The tone for Thursday’s game against the Knicks was set early, when the Bulls started the night with some positive injury news.
Luol Deng returned to the starting lineup after missing the previous two games (both losses to sub-.500 teams) with a sore hip.
That gave the Bulls some options to use against Knicks super-scorer Carmelo Anthony. In the previous five games, Anthony averaged 40.6 points and shot an amazing 61.1 percent from the field.
It turned into a classic case of making the shooter work for his rewards. Anthony piled up 36 points, but he hit just 13 of 34 shots from the field and the Bulls ended another long winning streak, knocking off New York 118-111 in overtime at the United Center.
Just two weeks after snapping Miami’s 27-game winning streak, the Bulls erased another double-digit run as the Knicks’ 13-game streak came to a screeching halt. The Bulls also swept the season series 4-0 against New York, which sits in second place in the East.
“Lu playing was just huge for our team and of course Nate, that was a monster game, a monster game,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said.
He was referring to Nate Robinson, the former Knicks guard who was far more efficient than Anthony. Robinson scored 35 points, hitting 10 of 18 shots from the field.
As it turned out, Deng found some foul trouble, so Jimmy Butler spent more time guarding Anthony. Butler got 2½ minutes of rest, limiting his playing time to a mere 50 minutes Thursday, after playing all 48 against Toronto two days earlier. Butler finished with 22 points and 14 rebounds.
“I loved Jimmy’s demeanor, just because it’s tough,” Thibodeau said. “The guy’s coming at you, you’re battling him, he had a couple tough calls go against him. Carmelo has the ability to make a shot when you defend him well.
“But Jimmy will keep coming. He doesn’t get discouraged. He keeps battling. He’s improving each and every day. He’s just gotten so much better, great worker, just an unbelievable job for us.”
The Bulls couldn’t hold a 99-90 advantage with 5:38 left in the fourth quarter. Anthony tied the score with a pair of free throws with 14.5 seconds left.
With a chance to win in regulation, Deng went at Anthony and missed a bank shot under defensive duress. If the same thing happened with the roles reversed, would Anthony get the foul call? Probably, but it doesn’t matter.
In overtime, the Bulls opened with a Robinson drive and 3-point play, followed by a Deng 3-pointer. The Knicks hit just 3 of 11 shots in overtime, while Robinson scored 8 points to help the Bulls pull away.
Another huge factor was 3-point defense. The Knicks, who jumped to a 23-6 lead in this game, went just 1-for-14 from 3-point range from midway through the third quarter to the final buzzer.
The entire game was played without a true center. New York was missing Tyson Chandler, Kenyon Martin, Amare Stoudemire, Rasheed Wallace and Kurt Thomas due to injuries.
As a result, the Knicks basically played either Anthony or 6-8 Chris Copeland in the post. The tallest player New York put on the floor was 6-10 Steve Novak and he never sets foot inside the 3-point line.
The Bulls responded with a smaller starting lineup of Carlos Boozer, Deng and Butler across the front line. For most of the first three quarters, they got the worst of small ball.
While Boozer (13 points, 15 rebounds) struggled to get points in the paint, the Knicks went at Boozer relentlessly on defense, either by pulling Copeland out to the 3-point line or forcing him to switch onto a guard.
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