Knicks – Bulls Rivalry Redux In 2010

Published on: 25th December, 2010

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New York – If you are a Knicks fan and are old enough to remember the previous millenium, today’s game at Madison Square Garden might have allowed you to hear some of the echos of those roaring crowds of some 15-20 years ago when the Chicago Bulls used to come to town to play the New York Knicks.

Instead of names like Jordan and Pippen and Phil Jackson facing off against Pat Riley, Patrick Ewing, and Charles Oakley, the Bulls, in their familiar red road uniforms were led by Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer and their coach, Tom Thibodeau against these new Knicks of Amar’e Stoudemire, Raymond Felton and head coach Mike D’Antoni.

Today, on Christmas Day, in this venerable, old building,  these two long-time Eastern Conference rivals met in a nationally televised contest to renew their enmity at a time when the sport of basketball has become relevant in both cities, once again.

In the end, it was the Knicks who improved their season record to 18-12, their best start since the 2000-2001 season, with a convincing 103-95 win over the Bulls. You get the sense this is just the beginning of what can turn into an intense and renewed rivalry between these two teams and cities. Somewhere, David Stern and NBA television ratings gurus are smiling.

The similarities to the past were eerily apparent, throughout today’s game.

The Knicks won today with defense, much like their counterparts of the 1990’s won many of their games. To paraphrase a famous editorial headline in an 1897 edition of the New York Sun, when an eight-year old New Yorker, Virginia O’Hanlon had written a letter to the editor of the prominent New York newspaper asking if there truly was a Santa Claus, “yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus and yes, the Knicks of Mike D’Antoni can actually win with defense.”

On a day when Amar’e Stoudemire, who’s been on something of an ungodly scoring streak for most of this season, was held in check by the physical, annoying defense of former Knick Kurt Thomas, it was his team’s effort on the defensive end of the floor that won the day for the home team.

In fourth quarter crunch time, the Knicks held the Bulls to just 12 points, a season-low for opponents. They also blocked 10 shots for the game, six by Stoudemire, and forced the Bulls into 21 turnovers. All very unlike D’Antoni-coached teams.

But, it appears D’Antoni is following the lead of his two most important players, Felton and Stoudemire, each of whom consistently preach the importance of playing sound defense to win games, especially when the offense bogs down.

“I thought it was a good game,” D’Antoni said. “A few turnovers but I thought both teams played really good defense, creating turnovers. But second chance points in the first half really hurt us. But overall, I thought our defense, especially there was one stretch with about three or four blocks in the fourth quarter that saved the game.”

Watching D’Antoni discuss defense is almost like watching a little kid trying to eat creamed spinach – he gets this “yucky” look on his face.

“We’re playing great defense, right now,” said Felton. “We beat a good team, today, one of the best teams in the east. We’re playing better team defense and better help defense. It makes my job much easier pressuring the ball. When we make mistakes and guys get past us, we’ve got Amar’e and Wilson back there to clean up for our mistakes.”

It’s a pretty safe bet Felton and Stoudemire have brought this tough-nosed attitude towards defense to the Knicks, as opposed to having it drilled into them by D’Antoni. Be that as it may, it’s turning these Knicks into more of the hard-scrabbled unit we were used to seeing in the Riley days, when Ewing and Oakley controlled the paint and took no prisoners. It’s made the echos in this building start to take notice.

Even Stoudemire, formerly a one-dimensional scoring machine for most of his career, has found the defensive mantra.

“It was a total team effort,” he said. “Our obvious goal is to take the paint, to protect the inside. Once I go for a blocked shot, the guard cracks back and tries to box guys out. We’re getting better. We kept saying the whole game, cut back on turnovers and cut back on second chance points and that’s what we did in the second half.”

This, coming from one of the league’s offensive superstars. It’s a mentality thing now with these Knicks, sort of in the realm of, we can outscore you but we’re also going to make you pay when you come into the paint.

Knicks fans love that stuff, as older readers will recall.

The Bulls scored 50 points in the paint for the game, a big number, but in the final quarter, just six of those points came on inside shots.

Bulls coach, Tom Thibodeau noticed the physical style of the Knicks inside play.

“They were doubling Carlos quick and they had 10 blocked shots. We have to do a better job of finding ways to get it in there but we have to stay inside out.”

“The Knicks fans are out of control, radical, and loud,” Stoudemire said afterwards. “It’s great for us and intimidating for the opposing teams. I think teams now understand the Garden is back to where it was and it’s going to be that way for awhile.”

If there hasn’t been a real Bulls-Knicks rivalry since Jordan and Ewing hung up their uniforms, the potential for a good one exists now, as these two franchises start to wake up again from a long slumber with mediocrity.

“It’s real important because we’re chasing them,” D’Antoni said. “One thing is that we play them three games and we’ve won two so we get the tie breaker now. That helps. It’s just a little thing but there’s a lot of basketball to be played. You have to beat these teams at home, especially. It’s just good to bounce back after the three we lost in a row. It wasn’t a fluke that we won a few. It’s a good feeling game, that’s for sure.”

If the Knicks continue to play with the sort of physical, defensive, in your face style of yesteryear, those echos from a generation ago will surely enjoy their return to this building.

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