Even with Derrick Rose missing his 23rd game of the season due to a sprained right ankle, the Bulls had plenty of motivation heading into Tuesday nights game against the Knicks at the United Center, as they lost in an overtime heartbreaker at New York just two days before, on Easter Sunday.
The Bulls, missing their All-Star point guard, turned the tables in the second game of the home-and-home series, avenging the loss in the rematch with a 98-86 win, in which prized offseason acquisition Rip Hamilton had a breakout performance and the squads vaunted depth and defense were on full display.
Turning the tables on the Knicks from Sunday, the Bulls (44-14) blitzed their guests at the outset with an 8-0 run to start the contest, as they pushed the pace to score in transition and executed in their half-court sets via crisp passing, much of which could be credited to Rip Hamilton (20 points, five assists).
However, following a timeout by New York interim head coach Mike Woodson to make adjustments, the visitors quickly stormed back, led by the efficient scoring of All-Star Carmelo Anthony and playmaking of veteran point guard Baron Davis.
With contributions from the likes of second-year swingman Landry Fields also helping the Knicks cause, they not only caught up to the Bulls, but built a slight cushion as their small-ball offense thrived and the hosts stalled with poor shot selection on a number of possessions. At the conclusion of the opening period, the Bulls trailed, 25-22.
Propelled by the energetic, defensive-minded play of the Bench Mob, the Bulls made their own comeback, starting the second stanza on a 14-2 run.
Swingman Ronnie Brewers high activity level was a major factor, as was the blend of scoring and playmaking provided by fan favorite John Lucas III, as well as the dual defensive presence of inside tandem Taj Gibson and Omer Asik, all combining for the home team to take a double-digit lead.
New York (29-28) again crept back into the contest, taking advantage of Bulls turnovers and capitalizing on the other end through Anthonys productive scoring and a spark off the bench from sixth man J.R. Smith (14 points).
However, upon the Bulls regulars being reinserted into the game, Duke products and starting forwards Carlos Boozer (10 points, eight rebounds) and All-Star Luol Deng (19 points, 10 rebounds, four assists) led a late-period charge to help the hosts head into the intermission with a 47-35 lead.
After the break, a chippy, more physical affair ensued, as both squads, who had managed to avoid fouls in the up-tempo first half, started to lay the wood on each other on attempted drives to the bucket.
While Anthony still had it going for New York, so did his All-Star counterpart, Deng, as well as Hamilton, who took a much more aggressive approach to scoring in the third quarter, particularly in transition, which aided the Bulls in maintaining their comfortable winning margin.
Hamiltons continued scoring exploitshe got to the rim, drew fouls and knocked down his trademark mid-range jumperpaired with a dominant team rebounding effort and the energetic play of rookie swingman Jimmy Butler off the bench buoyed the Bulls, allowing them to control the games flow and momentum, despite Anthony carrying New Yorks offensive load, with help from center Tyson Chandler (10 points, 15 rebounds), a former Bulls draft pick, and rookie guard Iman Shumpert (12 points), a Chicago native.
Heading into the games final stanza, the Bulls held a 72-62 edge.
Solid defense and timely plays by the usual cast of role players kept the Bulls in firm control of the contest early in the fourth period, though the Knicks only helped matters, as their high-flying offense got bogged down by bad shot choices and unforced errors.
The hosts effort, back to the high standards of earlier in the season, appeared to be the difference, as the Bulls simply beat their offensive-minded guests to loose balls and also outworked them in other aspects of the game, such as the all-important defensive end of the court, where consistently made big plays to keep New York in a double-digit hole.
As the game entered its stretch run, C.J. Watson (nine points, seven assists), who filled in for Rose as the starting point guard, and designated sharpshooter Kyle Korver (14 points, seven rebounds, three blocked shots), stepped up their games to ensure the gap between the two teams didnt get too close, but a determined Anthony persisted in pouring in points to keep the visitors hopes alive.
However, lockdown defense, Korvers outside marksmanship and a Deng putback layup with under a minute remaining sealed the deal, getting vengeance and some positivity with a Thursday home matchup against Miami looming and Roses status still unsure.