NEW YORK – The New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls used to have legendary, memorable battles back in the 1990s. Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Patrick Ewing and John Starks were household names. Everyone remembers Starks’ dunk over Horace Grant and Jordan in the 1993 playoff series. Knicks fans unfortunately remember Jordan dominating them in every game. Everyone remembers the epic match-ups that occurred in the Garden during those years.
Those days are long gone, but the Knicks and Bulls still played an entertaining game on the afternoon of Martin Luther King Day. Guard Quentin Richardson led the Knicks with 24 points, as New York defeated Chicago, 102-98 at Madison Square Garden. Forward Loul Deng and point guard Derrick Rose led the Bulls with 20 points each.
The game was evenly matched the entire afternoon, with the Knicks going into the half leading 57-54. It wasn’t all good vibes going into halftime as center David Lee limped off the court after he rolled his ankle. Fortunately, he was able to play in the second half after wrapping his ankle.
Forward Danilo Gallinari saw a good amount of floor time again in his second game back from injury. In the 16 minutes he played, he scored a career-high nine points and also came up big on the defensive end with four rebounds and two steals. The crowd was into it every time he touched the ball. The 20-year old brings a type of energy that is contagious on the court. While his defense may come along slower than his offense does, Gallinari still nonetheless hustled, which doesn’t go unnoticed by his teammates.
“Coming from Italy and coming over here and being a young guy he wants to prove that he is going to be a good help for this team and a good person for the franchise long term,” Lee said.
The fact remains, however, that when Gallinari is out on the floor, the team needs to get him the ball more often. While it’s a small sample size, he has shown the ability to hit jumpers, post up down-low and drain three-pointers. Nate Robinson needs to feed him the ball more and get the kid further acclimated to scoring on the NBA level.
Robinson may start to be realizing that sooner rather than later though, as with 10:22 left in the fourth quarter, he fed Gallinari the ball, which the rookie took to the basket for his first career dunk. He hung off the rim like a crazed monkey as the crowd went wild. The cheering for the rookie continued as he nailed a three-pointer from the corner to give the Knicks a four-point lead with 9:59 left in regulation.
The other first-rounder from last year’s draft, Rose, showed what all the hype surrounding him was about. He handled the ball smoothly, netting 20 points and dishing out eight assists. With 6:16 left in the fourth quarter, he threw the ball up to the basket, which forward Tyrus Thomas dunked down to bring the Bulls to within two points.
After his team fell behind, Richardson, the leading scorer in the game for the Knicks, nailed a clutch three-pointer with 2:09 left in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 97.
New York’s hero late in the game was point guard Chris Duhon. The former Bull scored four of the team’s last five points. The most important two, however, was when Duhon started dribbling from behind the arc, driving right under the basket for a tough lay-up. It was a gutsy move, but it was the key bucket as it gave New York a 99-98 lead with 31 seconds left in regulation. The Knicks would hold on for the win.
“He plays such a big part. He comes up with the big charge and big bucket at the end. He gutted it out, which I expected him to do,” Head Coach Mike D’Antoni said of his point guard. “It does cause some anxiety on our side, but he’s competitive all the way through.”
While it was a terrific win for the Knicks, whose record now stands at 18-24, there is still much improvement to be made. Too many loose balls are not being picked up and there are still too many interceptions caused by lazy passes.
D’Antoni, of course, notices this and said his team’s play must improve. “I don’t want to be simple, but most NBA games come down to guys either stepping up and hitting big shots or making a big defensive play, and we got to have more of that. Maybe it’s putting the right guys on the floor. It’s also confidence. It’s getting to think you’re going to hit the big shots.”
Lee, who had yet another double-double with 11 points and ten rebounds, was chanting “Danilo Gallinari” in a very Italian accent in the locker room after the game. Gallinari smiled after hearing this and gave a little nod to his teammate. He finally is starting to feel like he’s becoming a part of the team. With a few more opportunities he can become a big-time contributor for New York. Lee wasn’t the only Knick pumped up to see the kid play, as Richardson praised Gallinari saying he adds a “buzz to the crowd” when he enters a game.
He added a buzz to the Garden during last year’s NBA draft, too, but it was the wrong kind of buzz as Knicks fans were skeptical of the pick and started booing. With his competitive energy and smooth shooting prowess, Gallinari is now adding another kind of buzz to Madison Square Garden, however, this time it’s the right kind. The kind of buzz that will hopefully allow the Knicks to win more close games like this one.
New York continues its homestand on Wednesday night when they host the Phoenix Suns at 7:30 p.m.