Derrick Rose caught an inbounds pass near midcourt and burst in a blur 50 feet through the defense in three seconds for a reverse layup. Joakim Noah rolled down the middle and slam dunked a pass from Rose and then went dashing to help on defense, yelling to switch, “Let me get him.”
It was all so familiar Friday in the United Center, but so different as Rose and Noah came back to Chicago for the first time as New Yorkers and led the Knicks to an impressive 117-104 victory over the Bulls.
“It felt great,” said Noah. “I’m not going to lie to you.”
Less so for the Bulls, who wasted a brilliant game from Dwyane Wade, who had 35 points in carrying the Bulls back from a 16-point deficit in the first five minutes, made five of seven threes, and added a team high 10 rebounds. Wade continues to amaze.
“We knew what the magnitude of the game was,” said Wade about Rose and Noah’s anticipated first return on national ESPN. “They beat us. They came out and played better than us the first and third (quarters); their focus was better, their hunger was better. We have to fix that. It’s going to be a season for us where there are moments we have to learn and this is a moment we have to learn. A team that shouldn’t beat us on our home floor, but they did. So we have to figure out a way to get one somewhere else. We get a chance tomorrow.”
That’s Saturday when the Bulls play a rematch with the Indiana Pacers, this time in Indianapolis on the second of a back to back against a resting Indiana team. It’s the first crisis of what has been a positive and promising early season start.
The Bulls dropped to 3-2 while the Knicks, who moved to 2-3, surprised with easily their best game of the season as all five starters scored in double figures. They shot 51.7 percent and had 32 assists and just five turnovers. In comparison, the Bulls, who had been moving the ball well, fell back into isolation play with 15 assists and 13 turnovers. Jimmy Butler added 26 points with 11 of 11 on free throws while Nikola Mirotic off the bench had 14 points and six rebounds. The rest of the bench combined for 12 points. But it more so was a porous Bulls defense that allowed 32 first quarter points to put the Bulls in a hole, obviously gave the Knicks room as Rose had 11 assists, four fewer than the entire Bulls team, and watched helplessly on defense as Rose and Noah repeatedly beat them with pick and roll plays.
Noah with 16 points and nine rebounds had his second biggest scoring game since the 2014-15 season. Since that season, he’s had just three games of more than 16 points. Rose also had 15 points and seven rebounds while Kristaps Porzingis, like Amir Johnson in the Bulls loss in Boston, made four three pointers for his 27 points. Carmelo Anthony added 25 points.
“All across the board we weren’t getting back in transition,” a terse Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said afterward. “Inexcusable things, not getting matched up after made baskets, (them) hitting trail threes, no real urgency coming out of the gate. The first three games we held our opponents to 20 in the first quarter; these last two games our opponents have scored over 30. We let them throw the first punch and we were retreating; we were on our heels all night long, very disappointing.
“I knew they’d come out and play with great energy,” said Hoiberg. “(They) had two guys coming back to a franchise, the only one they played for. The disappointing thing was we got the lead in the second quarter and let our foot off the gas again, let them come out and set the tone in the third quarter, a team coming off a home loss; we could not match their energy.”
Which was discouraging at home against the former Bulls who obviously were looking to make their points after Rose was traded and Noah was let go in free agency.
“Of course it’s different because I was traded,” Rose said about the return. “The circus and craziness around, it is crazy. I just tried to stay sane by saying it’s the next game and when I step on the floor I’m trying to win a game no matter who is on the floor or what team I’m playing against.”
But it certainly was no ordinary or other game.
Other than the anticipation that led Taj Gibson to say, “I got tired of talking about it and hearing about it; I’m happy we got this one out of the way,” there was the introductions which featured enthusiastic cheers for Noah and loud cheers and a few boos for Rose. As the game progressed, both got booed at times as opponent players, more for Rose as he became a polarizing figure in the basketball community.
“It was all fun, I love competing,” said Rose. “I love when the crowd gets into it. I knew there were going to be some boos. I’m from here; I’m used to it. I’ve been getting it ever since I’ve been in the sixth grade going to the West Side and playing and me being a South Sider.”
There weren’t any major incidents, but Rose gestured to the crowd with a sort of two-hand, “c’mon bring it on,” admonishment when he made a jumper for a 74-68 Knicks lead with 5:12 left in the third quarter. “Probably someone taunting me,” said Rose. “I was into it. I love to compete. Was nothing.”
In the fourth quarter with the Knicks breaking from an 84-81 lead after three on a 14-2 run to effectively take the game, Butler drove hard into Noah, lowering his shoulder and getting to the free throw line with the Knicks leading 98-83 with 7:53 left. Noah and Butler got together and exchanged comments, though more from Noah’s side, though Noah did seem to be smiling.
