In the end, all that mattered was the final result.
After missing 16 of his first 22 shots and committing key turnovers down the stretch in Thursday evening’s Bulls’ home opener at the United Center, it seemed as if “The Return” wasn’t going quite as planned. But in storybook fashion, hometown hero Derrick Rose (18 points on 7-for-23 shooting) knocked down a baseline jumper over two Knicks defenders with 5.7 seconds on the clock, giving the Bulls an 82-81 victory and salvaging a nearly disastrous fourth-quarter offensive collapse.
All-Star small forward Luol Deng (17 points, six assists) got off to a quick start, bouncing back from his night of foul trouble in Tuesday’s season opener, and aided by transition scoring from the athletic backcourt of Rose and Jimmy Butler (11 points, 10 rebounds), the Bulls jumped out to an early lead.
[GIF: Rose hits game-winner to beat Knicks]
Rose struggled with his shot in general, but it didn’t matter, as Carlos Boozer (14 points, seven rebounds) picked up the slack offensively, helping stake the Bulls to a 26-16 lead at the conclusion of the opening period, following a Taj Gibson buzzer-beating putback and impromptu celebration.
Solid play from Gibson and fellow reserve Kirk Hinrich enabled the Bulls’ second unit to maintain its comfortable cushion, as the Knicks’ only consistent offensive production came from superstar Carmelo Anthony (22 points). Transition scoring became a strength for the home team and although All-Star center Joakim Noah (15 rebounds, five assists) demonstrated some rust offensively, he contributed in other areas.
But behind point guard Raymond Felton (13 points) and rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. (10 points), the son of the Chicago native and former NBA player of the same name, New York managed to slice into the deficit, trimming it to a 43-38 Bulls lead at the intermission.
After the break, Rose, who suffered through a 2-for-12 shooting first half, started to find his groove as an outside shooter, knocking down back-to-back threes early in the third quarter, though the point guard continued to struggle with finishing drives and unlike the preseason, wasn’t able to get to the free-throw line.
A balanced attack of the Rose-Butler backcourt and forward tandem of Boozer and Deng—the latter, in particular, led the charge—coupled with Noah’s stellar work on the glass, resulted in the Bulls building a double-digit lead. A traditional three-point play by Hinrich with 2.5 seconds left in the frame gave the Bulls a 71-61 advantage heading into the final stanza.
The contest evolved into a physical, defensive-oriented affair, with points coming at a premium. By no means was New York an offensive juggernaut, but the visitors were a more scoring-proficient team than the Bulls, who won’t went through one of their periodic offensive droughts at the exact wrong time, allowing the Knicks to tie the game on a dunk by swingman Iman Shumpert, of nearby Oak Park, Ill., then seize the lead on an Anthony bucket with just over four minutes to go.
Rose tied the contest at 78 apiece on two free throws and after Knicks center Tyson Chandler (19 rebounds) committed a loose-ball foul while jostling for a rebound, Noah knocked down a pair of foul shots of his own to give the Bulls an 80-78 lead. Following an Anthony miss on the subsequent possession, Rose turned the ball over, then fouled Shumpert, who promptly knotted up the affair at the charity stripe with 1:27 remaining.
After the teams exchanged misses—Rose, who had the Bulls’ only field goal of the quarter up to that point, missed a layup—a lengthy official review was needed to determine that Rose committed a turnover, giving the Knicks the ball with 36 seconds on the clock. Anthony missed a jumper over Deng, but Noah was whistled for fouling Chandler in the battle for the ensuing rebound and with 10.8 seconds left, the former Bulls draft pick missed his first attempt, then sank the second to give New York a one-point edge, 81-80.
But Rose, in heroic fashion, knocked down a tough, high-arcing baseline shot over two Knicks, including the 7-foot Chandler, with 5.7 seconds to spare, sending the partisan crowd into a frenzy.
Although the ailment Rose battled through was neck soreness, one would have to imagine that his back, after carrying not only his team’s, but the emotions of an entire city, will be the area of his body to ache in the morning.