Whenever the Bulls come to town, it’s impossible for me to not reminisce about the nineties Knicks and all those Michael Jordan showdowns. The dazzling glow of Madison Square Garden’s vibrant lights makes a grand stage for a clash of orange-ball titans. Tonight’s game between the New York Knicks (18-15) and the Chicago Bulls (15-20) was their 243rd meeting and the first of the 2023-24 campaign.
The latest iteration of the Bulls is not on the level of those classic Jordan teams. After a slow start, they have improved of late, but were playing the second game of a back-to-back tonight (they lost last night in Philly, 110-97). The Knicks are the better team and could have cracked this contest wide open early, if they didn’t handicap themselves with 15 turnovers.
In the end, the better team took the spoils, thanks to 35 points from Julius Randle, a double-double from Jalen Brunson (31 points, 13 asists), and a career-high 20 rebounds by Isaiah Hartenstein. How did Anunoby do? +35, naturally. Knicks win, 116-100. Went a little something like this.
The usual suspects got the Knicks off to a 7-0 start, with buckets by Julius Randle and Jalen Brunson. New York had eight turnovers in the first quarter, which were converted for nine points as the Bulls gained ground. Fortunately for New York, their threes fell at a healthy rate—five of their first ten—and they dribbled and passed with precision. The keys to Monday’s success against the Minnesota Timberwolves were displayed again tonight: quick-pass ball distribution, rebounding, and improved defense. New York’s lead touched eight points, but they finished the period ahead 26-24.
I second the sentiment of the_real_mccoy, who opined, “JB/DDV/OG/Jules/iHart really does look like a heckuva starting 5.” Here’s OG:
Jalen had looked a tad soggy the past few games, but rocked 13 points in his first 10 minutes on five-of-five from the floor.
In the second quarter, New York’s wheels started coming off. DeMar DeRozan scored his eleventh point early in the frame to give Chicago their first lead. Coby White had made three of his previous 31 three-pointers before the game, so of course he canned three of his first four attempts tonight.
On the bright side: While the ABC telecast chatterheads remarked about how much Thibs smiles about Deuce McBride, the recently extended reserve guard drew back-to-back charges. Those plus two treys from Grimes capped a nice sequence by the bench crew, who otherwise had a negative rating. With DeRozan cooking, the Knicks fell back by as many as ten. Due to a 7-1 run by New York, the Knicks entered intermission down only 55-51.
Precious Achiuwa played only nine minutes in his debut as a Knick. Tonight was a mixed bag for the new guy, who blocked Andre Drummond at the rim (great!) but then committed two klutzy fouls in less than 10 seconds. His first NY bucket:
Precious Achiuwa gets his first bucket as a Knick pic.twitter.com/JTkXhXFZ73— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) January 4, 2024
If not for turnovers, the Knicks would have been handily ahead. Chicago, the league’s slowest-paced team, reaped the rewards of a season-high 13 first-half Knicks turnovers which became 16 points. New York had won the glass (24-19) and shot better from downtown (53% to 47%), but had only attempted three free throws to Chicago’s nine.
Through the first two quarters, Brunson had 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting; DeRozan had 19 while going 8-of-10 from the field. Isaiah Hartenstein had 10 boards and two blocks. Your first-half shot chart:
New York emerged from halftime with a blaze in their bellies, outscoring their Windy opponents 15-5 to regain the lead. Julius Randle got hungry, too, racking up 11 third-quarter points in the paint. (OG Anunoby added seven in the frame.) Their team showed improved discipline with the ball, committing only two turnovers this quarter. Indeed, better ball control plus a return to their first-quarter fundamentals helped the Knicks stretch their lead to eight in the wee minutes of Q3. After outscoring Chicago 35-23, New York strolled into the final period ahead, 86-78.
Isaiah Hartenstein had a career-best 20 rebounds and added five blocks in 37 minutes tonight. To hell with it, he’s getting my All-Star votes.
The Bulls controlled the first few minutes, collecting 13 points to New York’s seven. Julius and DeMar traded triples, and Randle passed 30 points for the sixth time this season.
At the 7:30 mark in the fourth, we saw the determination that makes this Knicks squad special. With Josh Hart and Julius Randle both missing shots, the Knicks grabbed three consecutive offensive rebounds until Anunoby finally dunked that sucker. On the floor for the Knicks were Brunson, Hart, OG, Julius, and Hartenstein—if there’s a grittier lineup in the NBA, tell us who it is below.
New York crossed the 100-point threshold as they reached the midway mark. Julius Randle decided to clean his plate and ate up all the Bulls he could en route to 35 points. Chicago had no answer for him, and the Knicks cruised to a 17-point advantage. The benches were emptied with under two minutes left. The game ended with the camera catching Julius autographing a jersey for a lucky someone. Good night to catch a souvenir.
NOTE: Jalen Brunson scored a career-high of 14 assists in the New Year’s Day game. Tonight he dished 13 dimes. Pretty good for allegedly not being a point-guard.
Two wins in a row, baby! But our heroes are in for a tough one next, in Philadelphia on Friday for their first regular season game against the 76ers. If New York can cut back on the turnovers, it should be a wild one. Safe travels, Knickerbockers.
Your Knicks box score. Check out the +/- column: