Bulls out-battled in the Big Apple

The Knicks Thursday were seeing red after a second last shot loss in a week, this time the night before in Philadelphia, and in the jerseys in front of them, the Bulls’. And it was the Knicks, especially former Bulls Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, who gored their former team in a 104-89 New York victory.

“Crazy,” Taj Gibson said, shaking his head. “You look how they are playing against other teams and then you play against us....It’s been known around the NBA for awhile when you play against your former team, guys get even more geared up. The basketball gods were on their side; the looks he (Noah) gets he misses against everybody else, but he makes against us.”

Noah, the longtime Bulls favorite who has been widely condemned in New York for his big contract and small play, didn’t miss much. He dominated the boards with 15 rebounds, nine offensive, and more than doubled his season scoring average with 12 points as the Knicks outrebounded the Bulls and held them to 39.8 percent shooting.

“Jo likes talking (crap),” said Rose, who had 17 points, eight in the first quarter when the Knicks charged ahead, supporting the 23 points, nine rebounds and six assists from Carmelo Anthony and 19 points from little used rookie Mindaugas Kuzminiskas.

The Bulls got 22 points from Dwyane Wade, 14 points from Jerian Grant, 13 points from Cristiano Felicio, both off the bench, and 12 points and nine rebounds from Gibson.

“As a player you are always going to be amped to play against the former team,” said Wade. “Derrick has been playing this way consistently all year; Jo has had two big games versus us, so he definitely raises his level of play against us. But that is what players are supposed to do. They want to get a little get back anyway they can and  that’s their way. They are 2-0 against us and for them personally that feels good.

“It’s unfortunate we lost Denzel (Valentine ill pregame to join Jimmy Butler and Nikola Mirotic with flu),” said Wade.  “A guy like (Paul) Zipser, he’s in the D-league a couple of games ago and he’s starting tonight in Madison Square Garden. Obviously, this is a learning experience for those guys and you hope it helps them in their growth throughout this season. But you have to go through the pain in the moment and you are learning on the fly.  It’s a good thing for them and the future of the team, but it’s a bad thing when you are trying to win now.”

And so it was for the Bulls in losing their third straight to fall to 19-21; the Knicks are 18-22 with both currently on the outside of the East’s top eight looking up. The Bulls reach the season halfway point Saturday in the United Center against the New Orleans Pelicans and Anthony Davis, and for now are just trying to curtail the off court vomiting.

“I’m definitely worried (about the spreading sickness),” said Wade, warily looking around the locker room as if wondering who’s next with flu and fever enveloping the roster. “We’ve seen it with other teams; you’ve seen guys go down. I’m definitely worried we have three guys down and don’t have the luxury of missing key guys. Hopefully, we won’t have any more down and hopefully Saturday we get one or two back and have most of our team going into a home game.”

It’s a weary, weakened and wheezing Bulls team heading into this last kick to All-Star break and trying to keep a rotation together. It seems like Rajon Rondo is back in with four points and eight assists as first player off the bench against the Knicks. But Doug McDermott continued to miss, shooting zero for five for two points. He is four of 22 and one of nine on threes the last three games.

“This game is a lot about confidence,” said Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg. “The big thing is getting him out there trying to put him in position to get some shots. He is too good of a shooter to stay in a slump like this.  We are confident he will get out of this and so are his teammates.”

With the epidemic of illness sweeping the team and Butler, the team’s best player and high scorer out the last two games, Hoiberg has continued to mix and match. He started McDermott Tuesday in Washington, but when he wasn’t hitting his shot, Hoiberg went to rookie second round pick Zipser in basically his first extended play as a pro. As Wade noted, in Madison Square Garden, of all places.

“Of course I was excited to hear I was playing and starting in the most famous arena in the world,” said Zipser, who had seven points and five rebounds in 34 minutes and showed poise in his playing segments. “I was ready; we had fun at the beginning of the game (all his points in the first half as the Knicks led 54-51). I lost a little bit of my aggressiveness (after that); that’s what I learned from today. I think the first half was solid but the second not aggressive enough.”

