Do Bulls have Knicks' number?

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Do Bulls have Knicks' number?

NEW YORK -- Sometimes in the world of sports, one team just has anothers number and while it remains to be seen if thats the case, the Knicks cant chalk up their 110-106 loss to simply having an off night or missing the star power of Carmelo Anthony, as they could have attributed their previous loss at the United Center earlier this month. While Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau can nitpick all he wants about the furious, ultimately failed comeback by the home team that made a blowout defeat appear to be a close game, beating the top team in the East and frustrating them to the extent that their head coach, leading scorer and defensive anchor were all ejected in the eyes of folks who dont see the Derrick Rose-less squad on a regular basis, this is now a legitimate team.

Well, you get a 25-point lead on the road against a team like this, youre doing a lot of good things. Im disappointed with our poise and discipline in the fourth quarter, starting with me, fourth-quarter technical. So, we gave up 45 points and thats not good. Its not the way we want to close the game, the perfectionist coach evaluated. The problem is, youve got to do it for 48. When youre playing a team that shoots the three the way they shoot the three, if you let your guard down at all, they can make up ground very quickly on you and there were a lot of touch fouls, the free throws, the clock stopped, theyre scoring. We did a lot of things to put them back in position to have a shot, so thats something we have to clean up.

Theyre really good and they keep a lot of pressure on you at all times. So, they missed some shots early that they normally make. We made some. We got off to a good start offensively and that sort of set the tone. I thought our defense and our rebounding was very good in the first half. The third quarter, I thought we were really good and you have to play against them. A 10-point lead, 15-point lead, youre not safe against this team, he continued. That was the nature of the game, so theyre down people and theyre scrambling, but the thing that always gives them a chance is their ability to shoot the three. So, they have you spread out pretty good and if you make a mistake, now youre giving them the three and if youre hugging the line too much, then Feltons penetrating to the hole. Forty-five points is an awful lot of points in a quarter, so Im very concerned about that, but the important thing is I think youve got to find different ways to win. I was pleased with that. This is a hard building to play in. We came in and did what we had to, to get a win, which is what we want.

Thibodeau can say what he wants, but at least defensively with the exception of that bizarre final stanza, in which the Knicks valiantly fought back without Anthony and sixth-man extraordinaire J.R. Smith, who scored 55 of the teams 74 points when they were both disqualified for various reasons, not to mention Tyson Chandler, who was ejected after getting tangled up with Bulls counterpart Joakim Noah he seems to have his former employer figured out. By taking away the deep ball, the weapon that has taken the Knicks to the top of the East, theyve now beaten their historic rivals with and without Anthony in the lineup.

Things were definitely escalating, but I dont think theyre used to being down that much, too. If they were up 20 points, I dont think they would have been that frustrated. Well be playing this team a lot and theyre a very good team, they play very hard and Im just happy we won right now, Noah said. It doesnt say anything. It just says: Bulls, W. Knickerbockers, L.

We feel like we still have our best basketball ahead of us and thats exciting. We feel like we can still get a lot better and to come out, and get a win like this in the Garden, to me, you dont know what it means to me. Im playing in front of my family and my friends. I just felt really blessed to be able to play, he continued, before responding, Nah, not really, when asked if the rivalry between the two big-market teams is beginning to resemble the Bulls-Knicks battles of his adolescence.

Teammate Taj Gibson, another New Yorker, replied otherwise when posed with the same question: It is like the old Bulls-Knicks rivalry. Ever since I got here, I feel like that. Every time we play here, its down to the wire, its always close games and I was just pissed because I couldnt really get into the game and experience what I normally experience, but it was a great game. We defended well, this was a big win for us, especially coming into a tough environment. This crowd understands basketball from every single aspect of the game and this is the Mecca, this is basketball, this is where Im from, so Im just happy we could get the win.

The 29-point, 13-rebound effort of Luol Deng was almost overshadowed by the sideshow of all of the technical fouls, ejections, the Noah-Chandler fracas and even his own left-shoulder injury, but it cant be ignored. Matched up with Anthony, considered one of the elite players at their shared position, Deng came up with a huge performance on both ends.

