NBA: Christmas surprise: Knicks win one with defense
AP Basketball Writer
NEW YORK (AP) – The New York Knicks slipped on green uniforms and looked like an entirely different team.
A little like the one that used to protect the paint at Madison Square Garden.
Amare Stoudemire and Raymond Felton each scored 20 points, and the Knicks limited the Chicago Bulls to two baskets in the first 10 minutes of the fourth quarter, pulling away for a 103-95 victory Saturday.
Swatting shots and picking off passes with a dominant defense that would have made the 1990s Knicks proud, New York didn’t allow a field goal for more than 8 minutes after the game was tied early in the final period.
“We did a beautiful job defensively,” Stoudemire said. “They’re a really good defensive team, but for us, we’ve been talking about defense now for the past – actually the whole year – but more so the past week about communicating, helping the helper, so it’s really showing.”
Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari added 15 apiece for the Knicks, the NBA’s highest-scoring team but 28th in defense. Yet it’s been hard to tell lately they struggle on that end, as they held Oklahoma City to 98 points on Wednesday and followed by blocking 10 shots and coming up with 12 steals in this one.
Stoudemire anchored the defensive effort, grabbing 10 rebounds and blocking six shots. Rookie Landry Fields finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds for the Knicks, who improved to 21-25 on Christmas. Felton had 12 assists and Chandler also grabbed 10 boards.
Wearing Christmas colors, the Knicks beat Chicago for the second time this season, winning the series for the first time since 2000-01.
“It’s real important because we’re chasing them. Hopefully we can do that,” Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni said. “One thing is you know we play them three games. We won two so we get the tiebreaker, so now that helps. It’s the little things. A lot of basketball to be played but you’ve got to beat these teams, at home especially.”
Carlos Boozer had 26 points and 19 rebounds for the Bulls, who lost for just the second time in 11 games.
The Bulls flopped in their first Christmas game since 1997, committing 22 turnovers that led to 23 points. They fell to 9-6 on the holiday, including 2-3 against the Knicks.
“To their credit, I thought they played good defense,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I think we have to execute when we are being doubled-teamed. We’ve got to make plays. We didn’t do that tonight.”
Derrick Rose had 25 points, eight assists and seven rebounds for the Bulls, but also committed seven turnovers. He was stopped a couple of times by Stoudemire, nodding his head in agreement after his shot was blocked in the first half, and then getting hit on it after a drive in the second, when the two exchanged words.
“That’s basketball. He was trying to stop me going to the hole. It’s just a basketball play,” Rose said. “It’s going to get physical, especially if someone keeps driving. That’s what he’s supposed to do.”
Back-to-back baskets by Ronnie Brewer and Rose tied it at 87 with 10:11 left before the Knicks, who were allowing 107 points per game, started playing the defense basketball that was once their trademark.
Chandler and Felton each had two baskets in a 10-0 run as Chicago missed 11 of its first 13 shots in the period. Chandler’s bucket made it 97-87 before Boozer ended the Bulls’ drought with 1:52 remaining.
“I didn’t pay attention to (the drought), but I could tell our defense was doing great,” Felton said. “We were getting turnovers, shots that they normally probably hit they weren’t hitting. We were getting out on fast breaks, running the ball back at them. It’s just fun basketball.”
The Bulls later got within six, but missed a chance to get closer when Kurt Thomas threw a pass out of bounds, and the Knicks held on to win the matchup of teams who have been the best of the East lately outside of Boston and Miami.
Neither team pulled off the major free agent score it was looking for, but the moves they did make have paid off nicely. Stoudemire and Felton have the Knicks (18-12) off to their best start in a decade and searching for their first playoff berth since 2004. The Bulls are 9-4 since Boozer debuted after missing the first 15 games with a broken right hand.
With the Bulls wearing red, the court certainly looked festive. But the basketball was pure ugly at the start.
The Bulls offset their nine first-quarter field goals by turning it over nine times, handing the Knicks 10 points that helped New York take a 21-20 lead. Chicago’s sloppy play continued early into the second, when Boozer powered into the lane and shot the ball over the basket and out of bounds – not a turnover, but served the same purpose.
But the Bulls, despite missing injured rebounding leader Joakim Noah, made up for their struggles by overwhelming the Knicks on the backboards, outrebounding them 31-21 in the half and converting 12 offensive rebounds into 19 second-chance points. Boozer made a jumper in front of his bench as time expired to give Chicago a 54-52 halftime lead.
The Knicks then hit six 3-pointers in the third quarter, punishing the Bulls from behind the arc like they did while ringing up 120 points in their victory in Chicago last month – highest total the Bulls have allowed this season – and took an 85-83 lead to the fourth.
Notes: Thibodeau was a Knicks assistant for seven years. … Felton has had double-digit assists in six straight games, three shy of Micheal Ray Richardson’s franchise record set from Dec. 23, 1979 to Jan. 8, 1980.