Zipser didn’t hurt the team, but he also had to match up often against Anthony. Sort of like matador and bull.

The Bulls were looking at Zipser to counter Knicks star Kristaps Porzingis, but he was a late scratch injured. So the Knicks started Lance Thomas, who had limited impact.

Gibson mostly defended Anthony, but faced old buddy Noah when he was on offense, and perhaps the events were predetermined early when Gibson fought his way in and scored over his former mentor to bring the Bulls within 12-10.

Gibson then did some talking with Noah, and was shocked to get a technical foul call.

It just wasn’t going well for the Bulls this night.

“That’s my son; why would he talk to me like that?” Noah said with a laugh.

Noah’s also transferred his role as nickname provider, summing up, “Kuz-Kuz (Kuzminskas) came through and KO (Kyle O’Quinn) came up big for us.”

And Tajy-woo just didn’t appreciate things.

“The referee, I don’t know why he did that,” said Gibson. “He said I said something obscene. But I had to tell him ‘That’s my guy. We’ve been playing against each other, going against eachother for seven years. I’ve known Joakim forever. C’mon man.’ Just having fun, playing the game, playing competitive the way the game is supposed to be, the old fashioned way, being competitive, going at each other’s necks. That’s the way basketball is supposed to be. It’s not supposed to be buddy, buddy, ‘Yea, that’s my guy.’ No, I was trying to go at his neck and (the referee) ruined that by teching me up. Jo couldn’t say much because I scored, but then I get a tech and he’s clapping; messed up.”

Gibson did seem like he was fighting off several Knicks each time with guys like Zipser, Bobby Portis and Felicio helping out, though Felicio again was impressive with six of nine for those 13 points.

“Taj, you could tell he was on a mission,” said Rose. “I love Taj’s game; he’s an old school player. That’s something you don’t see in the league that much; for his size, he has great post moves.”

Rose also rose to the occasion even as he’s been bombarded with accusations and questions in New York about his missing day earlier in the week. He fielded another round of questions before the game, and blew by the Bulls defenses, getting Michael Carter-Williams in early foul trouble and had the Knicks’ second best plus/minus rating for the game.

“The first game (against the Bulls) meant more than this game tonight,” admitted Rose. “The first I was nervous; I was way more nervous, I’d say. I was just getting acclimated to playing in this uniform. Now I think they are just like any other team where I am not taking it like that. Or taking it personally. I’m just going to go out there and try to win the game.”

The Knicks did it, if not overwhelmingly.

The Bulls stayed close through the first half with 10 points from Robin Lopez against his former team on assortment of mostly short hook shots. The Bulls took their first lead midway through the second quarter on a 10-0 run featuring Grant and Zipser and trailed just by three at halftime after Rondo closed the quarter with a jumper.

But it was too much to make up without Butler, and try as Wade did with 18 second half points, the other starters combined for four second half points and the rest of the team was a combined eight for 31 in the second half.  The Knicks took a 76-65 lead after three quarters with several Noah put back scores.

“Jo was controlling the game on the glass, got a couple of tipins, got behind our defense, doing the kinds of things Jo does,” observed Hoiberg. “Then a couple of times we completely got off him and he drove right to the basket; can’t have those kind of breakdowns if you want to win.”

Wade’s 10 fourth quarter points wasn’t even enough to hold off Kuzminskas’ dozen in the fourth with the Knicks leading by double figures basically the entire quarter after blowing a 10-point lead in the last three minutes Tuesday.

“We had some guys go oh for, shooting a bad percentage,” noted Wade. “They obviously had it going coming out in the third and we didn’t get a stop early on. I didn’t even realize we only scored 14 points, unfortunate; we needed a big quarter there. We got good shots. They weren’t going in.”

And so the Bulls now just try to close in on .500 at the midway mark.

“It’s tough (without Butler),” said Hoiberg. “Obviously, we play through Jimmy a lot; he’s a guy who can guard all the wings in this game. Without Jimmy Butler you miss a lot, but you can’t use it as an excuse; guys have to step up. You have to play better. He’s missed and hopefully we’ll get him back Saturday.”