the United Center. The Bulls improved to 44-14 this season, which remained good for the best record in the NBA.
The Bulls placed four players in double figures against the Knicks (29-28) in the second game of a home-and-home series. Rip Hamilton poured in a team-high 20 points – 18 in the third quarter – on 7-for-14 shooting to go along with five assists in just 20 minutes. Luol Deng continued his rock-solid play, dropping a double-double of 19 points and 10 rebounds. Kyle Korver put up a solid all-around performance, dropping 14 points, seven rebounds and three blocks, while Carlos Boozer added 10 points, eight rebounds and two emphatic dunks.
Unlike Sunday night’s 100-99 loss to these same Knicks, the Bulls were hot right out of the gate, getting off to an 8-0 start and 10-2 moments later. But their energy evaporated as the first quarter wore on, as they began to play sloppy with the basketball and had a hard time of matching the Knicks’ small lineup on the defensive end. The Knicks went on an 18-7 run midway through the opening frame, receiving a solid start from Baron Davis, while the Bulls’ shooting percentage continued to plummet. Still, that obviously didn’t stop Tom Thibodeau from always thinking, as he made an offense-for-defense sub for the final six seconds of the first when he put in Mike James for John Lucas III, and the former forced Davis into a steal. Trailing 25-22 through one quarter of play, though, Chicago responded with a furious second-period surge behind the high-activity “Bench Mob.” As usual, player such as Lucas, Taj Gibson and Kyle Korver gave Thibodeau a big lift – but it was Ronnie Brewer who changed the entire complexion of the game with his effort on both ends of the court. He was everywhere, from loose balls to the glass to even offense, scoring the team’s first six points on three baskets of the second. The Bulls crushed the Knicks on the glass and in bench points and were able to manage their ball handling much better in the second quarter, which they finished on an 8-2 run to take a 47-35 lead at halftime.
After a sluggish third-quarter start in which the Bulls allowed the Knicks to start on a 10-2 run, the home squad found its rhythm. Especially Hamilton who, like last Thursday’s game against the Boston Celtics, owned the third, but this time around he was doing damage from everywhere – from jumpers to layups to the free throws, including a 20-foot heave to beat the shot clock with 7 minutes, 58 seconds left in the quarter. He accounted for 20 of the Bulls’ 25 points in the quarter, giving his team a 72-62 lead after the third, despite the fact that the Knicks won the frame 27-25.
Nursing a double-digit lead throughout the final quarter, the Bulls never looked back and sustained their flow. Even though Thibodeau’s bunch shot just 43.3 percent from the field, they held New York to a paltry 42.2 percent and outscored the visitors 51-33. While the Bulls piled up turnovers early in the contest, they finished with just 12 compared to 27 assists. Yet again, the Bulls topped 20 assists – a mark they usually achieve in wins.
Most importantly, the Bulls were able to exact revenge on the Knicks, who were led by Carmelo Anthony’s 29 points, and outplayed their foes for most of the night – and all of this happened without Rose. Chicago is now 16-7 when Rose is sidelined. Anthony scored 43 on Sunday, but he took 12 less shots and Deng seemed to crowd him much more Tuesday.
It has been a reoccurring theme all season long: No matter who is in Thibodeau’s lineup, the Bulls’ head coach prepares his club and doesn’t let his players let up on any front. Hamilton’s offensive output was certainly a welcome sight for fans, although it’s clear that the Bulls are taking a slow approach with the veteran shooting guard, who is still dealing with a right shoulder injury. He has shown that he can perform at a high level. Now, it’s seemingly only a matter of time before Hamilton receives more minutes.
Next up, the Bulls have a day off Wednesday before a highly anticipated tilt against the Miami Heat (40-16) on Thursday night at the United Center. It will mark probably the Bulls’ most important game to date considering that the outcome could have a major impact on which team ends up with the top seed in the Eastern Conference.