Bulls needle first-place Knicks in wild win

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Bulls needle first-place Knicks in wild win

NEW YORK For those used to the Bulls (15-10) playing ugly often in winning fashion, but nonetheless, in a less than aesthetically-pleasing manner Friday nights 110-106 win over the Eastern Conference-leading Knicks (19-7) at Madison Square Garden was a sight for sore eyes. Propelled by the surprising offensive contributions of Kirk Hinrich, an overall balanced attack and their typically stout defense, the visitors cruised from wire to wire -- though it got hairy in the end, fitting for a game that featured multiple wild scenarios and several technical fouls, not to mention ejections -- to beat a supposed title contender for the second twice in as many tries on the young campaign.

At the outset of the game, the Knicks didnt know what hit them, as their guests jumped out of the gates by playing proficient and aggressive, yet patient, offense as well as their typical lockdown defense. With two triples from Kirk Hinrich (16 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists) and a solid start from Carlos Boozer (9 points, 7 rebounds) leading the way, the Bulls started the contest on a 14-2 run, prompting a New York timeout to restore order midway through the opening period.

Along with Hinrich, Luol Deng (29 points, 13 rebounds) and Joakim Noah (15 points, 12 rebounds, 6 assists) led the offensive effort, and while they were countered by the likes of Knicks All-Star Carmelo Anthony (29 points, 3 rebounds), point guard Raymond Felton (21 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists) and sixth man J.R. Smith (26 points, 10 rebounds), the Bulls maintained their comfortable winning margin. However, a Smith buzzer-beating three, which raised the ire of Deng in particular, narrowed the gap to 30-23 in the visitors favor at the end of a quarter.

Smiths scoring ability was a focal point of the Knicks attack early in the second quarter, but the dynamic, all-around play of both Noah and Deng ensured that the Bulls would keep control of the game. However, when that pair exited the contest for rest purposes, New York climbed back into the game, mainly behind the offensive firepower of Anthony and Smith, turning a double-digit deficit into a two-possession affair.

But the Bulls once again clamped down on the defensive end and found their offensive rhythm, with Marco Belinelli (22 points, 7 rebounds) also joining in the festivities and creating a wide margin of separation. At the intermission, the Bulls held a 54-37 advantage over the home team, following an Anthony layup in the waning seconds of the half.

After the break, the Bulls continued their steady dominance, led by Hinrich, who was not only playing efficiently on offense, but contributing a quietly effective all-around night. Even with the visitors lead hovering around 20 points and Hinrichs long-distance jumper at the best its been all season, sobering the mood for the Bulls was Deng, the teams ironman and leagues minutes-per-game leader, having to leave the game after injuring his left shoulder following Knicks veteran Jason Kidd stripping the ball form him.

But the Bulls kept rolling, as Belinellis offense aided their cause and Deng quickly checked back into the game, meaning the visitors didnt miss a beat, even with Noah earning himself his sixth technical foul of the season for arguing with an official. Meanwhile, the Knicks appeared completely discombobulated Smith and Knicks head coach Mike Woodson picked up technicals of their own earlier in the period, to match Anthonys from the first quarter and heading into the final stanza, the Bulls led, 83-61.

New York showed some fight to start the fourth quarter, as their steady diet of Anthony, Smith and little else persisted and their guests started to appear frustrated, as Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau earned a technical foul, as his teams lead dwindled. But the Knicks seemingly derailed their own comeback attempt, as Smith fouled out midway through the period and Anthony was ejected after being hit with his second technical, depriving the hosts of the vast majority of their scoring, followed in short succession by Woodson joining him in the locker room.

A surreal scene, which included fans getting thrown out of the arena, got even wilder when Noah and former Bulls center Tyson Chandler got entangled, resulting in double technical fouls and the ejection of both players. For all of the histrionics happening on the floor, the game was no longer in doubt, as the visitors had a big enough lead that even with the Knicks making a furious effort down the stretch, they couldnt pull off a miracle.

