I still feel sick from watching Derrick Rose's impossible game-winning floater over Tyson Chandler, then Carmelo Anthony rimmed-out counter before the buzzer (also I ate way too much falafel way too fast last night), but I feel weirdly at peace about the game overall. I see some of that in the comments, too.
The Knicks are still figuring themselves out, but they showed fortitude last night. Our long-named friend got that right. Mike Woodson experimented with lineups in Chicago, and his odd lineups experimented to find a workable approach. it occasionally hurt the Knicks' chances in ways you would have expected. Andrea Bargnani got early minutes with the starters and gave the offense nothing. Lineups devoid of interior defenders allowed easy looks in transition. Giant lineups with Metta World Peace as the de facto shooting guard ran crowded, stagnant offensive sets.
The Knicks defended pretty well, though, and they improved up through that 11-point fourth quarter for Chicago. But for moments in which Amar'e Stoudemire played center, the Knicks walled off the rim soundly enough and bothered three-point shooters (except for those two threes they just gave to Rose. That backfired). They tell me Rose was rusty, but I saw the Knicks do a decent job making his life difficult with timely help. After offering nothing-- seriously nothing-- but misses and unforced turnovers early, Bargnani found some rhythm in the second half. A bit later, Melo found some rhythm of his own even in that space-less big lineup. And then, with about eight minutes to go and a deficit that fluctuated but never exploded, Woodson stopped futzing and put forth a non-experimental group. He surrounded Melo with shooters (Iman Shumpert and Tim Hardaway Jr., with Raymond Felton at point) and sicced Tyson Chandler on the painted area, then rode that group right up to the verge of a win. If Derrick Rose had missed that blind, deep floater over Chandler's outstretched hand, or if Melo had drained an uninspired but clean look before the buzzer, the Knicks would be coming off a dogged SEGABABA road victory.
It sucks a whole lot that they aren't. That would have been a significant regular season win. I'll take some solace in the bright spots, though. The Knicks protected the ball like their '12-'13 selves in the second half (just two turnovers). They defended the Bulls well and nearly matched them rebound-for-rebound. They-- and this is exciting-- DIDN'T freak out and start biting refs when calls didn't go their way. And when nut-cuttin' time came around, Mike Woodson sent out a sensible lineup and let it run its course. The Bulls throttled last year's Knicks at every turn. This year's Knicks nearly ruined their home opener despite a poor offensive outing. Let's talk about just a few things:
- The Knicks played "big", yet they often didn't. Beno Udrih didn't play and Pablo Prigioni played just 11 minutes after a busy opening night, never once sharing the floor with Raymond Felton. I took it to be an effort to match the Bulls' size (questionable in its own right), but switching often negated that. The Bulls set a lot of off-ball screens, and the Knicks often swapped match-ups when they did. Or they doubled unnecessarily, which gave away to weird defensive rotations. As a result, Felton and Hardaway got backed down rather often and couldn't hold their own.
- I can't stop thinking about how the Knicks would have fared if we'd seen this Tyson Chandler in the playoffs last season, but I'm trying to look ahead. "This" Tyson Chandler is a mountain. Once again, he positioned his feets quickly and raised his hands straight up to contest absolutely everything he could around the basket, and did so without fouling or granting rebounds. The four blocks only show the surface of a night spent walling off the rim, but the 19 boards (eight offensive) just about tell that rebounding story. Chandler hardly got touches against a Bulls defense built to deny him, though I did enjoy his dunk off a beautiful Melo entry on the very first possession of the game.
- Chandler jumper count: 1-2 on the night, right? Same as the first game. Hit a short one in rhythm, missed a long one out of rhythm.
- In general, there was a shade too much Melo isolation mixed into (useful even when futile) the regular Felton-Chandler pick-and-rolls. Just dropping Melo on the baseline and asking him to make magic isn't fair against the Bulls. Deng and Butler know him too well.
- Nice job with the six rebounds, six assists, and six steals, though, SATAN.
- Those bastards do a pretty great job defending Melo, too. The man missed some very bad shots, but the Jimmy Butler/Luol Deng/help defense mafia didn't grant him many good ones. I, like everyone else, would have preferred to see the Knicks use just one pick or something off the ball in those final seconds, but that plain pull-up look Melo got was one of the easiest shots he took all night.
- It was cut short, but Bargnani looked genuinely hot there for a bit. The Knicks were (and have been) better with him off the floor, but it was nice to see him show a glimpse of what he's supposed to offer after possibly the worst offensive first half I've ever seen. Every step he took in the first half was a turnover, except when he missed shots. I'm really not exaggerating. He played some decent defense, though, when he wasn't the last line of it. Carlos Boozer just hit those mid-range jumpers sometimes, but he often had a hand in his face (this goes for Amar'e, too, to a lesser extent). Bargnani isn't exactly hurrying up the floor and battling for position at that end, but he rotated okay and contested shots, and I'll take that. But yeah, again, the Knicks were better without him on the floor.
- Hardaway ought to lend Shump some of his perimeter confidence! Young Timon pulled EVERYTHING, whether hands were in his face or not. He probably got a touch too trigger-happy, but it's hard to doubt a form that picturesque. You know who else has a nice-looking jumper? You, Shump. Shoot! You too, Pablo, even though your form looks like you're laying an egg while telemarking. There are lanes to drive and extra passes to be made, and take 'em if you got 'em, but please don't be scared to shoot threes. You get three points for those.
- Even with Shumpert in foul trouble and J.R. Smith absent, 27 minutes is a lot of minutes for Hardaway. I'm not necessarily complaining, I'm just surprised.
- I need to go back and watch some possessions again, but-- after fearing an alignment in which Shumpert didn't guard Rose-- I thought I saw Iman do a pretty nice job keeping Butler under control while also lending Felton a hand on Rose. The Bulls backcourt shot 10-34.
- There are no lanes for you to drive, Mr. World Peace. In fact, unless it's a one-dribble move in the post, I see no reason for Metta to dribble ever. He offered never-ending calamity on offense Thursday night, and you could see the wheels spinning in his head as he dribbled around plotting his next disaster. It's not a good look, and I feel like playing him with the spacing-averse frontcourt of Melo/Bargnani/Chandler only emboldens Metta to act like a slashing wing. I really don't like that lineup. That man can defend, though. He is perpetually in the way.
- Amar'e Stoudemire played 11 quiet minutes (well, not quite for Boozer) and I thought he looked fine enough. He showed the usual first-game-back rust, but moved as well as latter-day Amar'e moves and made two of three shots (also three turnovers in eleven minutes). Kenyon Martin played four minutes, which was weird. Instead of alternating Amar'e and Kenyon, Woodson just used Kenyon sparingly in the first two games such that he never really got to settle in. If that's really how it's going to be, the Knicks might want to push the Cole Aldrich button.
That's all. The Knicks messed around, but they played a gritty game. Or they played a gritty game, but messed around too much. An untrimmed fingernail could have given the Knicks a big win in Chicago, but it didn't work out that way. 1-1, back home Sunday against the Timberwolves.