In their fourth game in five nights, after they had to push to beat the Detroit Pistons on the road one night before, facing the best team in the East, the Bulls had every right to roll over and get blown out by the Knicks. Especially when Taj Gibson got hit with a pair of technical fouls midway through the second quarter, resulting in his ejection from the game. And when Kirk Hinrich had to sit out the entire second half with an elbow injury.
And yet, they didn't fold. They fought back, and actually took it to the Knicks down the stretch. Even on a night when the Knicks were without Carmelo Anthony, there were plenty of good things to take away.
Marco Belinelli did the thing where he seems like a competent player by putting up 22 points — 15 in the first quarter alone — on 8/15 from the field and 4/6 from downtown. Luol Deng slapped up a 22/5/3 with three steals. Joakim Noah overcame an obvious case of dead legs to put up another double-double and four blocks — even if he did have 9 turnovers. Carlos Boozer also put up a double-double, despite playing just 22 minutes. Jimmy Butler added 8 points and 7 rebounds off the bench without missing a shot.
We also finally saw an extended stretch of the Bulls playing small, with Deng at power forward. It's seemed that Tom Thibodeau has been reluctant to use that configuration for fear that the Bulls would struggle to rebound the ball — their one clear offensive advantage without Derrick Rose. Granted, it came out of necessity, and against a team that likes to play small itself in the Knicks, but sometimes building confidence requires starting small. It might be something we see more of, it might not be.
Now, there were some things that still need work. If Nate Robinson isn't having one of his good games, the Bulls' point guard rotation is a mess. Marquis Teague got a few minutes in the fourth quarter and showed some flashes, but it's a major problem unless Hinrich or Robinson happens to be playing well. And that doesn't seem to happen much. Noah and Deng are still playing a ton of minutes and it continues to feel like that's going to come back and bite the Bulls in the ass at some point.
This was a spectacular — and moderately fun, at times — game and something it felt like the Bulls really needed. Wins over Cleveland and Detroit are fine and all, but beating the best team in your conference is something else.
Player o' the Game: Marco Belinelli
Look, I've been as critical as anyone else of Marco Belinelli. Probably more. But he's stepped up recently, and his performance tonight was crucial with Hinrich not being all that good before being unavailable. He also played 45 minutes, helping ease the vacancy created by Taj Gibson's ejection.
In short, while I have no confidence that this recent stretch is anything more than a flash in the pan, it's come at a good time.
Horrible Pun of the Night: This one's not mine, surprisingly enough. Blame Bulls' radio play-by-play man Chuck Swirsky for this:
Leave. RT @swirsk054: Gibson with a discount double-tech— Bulls 101 (@Bulls_101) December 9, 2012
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