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Knicks 104, Bulls 103: “Undefeated NO MORE”

Knicks try to give one away on Noah night.

New York Knicks v Chicago Bulls Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Nostalgia was in the air at the United Center for “Joakim Noah Night.” Surely, the Bulls intentionally chose this game against the Knicks to honor their tempestuous center. There’s a history of bad blood between the franchises. Noah’s brief tenure with Knicks stunk. Former teammates Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson are Knicks now. And Tom Thibodeau was the coach who brought the best out of Noah.

Adding to the uniqueness of the evening, this year’s Bulls were an undefeated 4-0.

Four games into season, the Knicks had the second-best offense in the NBA. The Bulls had the second-best defense. Many predict these two to jockey for playoff seeding. This one had all the ingredients for an incredible game.

Your obligatory Joakim Noah clip:

The Bulls started sloppy with turnovers, porous D, and clanged threes. The Knicks had great ball movement, went on a 14-0 run, and each starter scored. After a second alley-oop dunk by Robinson, Billy Donovan needed a timeout. 16-6. 7:28.

DeMar DeRozan came back gunning with two quick scores. Two Knicks turnovers and a Nikola Vučević bucket closed the gap. When Zach LaVine, playing with a torn ligament in his non-shooting hand, cruised by Kemba Walker for an easy score, it was Thibs’ time for a timeout. 16-14.

The crowd gave Derrick and Taj a huge ovation. They chanted MVP for D-Rose. He’ll be mayor of the Chi one day—you heard it here first.

Rose came out flat, perhaps overwhelmed by the hometown love. Alex Caruso was the opposite—a defensive menace who scored on a quick drive and a three. The Human Headband picked Randle’s pocket and lead the bulls on a 7-0 run to briefly take the lead, 21-19.

Taj, however, is never distracted. He fought for boards and turned them into points. His effort and a Quickley floater gave NY a 27-25 lead by the end of Q1.

Looking more like himself, Rose kicked off Q2 with an athletic layup reminiscent of his MVP season:

Taj played defense like a man possessed and fought to the floor for loose balls. His motor never quits. His effort and a smooth three from Burks put New York up 35-27. With 10:00 to go, Donovan needed another timeout.

The Knicks have the superior second unit, but didn’t make the most of their advantage at first. Lackadaisical ball handling and passing lead to turnovers. Quickley bricked two threes. They let Lonzo break away dunk and drain a three. Gibson continued to be their savior, thankfully, grabbing four offensive and two defensive boards to keep the momentum going.

Toppin had a quiet night (five points, one rebound) but gave us this:

There’s no sugar coating it. Randle was flaaat tonight. He scored two points in the first half. His shots clanged. He gave inconsistent effort on defense. He traveled. With last year’s team, when Randle was off, the game was probably doomed. This season, the roster is full of contributors. Every Knick who played scored tonight—five in double figures. That’s depth.

The Bulls didn’t get to 4-0 without talent of their own. Halfway through the quarter, LaVine drove easily to the rim to bring the score to 39-37. Shortly after, a Caruso-to-LaVine exchange closed the Knicks’ lead to 45-43:

But back came Evan Fournier with two timely threes in the final minute:

At intermission, Knicks led 55-51. They were 7-17 from deep (44%) and 23-43 from the field (55%). They took only three free throws in the first half. That’s expected when the focus shifts to the long ball. The Knicks had a size advantage in this one, though, and in the second half, they worked closer to the rim.

Both teams came out misfiring to start Q3. DeRozan sank a corner three after I’d written in the game preview that he’s a lousy long-range shooter. So, ha.

Robinson fouled Williams on a botched dunk and the refs called it a flagrant. Evidently, the refs suck at the United Center, too. Williams sustained a wrist injury on the play and was out for the remainder of the game.

Kemba continued his hot hand when needed most. He chipped in his fourth and fifth threes, stole the ball from Lonzo at the other end, and was fouled on an attempted trey. Just as things got close, he put NY up 65-56. He played great in the Philly game and again tonight. This is the Kemba we were waiting for.

Walker went on an 8-0 run all by himself and finished the night with 21 points on 7-12 FG and 5-6 3PT. Like this:

Then RJ Barrett took his turn, scoring seven straight.

