NEW YORK -- The New York Knicks have something that the Bulls don't currently posses, and it's the biggest reason why they are going to have a much happier Christmas night than Derrick Rose and his teammates.
It's a little something called balance.
Without Joakim Noah in the lineup, the Bulls rely so much on Rose and Carlos Boozer to score that when they don't, the team doesn't have much chance to win against a quality opponent. Exhibit A came on Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden. Rose and Boozer could not find their shots during the fourth quarter, and the Bulls had nowhere else to turn. The pair combined to go 3-for-11 for just 7 points. The Bulls managed just 12 in the quarter.
"We couldn't get a rhythm," Rose said of the fourth quarter. "On the defensive side or the offensive side. On defense, we weren't stopping the ball, especially on pick and roll so that people can get back in front for the ball. Just kind of let them do whatever they wanted to do."
That was evident on offense as well. After spending most of the day playing an inside-out game with Rose on the perimeter and Boozer in the post, the Bulls struggled to get any motion toward the rim. To put it into perspective, the Bulls came into the 4th quarter having scored 44 points in the paint. In the final 12 minutes, they managed just six.
"We ended up standing still," Boozer said. "Too many guys were just watching the double team. Usually when D. gets double teamed or I get double teamed, usually we got guys moving or cutting so it makes an easier outlet. We had too many guys standing and watching us get double-teamed. So it put us in tough positions trying to make plays out of a double team. So we didn't do a good enough job on the weakside when we got doubled with the ball of moving."
The Bulls froze. Nobody else could make a crucial shot. Kyle Korver was 0-for-4, while C.J. Watson and Kurt Thomas missed the only shots they attempted. Luol Deng finished with 15 points on the night, but managed to take just one shot, and score three points in the fourth. Compare that to the Knicks, who had each of the five starters score in double figures, while Toney Douglas came off the bench to drop 8 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists.
"To their credit, I thought they played good defense," Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said of the Knicks. "I thought our turnovers [hurt], and then we have to execute better when we are being double teamed. We got to make plays. And we didn't do that tonight."
The bigger issue for Thibodeau after a game like this isn't so much that his team didn't make plays, it's that after Rose and Boozer, there aren't any other guys on his roster who can be counted on to consistently make them. Whether they wanted to admit it or not, both Rose and Boozer tried to force the issue a few too many times (hence their 14 combined turnovers) but what do you expect them to do? Boozer and Thibodeau spoke of the need for more spacing on the floor, so that each player can kick it out faster for open shots. But who is going to make them?
"They did a good job packing the paint and making us play more of a perimeter style," Boozer said.
When Korver's shot isn't working and Deng disappears in stretches, how can things get much better for the Bulls at the moment? Noah isn't there to create more space down low and the Bulls don't have gunners like Danilo Gallinari, Landry Fields and Wilson Chandler to hit from the outside. The final 12 minutes of this loss served as a blueprint for the rest of the league -- If you make the Bulls a one-dimensional team, and limit Boozer's touches in the post, you can pretty much shut them down when Rose can't find his shot.
"There wasn't a groove to the game at all," Rose said. "It just wasn't the way we wanted to play."
Thibodeau must figure out some answers quickly. if he doesn't Rose is going to be saying this a lot over the next 8-10 weeks.