NEW YORK -- All the Knicks needed to hear were four words in order to prepare defensively to face the Bulls Sunday afternoon.
Those were, "Derrick Rose is playing."
Arguably the best point guard in the NBA made his return today at the Garden, after missing 12 games with a strained right groin. But the league's best defensive team since March 14, when Mike Woodson replaced Mike D'Antoni, came ready with their 88.6 points per game allowed shutdown ability. While the Knicks gave up 99 points today, their defense against D-Rose and Co. helped them get the victory.
"Our plan was to make them shoot jumpshots," said Jared Jeffries, who saw his first action after missing eight games with right knee inflammation. "They have a couple of shooters on their team. Everybody else, we wanted to make them shoot jumpshots and keep them from getting offensive rebounds. They're a team that most nights, they outwork the other guys, and when they outwork you, they get wins. So tonight, we did a good job of playing hard."
That game plan worked to a tee beginning in the first half, especially against Rose, the heartbeat of the Bulls. At one point, he was 5-for-14 from the field and only two of those made shots came within close range of the basket.
That started with Iman Shumpert's perimeter defense. Shumpert, who routinely guards the opposing team's best scoring guard, took the "go hard or go home" approach on every possession going head-to-head against Rose. Being that it was Rose's return after an extended absence, Shumpert was smart to play right up on him and try to wear him down. Even though Rose showed hardly any effects of his injury -- he even played better down the stretch, finishing with 29 points -- Shumpert made nothing easy for him.
After the game, Shumpert, who normally does not offer many positive words regarding opposing players -- he confidently believes he can guard anyone -- praised Rose for his abilities. But, again, Shumpert's description was brief, a true sign of a defensive villain.
"You know it's going to be tough with him," Shumpert said. "He's got free range to really do whatever. He's a great player, makes great decisions. I was just trying to keep him uncomfortable anytime. Anytime I got beat, my guys were right there to help me. We just got it done."
Shumpert said he made it a point of fighting through screens to stay with Rose. That intensity gave the Bulls point guard a clouded line of sight and forced him to play out of rhythm a bit, where he would make passes too soon to shooters, such as Kyle Korver, popping out off of down screens. For the game, Rose had eight turnovers.
"[Iman] was unbelievable, the defense he played tonight," Tyson Chandler said. "He was very aggressive. He wanted to take the challenge and he did a good job tonight."
Shumpert credited Chandler for communicating behind him, helping him manage how to play Rose in pick-and-roll situations. But if Shumpert did get beat, Chandler was right there to help him out in the paint, clogging Rose's room to finish around the rim and put up his patented floater. From the sideline, the defensive-minded Mike Woodson, who said it has to take more than one player to stop Rose, witnessed the impact Chandler had on the game.
"I thought Tyson was huge tonight defensively, in terms of plugging up the middle and making plays," he said. "We were just banging, battling. Bodies were on the floor. I mean, it was just nice to see. It was like a playoff game. I told our guys even before the game, 'I don't want anybody crying about officiating. They're probably going to let you play,' and they did. They let us play tonight and our guys stepped up to the challenge."
Shumpert said it was the kind of playoff environment he always wanted to be a part of, playing for the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
"When we made stops or made big shots, like you felt everybody jump," he said. "It was weird to see everybody jump at the same time. I've never been in a building like that.
"This is my first year being in this position. To be in this type of atmosphere, I dreamed of. I am looking to play big."
With a potential matchup against the top-seeded Bulls in the postseason, that's the only way it's going to have to be. Shumpert will have the most difficult matchup of the series, but after today's national TV showdown, it's not as one-sided as many people thought.
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