“Guy likes to talk to me I like to talk back,” said Butler. “Just two guys out there competing.”
No, it was a lot more than that, especially for Rose and Noah, and especially that they could walk out of Chicago with a win. With 28.1 seconds left and the Knicks leading 116-104, Rose and Noah left the game. They exchanged high fives and then Noah started slapping Rose playfully in the head several times, drawing smiles for the first time from Rose as the two began skipping off the court with Rose poking Noah back in the chest. No, it was not an ordinary game for the two former Bulls All-Stars.
Anthony and Wade embraced after the game and Noah greeted several former teammates while Rose had to do national TV post game interviews. Bulls players left the court before he was finished. Rose and Noah were greeted warmly by Chicago fans leaving the court.
“It was harder than I thought in terms of trying to keep my emotions in check,” said Noah, who signed a four-year contract with the Knicks. “Coming into this building there are so many people I’m used to seeing on a daily basis. I’ve been here for a decade. It seems like just yesterday Chicago was home. I’ve still got a lot of love for a lot of people on the other side. I still have a lot of love for this organization. It’s not that I hate the Bulls or anything like that. I wish everybody here the best. Except when they play the Knicks.”
It is a closure of sorts as now each will go onto their seasons, and the Bulls for the first time in this regular season with questions.
That beautiful coordination that was so impressive the first three games was gone in the two losses. Both the Celtics and Knicks had better ball movement, and that’s with scoring point guards. The defense was scattered and the bench was less potent. Doug McDermott was back from a concussion, but limited to six points in 26 minutes and seemed to take another whack in the head.
Though it was the Bulls who got knocked around, and somewhat to their surprise.
“That was a totally different (Knicks) team from what I’ve been seeing on film,” said Gibson. “Now we just have to worry about ourselves. Now we can focus on what we have to do better; got another one tomorrow.”
The Bulls obviously weren’t as prepared as the Knicks were, falling behind 22-6 to start with even Noah finishing strong at the basket. That’s something the Bulls hadn’t seen in two years, and the Knicks really not yet this season. Wade then took over with basically the rest of the Bulls featuring shocked looks, which actually is a positive for the Bulls. Wade showed that terrific leadership again as perhaps the player who can rise and blunt a challenge. He had 19 points by halftime with three of four threes—now having made more threes than he did all last season—in leading the Bulls back to a 57-56 halftime lead. It seemed all right again for the home team. Though Rose was showing some of his old form with a full court switch drive for a layup past Butler earlier in the first quarter.
“Tonight I felt good about my shot,” said Wade. “I hit a couple early. Just trying to do what I can to get us back in the game. We came out flat, and the bench did a good job in the second quarter (Mirotic with 10 points) getting us back and then the third quarter the starters came out flat again. We have to fix that. They exposed our coverages. It comes with time. You have to make the adjustment on the fly. It will come with us playing together. We didn’t do that tonight, but we are still learning.”
Though Wade blamed the starters to open the second half, the Bulls still trailed by just three points going into the fourth quarter on a Wade three to close the third. But then a reserve group with McDermott, Mirotic, Bobby Portis and Isaiah Canaan got blitzed to open the fourth quarter by Noah and Porzingis. By the time Hoiberg got the starters back in the Bulls were trailing 94-81 with 9:09 left. The closest they got was within six with 1:52 left on another Wade score. But Rose with the 24-second clock about to go off blew by Gibson and Butler with a driving three-point play. He got a scream and a bump from Noah, who had screened for him. Rose then sent a pass the length of the baseline to Anthony for a three and a leaping hip bump from Noah. Yes, seen that stuff before. Just not in blue and orange.
“It had nothing to do with who we were playing,” insisted Butler. “We don’t want to lose on our home floor. We have another tomorrow and have to regroup; can’t stay on this one.”
You’ll excuse Rose and Noah if they do for a bit.
“I figured out how to play the NBA game here,” said Rose about Chicago. “I had great coaches and this is a new chapter. I’m just trying to become great. I’m still chasing something and I’ve got a great group to chase it with.”
And so they move on. Will they ever just be another opponent?
"I felt everybody came with the right mindset,” said Noah. “Derrick was doing what he does, floor general, making great plays for everybody. We’re still trying to find ourselves as a team. It was a lot of love in the building today. I was trying to stay focused on the game as much as possible, but it feels good because I know even though we didn’t win a championship here I know how bad Derrick wanted to win one, how bad I wanted to win one here. It didn’t happen. But there’s no regrets because I know we gave everything we had for this city.
“When I think about it there are still things that are tough because when I look back on it it’s like, ‘Damn, we were really close,’” said Noah. “I see Taj and Jimmy and these guys and think ‘Damn, I competed with these guys for a long time.’ Even though we are competing against each other, talking crap and all that. But at the end of the day they are still my brothers.”