It hit me watching today’s Bulls-Knicks game, that these two teams couldn’t be more different. They are twilight zone-esque mirror images of each other. I’m sure somewhere out there, Jordan’s Knicks defeated Ewing’s Bulls with the requisite Star Trek goatees denoting the presence of an alternate universe. The Garden organ playing the infamous star trek fight music.
On the court the Bulls sport the NBA’s second best defense, while the Knicks are ranked a lowly 26th. Chicago relied on their two big men, Chandler and Curry, whose four blocked shots don’t adequately reflect the intimidation and presence they applied in the paint. The Knicks had their problems scoring inside. Marbury had a drive blocked and recovered by one of the Bulls. Nazr Mohammed was embarrassed when his clear-path-to-the-rim-I’m-going-to-jam-it-with-one-hand was forcefully rejected.
On the other hand, the Knicks starting big men had a total of one block. The Bulls scored from the paint time and time again, where they held a 38 to 26 point advantage. Chicago sealed the game with two big plays. Nocioni grabbed a rebound with less than 20 seconds left, and was fouled which setup the Bulls last play. Gordan used a pick and roll, and was left with a match-up against PF Mike Sweetney. The slower Knick kept up with the quicker guard, but Gordan still managed a high arcing shot no more than 10 feet away from the hoop to give Chicago the victory. Giving up two big plays inside at the most critical point of the game underscores my point. The Knicks just don’t have the personnel nor the scheme to stop their opponents from close range.
Everything the Bulls did on defense was what the Knicks fail to do night in and night out. Duhon fought through screens all game to disrupt the Knicks’ pick & roll. It’s been so long since a Knick guard did that, I thought maybe the NBA had made a rule against it. Even when the Knicks were able to get past their defender, the Bulls had one or two help defenders converge on the play. The Knicks were forced to counter with an outside attack. After Marbury, 3 of their next 4 scorers were perimeter players: K. Thomas, Houston, and Crawford.
From the opening tip, one match-up showed exactly how different the two teams are. The bulky veteran Jerome Williams matched up against the skinny teenage rookie Luol Deng. The Junk Yard Dog will earn $5.6M this year, more than any Bull who played tonight. In fact today there were 7 Knicks who earn more than the Bulls’ richest participant tonight: Tyson Chandler. New York’s starters average age was 30, while their opponents were a youthful 24. And that’s including the 31 year old Othella Harrington who only played for a quarter.
After getting swept in back-to-back games by their mirror-image, the Knick organization is going to have to take a hard look at itself. The players should wonder why they aren’t able to play tough man to man defense like their opponents did. The coaching staff is going to wonder why their defensive rotations don’t go as smoothly as the other team’s. The front office might wonder why their roster doesn’t have many young, cheap, and athletic defenders. Hopefully the Knicks can learn something from looking across court and seeing what they are not.