A delusional optimist will note that for 32 of tonight's 48 minutes, two-thirds of the game, the Knicks outplayed Chicago to the tune of 73-66. Truth is, the Bulls opened the game on an 11-0 run and closed it with a crushing 31-8 fourth quarter in blowing the Knicks the hell out.
Last time these teams met, the Knicks caught an exhausted Chicago team that had just endured a four-overtime loss. Tonight the Bulls came out like they remembered that.
Despite Perhaps thanks in part to Derrick Rose's absence, Chicago moved the ball and hit their shots early while forcing the Knicks to miss their first 10 shots. The Knicks woke up and hit 10 of their next 15, but couldn't make a dent in the deficit, falling behind as many as 17 in the opening quarter. In the second the Knicks showed some pride, intensifying their defense; back-to-back threes late in the half from Jose Calderon and Kristaps Porzingis made a game of things and helped cut the deficit to six at halftime.
They took the lead briefly in the third, which in retrospect was a mistake, because from that point on it was all Bulls. The fourth started with Porzingis and Carmelo Anthony on the bench. In 84 seconds New York committed three fouls and let the Bulls push the lead up to nine. Melo and KP returned but the tide had already turned. Chicago was the freight train and the Knicks were the cow on the tracks. The nail in the coffin: Jimmy Butler dribbled off a Bobby Portis pick but was stopped by Porzingis and Arron Afflalo (that may have been the only bright spot for Afflalo all night). Butler spun a couple times, had nowhere to go, and passed it back to Mirotic, who, with plenty of time on the shot clock and Carmelo five feet away, calmly launched from 35 feet out and drilled it.
- Melo missed his first four shots, hit his next five, then missed six of his last nine. 20 points, 7 rebounds. Only three free-throw attempts.
- In the third the Knicks cut the lead to two on an Anthony fast-break bucket. Or, to put it more truthfully, that occasional occurrence where Melo doesn't get back on D or is complaining to a ref and ends up benefiting with an unexpected gift basket.
- 10 in the third for Jose Calderon. He tied the game at 65 on an and-one jumper where he was drifting to his left. Stingy called it: Calderon is just so much better shooting when he's drifting left. Every possession should involve him starting all the way on the right sideline.
- The Knicks' lone lead tonight came from a Porzingis hook shot. The rookie handled himself well against Taj Gibson after picking up some early fouls and looked preternaturally aggressive when matched late against Portis, stealing his lunch money on consecutive possessions. Tough rebounding by Kristaps tonight. Not huge numbers (9 points, 9 boards), but he did what he done in big, tough spots. He also continues to improve his play while in foul trouble, yet another bright spot in his continued growth.
- At one point tonight, Lance Thomas was +15 when no other Knick was a net positive. He ended +4. 11 points. Nothing else. Not even one rebound.
- Afflalo: -34. Not a typo.
- Nikola Mirotic had 11 points in the first quarter, didn't take a shot in the next two quarters, then helped jump start Chicago's endgame tsunami. 17 points, 5 rebounds, 7 assists for NMir.
- Troubling halftime numbers: only 1 Chicago turnover. Only 1 Knick fast-break point, off a Derrick Williams free throw. DWill took 4 of New York's 6 free throws. Zero Knick steals. Outscored by the Bulls 10-4 on second-chance points. This team gotta put out an APB on some easy buckets.
- Strange halftime numbers: New York's bench had six dimes and no turnovers. Each reserve - DWill, Kyle O'Quinn, Kevin Seraphin, Lance, and Langston - had an assist. Each had exactly one field goal. From each according to his ability; to each according to his needs.
- Early on, Robin Lopez missed a bunny after a nice post move, then missed an admirable tip attempt. Lopez, as a shooter, is the king of nice ideas that don't even pan out.
- This in no way had anything to do with the outcome, but the Knicks seriously had about a dozen shots rim out.
- Derek Fisher's first substitutions resulted in Seraphin, O'Quinn, and Thomas joining Calderon and Melo. Four bigs? In this day and age? Seth noted it'd usually be Derrick Williams in there rather than Seraphin, so this was like the Knicks going super-big. Not a rousing success. The Bulls got penetration whenever they wanted.
- Calderon is oddly/not-oddly effective when he dribbles the ball underneath and actually tries to lay it in. The defense never seems to believe he's gonna go for it because 98% of the time he doesn't, which is why he should. If he did, he'd create more passing lanes. This would be a welcome wrinkle in the offense: guards penetrating and finishing enough to compel attention from the defense that'd open up lanes for others. We're through the looking glass, people.
- Seraphin missed two free throws late and the crowd went wild because it meant everyone in attendance won free Chick-Fil-A. Chicago is and always will be the Second City.
- Rebecca Haarlow was sporting a loud and proud necklace/throat armor that looked like something out of The Mummy. This is known as a "statement piece." I know this because I gave my girlfriend a necklace for Christmas and when she opened it and saw it she said, "This is a statement piece." Which is not at all the same response as "Thank you. I love it!"
Don't look too deep for analysis from this loss. "It can be more than one thing," Seth commented, and he's right. The Knicks were outshot from the field, from the line, from downtown, were outrebounded, out-offensive rebounded, out-assisted, out-defended, committed more turnovers and more fouls. Next game is Sunday afternoon at the Garden vs. Atlanta. I'll be there, my first Knick game in 20 years. See? Things are changing already.