The Bulls needed a timeout, down 76-64.

Caruso hit three, and Derrick promptly answered. What an unfamiliar luxury it is to have two All-Star point guards.

After a few sloppy sequences, Q3 ended with a DeRozan swish. 82-73.

Early in the fourth, with Vooch out, Robinson had an easier time positioning for rebounds. A scary moment occurred at 10:36, when he turned his (already braced) ankle and stayed on his back. Blew out his shoe, too. At times like these, Nerlens Noel’s absence is acutely felt.

After the injury time out, Burks and DeRozan traded baskets. Sparkplug Obi Toppin dribbled in from the corner for an easy bucket and the foul. Then he blocked a three, Gibson blocked a shot, and the Knicks seemed to be coasting, up 92-80.

Then everybody started clanging. Vooch, LaVine twice, Julius, Rose. For this old Knicks fan, the PTSD kicks in when the shots stop falling. No lead feels safe. And this one wasn’t.

At seven minutes left, Robinson returned with a fresh pair of kicks and promptly blocked LaVine’s driving layup. He benefited from some hard work by Randle on this one:

The starters came back out to close. Evan Fournier had a ho-hum night (10/3/1) but showed solid defense down the stretch, including tying up LaVine for a jump ball.

Fouling LaVine and DeRozan is a losing proposition. Both shot perfectly from the charity stripe (9-9 and 5-5). Thanks to fouls, and a sudden Knicks drought, the gap closed. 104-98 with a minute left.

Fournier missed a three, Randle flubbed a put-back, Vooch hit a three. The Chicago defense forced Kemba into a bad shot. Bulls took possession. 104-101 with 14 seconds left.

With Gibson on him, LaVine caught the inbound and barreled to the rim. 104-103. 9.5 left.

After a timeout, Burks couldn’t get the ball into play and burned another one. On the next play, the Knicks almost lost the ball, but DeRozan grabbed it while stepping out. Randle caught the next inbound pass and was fouled.

He missed both free throws.

The Bulls snagged the rebound and called for time with 4.8 seconds left.

On the final play, Barrett played stellar defense. He worked the inbound passer, then dashed quickly onto DeRozan who caught the ball. RJ stuck to him, and DeRozan got a shot off, but air-balled. Knicks win, 104-103.

’Twas a happy Joakim Noah Night after all.

NOTES

  • I like the look of this:
  • Despite Randle’s rough night, Thibs praised his playmaking and defense. I can see that. But, still…it’s a rare night when I don’t want Julius touching the ball with two minutes left.
  • Lonzo Ball just turned 24 and is on his third NBA team. How many will he have played for by 30? Tell it to the comments.
  • At 3:45, Walker drove to the basket and hit the floor. He was slow to get up, and my heart stopped. I’ll be this anxious all season whenever Kemba goes down. Cardiac Kemba is back, indeed.
  • Barrett showed signs of life early, which is often not the case. His best game of the young season. RJ shot and drove without hesitation. He finished with 20 points on 8-15 FG and 1-3 3PT.
  • Vooch won the stat line over Mitch tonight. He had 22/8/6. Mitch went 9/6/0 with two blocks. When Vooch sat, Chicago’s lack of frontcourt size was apparent. The Knicks won the rebound battle 49-37. Our bench would crush theirs in a playoff series.
  • About once a game, Randle makes a bewildered Popeye face. Anyone want to Photoshop a Randle the Sailor Man?
  • I predicted a LOT more threes tonight. New York finished the game 11-29 for 38%. They had shot 17 in the first frame. I liked the halftime adjustment and the flexibility of taking fewer threes when easier buckets can be had close range.
  • Too soon to worry about Quickley? He finished with two points in 13 minutes.

As NYK_OG said, “Undefeated NO MORE.” It so satisfying to knock Chicago off that pedestal. Yet, this game should not have been close at the end. New York practically gift-wrapped it for Chicago by missing six shots and two free throws down the stretch.

They nearly blew it tonight, just as they nearly blew it against Boston on opening night. What’s especially frustrating is that, until those final three minutes, New York proved to be the superior team. I can’t want to see these two play again.

Get well, Professor.