Isaiah Canaan will start Game 5, but Bulls need more adjustments against Celtics

Isaiah Canaan will start Game 5, but Bulls need more adjustments against Celtics

If the Bulls were doubting Thomases before Sunday afternoon, Isaiah made them pay for it dearly with each turn of his hand, each herky-jerky dribble and each devastating floater.

Perhaps wiser to their errors, the Bulls will go into Game 5 in Boston with an Isaiah of their own in the starting lineup, as Isaiah Canaan will make the start at TD Garden on Wednesday night.

Having been banished to the inactive list and end of the bench, Canaan's best moments under the United Center lights had been one-on-one matchups with his teammates hours before the real games began.

So being tossed in with 2:15 left in the first quarter and the Bulls already behind 13 points presented both opportunity and some nerves given the stakes. Having played a total of 92 minutes since the calendar turned to 2017, beggars can't be choosers.

"Throughout the season you just wonder when that opportunity is going to come," Canaan said. "I believe everything happens for a reason. You never can see what it may be, from going from not playing for the second half of the season mostly to playing in the most crucial time of the season in the playoffs, I guess God just sent me a sign to mentally be locked in and really battle your faith."

He responded by pressuring Thomas in a way Jerian Grant and Michael Carter-Williams couldn't with any effectiveness, probably due to his quickness and similar build to Thomas.

"My job is to make his job miserable," Canaan said. "He's a great player and he can find different cracks, but I'm just going out there trying to interrupt their timing, try and milk as much time as I can off the shot clock and just keep him uncomfortable. Not let him get settled in for what they want to run, so I'm just out there to make him uncomfortable and speed him up."

Canaan scored 13 points in 33 minutes, hitting three 3-pointers and being a +11 while on the floor, so it's easy to see why Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg wasn't going to mess around with the Grant and Carter-Williams combo that hadn't done much of anything in the friendly confines of the United Center over the weekend.

"I really thought he did a good job picking up the ball and pressuring the pickup point a full 94 feet," Hoiberg said. "I thought his initial ball pressure was good. We have to get off to a much better start if we want to have any chance of winning another game in this series. That's two games in a row now we've gotten ourselves down 20 points and fought all the way back."

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Still, Thomas scored 33 points and exploited a once-aggressive Bulls defense that seemed to be on its heels for most of the second half against Thomas, leading to Hoiberg's claims about Thomas carrying the ball to give himself an advantage in his hesitation moves.

Hoiberg wouldn't revisit the topic before Monday's practice and praised the Celtics guard who's battling through the devastating loss of his sister, who died right before the series opened in Boston last weekend.

"I'm a huge Isaiah Thomas fan. He's as big a competitor as we have in our league," Hoiberg said. "Obviously, he's as tough a guy to guard as we have in our league. I think the world of the kid, especially what he's going through now, how he's fought through that and like I said last night, he's a warrior to go out there and do what he's done so far in this series."

Thomas has averaged 25.8 points on 45.8 percent shooting with six assists and four rebounds per game. At times, the Bulls' size has bothered Thomas at the rim, particularly Jimmy Butler coming over to help alter his share of attempts, but since the Celtics have altered their approach Thomas has found easier traction to the basket.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens inserted Gerald Green in the starting lineup and the move has worked masterfully, with Green scoring 18 points with four 3-pointers and one highlight-worthy baseline dunk.

It's rendered Robin Lopez effectiveness to a minimum, as he was an unsung hero on the offensive glass in the first two games, meaning Stevens' move to play smaller was a risk, albeit a calculated one.

The Bulls didn't adjust at all to it in Game 4 after the Celtics won decisively Friday night, but changes besides Canaan have to be in store if the Bulls hope to come home looking to clinch a berth in the second round as opposed to fighting off elimination in Game 6.

"It changed it entirely. Obviously when it was big-big, we dominated them," Dwyane Wade said. "Dominated them defensively, incredibly. They made adjustments, we didn't need to because we were up 2-0. Then coming off Game 3, we felt watching the film we played with low motor, not enough energy so we didn't feel the gameplan was the key. 

"But it was coming out of Game 4. So now it's a few adjustments we hope to make and hopefully it makes a difference."

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