Opener plays out beautifully for Bulls

NEW YORK -- They acted like a serious contender should act after a season-opening beatdown of a bottom-feeder. To a man, the Chicago Bulls reminded anybody who would listen Wednesday that their trashing of the Knicks in Madison Square Garden was one measly game, a nice debut but nothing to get crazy over. They didn't much care it was the franchise's most lopsided win ever at the Garden, or that the Knicks had never lost a season opener by such an embarrassing margin.

They talked about starting slowly offensively and not making open 3-pointers. The Bulls talked sober talk. Coach Tom Thibodeau, for crying out loud, picked up a technical foul with his team up 24 points. An official turned and asked him, "When will you relax?" and Thibs, true to every instinct in his being, shot back, "Never!"

And so began the Chicago Bulls' 2014-15 season, one a fair number of people think can result in a trip to the NBA Finals. Coaches, particularly guys such as Thibs, get paid to find fault with a 104-80 victory on the road, and surely he will before Friday night's playdate with LeBron and the Cleveland Cavaliers back in Chicago. But for the rest of us, for the people who noticed the Bulls were up 35 late in the fourth quarter and hoped some kind of slaughter rule could be instituted to save the Knicks from further shame, the Bulls did just about everything right. Injected with truth serum, they wouldn't dare ask for more things to go right on the first night of any season.

Derrick Rose played 21 minutes, Joakim Noah played 20, and the Bulls' two most important players held up just fine. Neither played a second in the fourth quarter, and neither needed to.

Pau Gasol hit 7-of-11 shots, scored 21 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in 29 minutes and wreaked havoc around the basket, completely compromising the Knicks' defense. Asked about this new dimension Gasol brings to the offense, Rose said, "It's huge. It eases the game. ... Plays where ... you know things aren't rolling for you, you can easily dump it down. ... If you double-team it's going to be open shots, wide-open 3s."

The usually reliable Mike Dunleavy didn't hit a single shot; in fact, he missed all five he took, including four 3-point tries. But Dunleavy played terrific defense on Carmelo Anthony in the absence of Jimmy Butler, who might miss another week or two with that sprained thumb. Left one-on-one with one of the NBA's three best scorers in a manner that he would have considered a nightmare in his younger years, Dunleavy harassed Anthony into missing 8-of-13 shots -- and obvious frustration. Dunleavy said afterward, "I've got a whole new appreciation for guys who are asked to do that all the time." Dunleavy knew his offensive numbers would suffer. "The physicality of trying to guard him, just chasing him around. ... With where I am in my career now, I don't care about any of that. I want to contribute in any way I'm asked."

Aaron Brooks, just about at that point in his own career, recorded six assists to one turnover and hit four of his five shots. He really does do for this offense, off the bench, what Nate Robinson did two seasons ago, what D.J. Augustin did last season.

Still, the No. 1 revelation was the Bulls' bench superiority. Granted, the Knicks don't have a lot in reserve; J.R. Smith is the only player of consequence New York has who can provide anything off the bench in the way of reliable firepower. Pablo Prigioni, Quincy Acy, Jason Smith and Tim Hardaway Jr. aren't scaring anybody.

Still, even teams with formidable reserve posses are going to be hard-pressed to solve Taj Gibson, who would probably start at power forward for 25 of the NBA's 30 teams ... which is why he's a preseason favorite to be the league's sixth man of the year. When the game officially reached "out of hand," the Bulls' starters had outscored the Knicks' starters by only two points, but the Bulls' bench had outscored the Knicks' 32-16, and Gibson had 18 of those points.

At one point, Gibson had hit six of eight shots, Brooks had made four of his five, Doug McDermott had hit two of three and Nikola Mirotic had hit his only shot, a 3-pointer from about 26 feet. That's 13-for-17 shooting from the bench in the first half. When the Bulls' lead reached 95-65 early in the fourth quarter, it was clear that the starters from both teams were done for the night.

Gibson was easily the best player on the court, starters or reserves: 22 points on 10-for-12 shooting, eight rebounds in 28 minutes. Gibson and Gasol were so dominant that Noah didn't have to exert himself at all, which is exactly what the Bulls should want for him over these first few weeks as he plays his way back into form following offseason knee surgery.

Rose looked just fine. His 3-point shot still isn't there (0-for-3) but his midrange game sure was. He had no trouble beating Knicks guards down the lane, hit three of his four attempts from inside the arc and created wide-open shots, usually from 3, for Kirk Hinrich, Dunleavy and McDermott. If the Bulls had hit, say, 10 of their 24 3-pointers -- which isn't all that much to ask considering how wide-open they were -- Rose would have had eight assists.

Yes, there is context to everything, and the context on opening night is that the Knicks stink. Granted, Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher have had them together only a month, and there's a culture to change and identity to create, and none of it happens overnight. But goodness the Knicks appeared lost. Nothing about what they were running Wednesday night looked even remotely akin to Jackson's triangle with the Lakers and/or Bulls, and perhaps that's because too many Knicks (Melo, Amar'e Stoudemire, Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith, Hardaway) aren't ball-movement players. They're shoot-first players. Ball movement isn't instinctive to any of them. They seem to have eons to go before they grasp the fundamentals of the triangle, much less the nuances.

Then again, if the Bulls shouldn't be awarded a spot in the Finals based on this one game, then the Knicks probably shouldn't be relegated on it, either, although their trip to Cleveland on Thursday is likely to result in a second game of doom.

The Bulls certainly will be better off evaluating themselves after their own game against the Cavaliers, though Rose did allow, "Who knows how good we can be?

"We've got a long way to go, so every day take advantage of it. ... I think we have a good team ... we can't get too big-headed. It's only the first game ... but when things run smooth the way they did tonight, you've got to look at our entire team, how deep we are."