Knicks Are Streaking As They Take Another One Over the Bulls

Published on: 23rd December, 2009

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DLee
Knicks Are Streaking As They Take Another One Over the Bulls  | read this item

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New York – Does anyone not believe the New York Knickerbockers, yes, those New York Knickerbockers are turning into legitimate playoff contenders in the NBA’s Eastern Conference? Tonight, the Knicks, who started this season with a 1-9 record, defeated the reeling Chicago Bulls, 88-81 at Madison Square Garden, improving their season record to a still not respectable 11-17. But, if you do the math, it says they have gone 10-8 since that pitiful beginning and are making enormous strides towards respectability.

The Knicks built a 22-point lead in the third quarter after a dominating first half in which it appeared the Bulls, coming off a disastrous loss last night to Sacramento in which they gave up a 35 point, third quarter lead at home, were on the verge of giving up on this game, as well. But, these are the Knicks, after all, so they let the Bulls get back into it from the mid-third quarter till games end, with the Bulls outscoring the Knicks 50-35 in the second half.

The Bulls, behind their wondrously gifted 6’2” point guard, Derrick Rose, who scored 22 of his team-high 26 points in the second half, cut the Knicks huge lead to just one point with 1:41 left, 80-79, but then, it became David Lee’s ballgame and he wasn’t going to let the Knicks lose this one.

Lee rebounded a Chris Duhon layup miss and was fouled trying to put the ball back in. He hit both shots to up the Knicks lead to a very tenuous 82-79.

After Chicago couldn’t capitalize on two consecutive possessions, with Luol Deng missing an open 22-footer and Rose throwing away a pass with just 32 seconds remaining in the game, Duhon found Lee open along the baseline for a 17-foot set shot (Lee doesn’t take jumpers) that rattled in with 5.5 seconds left, upping the lead to 84-79 and clinching the win for the Knicks.

The Knicks generated a well-balanced attack with five players in double figures led by Al Harrington’s 20 points and Lee’s monster stat line of 18 points, 21 rebounds, and 5 assists.

Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni has been crediting this recent surge to his decision to shorten the rotation of players to a core of eight, leaving Nate Robinson and Eddy Curry on the outside looking in. It’s hard to argue with the man, whatever Robinson’s and Curry’s talents, as his team has learned how to move the ball more crisply around the perimeter and play much stingier defense than they had over the first ten games of the season. Tonight’s 81 points allowed to the Bulls was the lowest total by an opposing team this year but this wasn’t a game without a few glitches for the home team.  

D’Antoni continued to play with his shortened rotation, even after Jonathan Bender was lost to a strained hip. It looked though, like the Knicks energy seemed to wane in that fourth quarter as the Bulls made their comeback. The question of using Robinson, now on his ninth consecutive game of zero minutes played, was raised during the post-game press conference, especially in view of how the Knicks lost their huge 22-point lead in that second half as some of their players looked exhausted with the extra minutes they’re playing now.

“When should I put in Nate, when we’re up 20?” asked D’Antoni rhetorically. “Am I going to take out Gallinari who may be ready to hit five in a row or Duhon, who runs the team. I look at it but that’s why you have your rotations and that’s why you’re either in or you’re out. Because then, you’re just flipping a coin. Okay, maybe he could do it but then, our defense may not be as good, he may miss some shots. That’s what goes through your mind as a coach and I’ve never been one to just flip a coin. I’m going with the odds and the odds are that we made our run, they made their run, now let’s finish them off. Sometimes it doesn’t work. Sometimes I come in and say, you know what, I should have played him but, I once had a coach tell me that the least number of decisions you make, the less number of decisions can then be wrong. I try to get it right the first time and stick with what I’m comfortable with.”

“You know they are going to make a run,” he said. “They have a lot of talent, they play hard. Sooner or later they are not going to shoot 20% like they did in the first half. We just quit scoring. We were trying to protect the lead instead of going ahead and playing.”

You can’t argue with the man. The Knicks have won 10 of their last 18 and are on a six-game home winning streak, their longest such home streak since 2007.

“We have had some great home crowds and we have made the most of it,” Lee said. “We’ve had a couple of wins here, a couple of close ones we have been able to pull out so it has been good for us.”

Lee is sensing an overall confidence growing among his teammates.

“I just think, overall our guys and individually, have gotten better and we have covered for each other better,” said Lee. “It is hard to put our finger on what has changed defensively. We haven’t switched too much on what we were doing. Just have made more of an effort to make stops and take away the other team getting easy buckets. The other team is going to make jumpers but we aren’t giving up layups and we are not letting guys that shouldn’t beat us, beat us.”

Joachim Noah, another Florida Gator along with the Knicks’ Lee, was a dominating rebounder for the Bulls, pulling down 22 rebounds in a matchup against his old Gator teammate.  

The Bulls are a struggling outfit right now and their head coach, Vinny Del Negro is getting lots of heat from Bulls fans and NBA insiders that his days at the helm are nearing an end. His focus though, remains on his team and each game. The theme in the Bulls locker room after the game seemed to sway strongly in the area of lack of energy and mental focus. 

“It’s tough when you lose, especially the way we did last night against Sacramento,” he said. “I thought our energy in the second half of this game was much better. Whenever you make baskets and get after it defensively and play with that kind of energy, the guys were feeding off that.”

It might be too late for Del Negro to feed off of anything but a pink slip in the very near future.

Noah, a second year center, had an interesting take on their dilemma.

“You know we’re definitely capable of wining and I think that we’re just going through a tough stretch right now,” he said. “We’re not playing our best basketball mentally. As a team, we’re not very good, so you know I’m hoping that we can get better and hopefully just find a way to play with high energy for a whole game, not just periods.”

New York improved to 8-3 this month, clinching its first winning December since going 9-7 in 2004.

 “I’ll take this as a Christmas gift,” Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni said.

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