It was tough. It felt like it was the longest game ever, and there were a lot of distractions. I'm just happy we kept the lead. I know we had a big lead and let it slip, but at the end of the day we won. And that's really what matters, he told CSNChicago.com on the Madison Square Garden floor immediately after the game. I was excited. Melo's such a tough matchup. I see a lot of great players, and I love it. Some days they get the best of me, and some days I do well. I'm happy we got a team that can compete with all these teams, and it gives us a chance to go out there and compete with the best.

Later, in the visitors locker room, he added: We knew we had to come in here and be ready. Theyre a tough team, theyre playing the best in the East right now. Theyve got Melo, whos been playing really well and theyre really confident at home, and we just really had to stay focused the whole game, even when the game got out of hand. When they came back, we did a good enough job to keep the lead.

At the end of the day, thats all that matters. Mentally, this game reinforced to the Bulls what theyre capable of and for the Knicks, whose fans even got caught up in the drama, as spectators were ejected from the arena, at the minimum, they know which team theyd like to avoid in the first round of the playoffs.

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott wasn’t exactly hunting for his first shot, but the first time he touched the ball in an NBA game in nearly a month wasn’t the optimal situation for him to let one fly.

It wasn’t in transition where he runs to an opening behind the 3-point line, nor was it a drive-and-kick situation where the help defense collapsed and left him open. It was a regular, simple, pass to the perimeter and McDermott’s defender was in reasonable proximity with 3:23 left in the first quarter.

He launched and the crowd soon roared its approval as his sweet jumper was sorely missed by the Bulls bench brigade—and moments later when he ran the floor for a fearless layup that caused Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to call a timeout, McDermott showed he missed the United Center crowd too, calling for more noise on his way to the bench.

“Anytime you have a guy like Doug, he comes back and makes his first 3, that’s hard to do,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He stepped up with confidence on that first shot. I’m sure he had a lot of nerves getting back out there.”

Missing 12 games and suffering two concussions, McDermott looked right at home in 25 minutes of run Thursday as the Bulls were able to rely on their reserves in some form in their 95-91 win over the previously perfect road warriors known as the Spurs.

“We defended and kept them off the foul line,” McDermott said. “Coach (Jim) Boylen was with them, so we feel we know them and I think all this time they were missing my defense.”

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The last statement was certainly tongue-in-cheek, but the Bulls’ bench production was certainly missing in action while he was out with the concussion protocol. So much so that his return prompted the Bulls’ coaching staff to call out the reserves in the morning shootaround, demanding more.

“It’s definitely Dwyane (Wade) and Jimmy (Butler) and (Rajon) Rondo (but) the coaching staff kinda called out our bench like, we gotta have you tonight, bench,” McDermott said. “We took that to heart, we were really locked in.”

Seemingly his presence aided the Bulls’ spirits and production, as the Bulls’ bench had the least effective scoring bench in the NBA since Nov. 13, the day after McDermott hit the unforgiving floor against the Wizards for his second concussion this season.

Their net rating ranks ahead of only the Wizards, Mavericks and Nets, who are a combined 17-45 this season. Their effective field goal percentage, which takes into account 3-pointers, is worst in the league in that span (42.3 percent).

When McDermott was healthy for that smaller sample size, the Bulls’ bench ranked fifth in offensive efficiency, seventh in net rating, and fifth in efficient field goal percentage. Whether McDermott – and his absence – was directly related to those numbers, it’s clear the Bulls are better when they have their best reserve – and only true floor spacers on the second unit – on the court.

“We’re all professionals and we want to help the guys who are busting their butts in the first unit to get us the leads,” McDermott said. “Tonight we did a great job of sustaining it. We take it personal when teams come back on us.”

[MORE: Pau Gasol relishes consistency with Spurs he couldn't find with Bulls]

Nikola Mirotic was four of eight from the field, and Cristiano Felicio seems to be back in Fred Hoiberg’s good graces as he’s carved out a rotation spot for himself with nine points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes.

It seems as if Hoiberg will stick with this rotation of players, at least for a little while until Michael Carter-Williams returns from his injuries. If McDermott is the mark of the Bulls’ bench going from bottom feeder to adequate, it should show this month.

“When he’s out there on the floor and we get him coming off screens, it forces the defense to shift as another person they need to be aware of,” Hoiberg said. “It opens up driving lanes for our guys. It was great to have Doug back with us.”

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

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