'Tis the season to play spoiler, and the Knicks went out and rotted the Bulls twice in a row, seriously souring their playoff chances. I say playoff "chances," not "hopes," because the Bulls look like they hope to go home and eat soups, not play basketball in late April. I have no idea why they sat down and died like that two nights in a row, but it was hilarious. The Knicks took advantage, too, with all the banal but undeniable features of their best nights: hard cuts, square screens, sensible play calls and a moving ball, and a defensive scheme that fit the personnel involved.
I'll tell you about what happened! I forgot. Let's see. Okay, the Knicks won the first half because they found themselves jumpers they could hit and the Bulls very much did not. Sasha Vujacic ran a pointed pick-and-roll and gained a step off plenty dribble hand-offs (a Rambis favorite, and a positive one!). He got his friends easy looks at the rim that way, and he alternated in a few pull-up threes of his own. With alarming verisimilitude, Sasha played like the guard the Knicks need. Very kind of him. Jose Calderon, pitched in, too.
The second unit tried a little to blow an early double-digit lead, but Kristaps Porzingis undid any damage by himself, burying a couple deeeeepdeepdeep straight-on threes to close out the half. I do not recommend doubling off him, but I do appreciate it.
The Bulls probably could have come back in the second half if they pleased, but they did not please. Arron Afflalo ran them ragged along the baselines and poured in a fast 9 points. The Bulls didn't get hot in the fourth quarter like they did Wednesday, so the Knicks just styled on them and iced the thing.
Really fun game. Second night in a row. Pretty great. A few more notes:
- It's a feeling I haven't had in months, and not one I demand or take for granted, but I watched Kristaps play a useful, unremarkable game, then looked down just now and saw he had 19 and 10 with 3 blocks. When he's not trying to force his shot off the dribble, it's looking much crisper these days. I just watch his feet when he shoots and I can usually tell by the slightly forward, tip-toed landing that he's found the net. He pretty much never misses wide, so his feet determine everything.
On defense, Kristaps got himself beat a few times by over-attending to the threat of a driving guard, but such was the Knicks' defensive plan with Butler and Derrick Rose handling the ball. Kristaps and Robin Lopez both ate those guys a few times, even if it meant exposing the rim to bigs now and then. Kevin Seraphin, too.
- I love so much when the Knicks identify a mismatch in the post, then identify that the mismatched defender is fronting the post, then identify that they should make a quick redirect to pass to find a high-low angle around that front. It unfolds about as clumsily as I typed that sentence, but it's the right thing to do.
- Carmelo Anthony looks comfortable. Happy, even. His first quarter was very Olympic.
- I have these old speakers hooked up to my TV now, and I had to turn the bass down on them early in the second quarter because the Bulls legitimately bricked two shots so hard that the floor in my apartment rumbled.
- I think this is an opinion I held back in, like, November when I still felt strongly about little in-game things for these Knicks, but: Lopez can do a lot for the second unit, even if they have a starter-caliber guy like Afflalo among them. His screens and hand-offs create space for those lineups without a strong passer off the dribble (which is to say: every lineup).
- Jerian Grant made a floater. If Jerian Grant *has* a floater, that could do a whooole lot for him.
- At the break, Al Trautwig asked Kristaps to tell him some things he liked about the first half. Kristaps insisted he'd rather talk about things he didn't like.
- Think I've said this before, too, but: I love watching Lopez avoid three-second violations on defense. He's got a valuable knack for poking a toe out once per measure without losing a step on the action. Doesn't always work, but it fascinates me, and it's weirdly pivotal to schemes in which his job is to serve as a sort of force field at the free throw line.
- It makes me happy to see Derrick Rose doing cool up-and-unders and even dunking (for what was apparently the first time this season!). I am not predisposed to feel this way about Derrick Rose, but it really was nice. It helps that he lost twice in a row, probably.
- Never seen so much shuffle-foot traveling in a game.
- If backcourt violations weren't a thing, I'd suggest Calderon just point guard his team from beyond halfcourt. I swear he's more adventurous *and* more accurate throwing chest passes 60 feet away from the receiver than he is 15 feet away. I guess that's how he is as a scorer, too, so maybe it checks out.
- No more blue at home, man. Just make white "Nueva York" jerseys for the theme nights.
That's all! Like Zombor said, sour grapes are delicious and playing spoiler is fun. Good night.