The classic Frank Sinatra song, “My Kind of Town (Chicago is)” is a tune that the Knicks should karaoke on the plane ride out of town after they completed a back to back, road game sweep in the WIN-dy City.
On Wednesday night, the Knicks had to play overtime to get a win, but this one was no contest as they led by as much as 30 points in dissing the Bulls, 114-91, last night at the United Center to extend their season high winning streak to six games.
The Knicks swept consecutive road games against the same team for the first time since 1970 when they accomplished the feat in San Francisco against the Warriors.
The Knicks (16-13) have won seven of their last nine and for the fourth time in this winning streak, they held the opponent to under 100 points. Coach Tom Thibodeau saw this coming, even when the Knicks were stumbling along for the first 20 games or so. “The thing that I saw was a team that was getting better every day in practice. I watch everything over and over, I study the film and I look at the numbers and I know which way the numbers are trending so it also tells me what direction we’re heading in,” Thibodeau said.
R.J. Barrett led the Knicks with 27 points and was a +28, while Jalen Brunson and Quentin Grimes both scored 22. Brunson was five for five from three in the first half and finished with a career high six-threes.
Grimes continues to grow before our eyes. The 25th overall pick of the 2021 NBA Draft shot 6 for 10 from the floor and 5 of 9 from three while continuing to play his patented smothering defense that he provides on a night in, night out basis.
Julius Randle had a rough shooting night (6 for 16) but still finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds.
The Knicks did a lot of good things in this one as evidenced by some eye opening numbers on the stat sheet. The Knicks had 15 offensive rebounds, compared to two for Chicago, and a 14-0 advantage in second chance points. A 13-3 edge in steals helped the Knicks score 24 points off of Bulls’ turnovers.
Chicago shot the ball well in the first half and had a 48-41 lead with just under four minutes remaining in the second quarter, but the Knicks went on a 17-5 run and led 58-53 at halftime.
Barrett came out flying in the second half as he scored the Knicks’ first five points and had 11 in the third quarter. Brunson’s sixth three pointer of the game gave the Knicks an 83-72 lead that increased to an 87-75 margin after three.
Barrett has lifted his game after another one of his patented slow starts. During the winning streak, Barrett is shooting 43% from the floor and 41% from three. Thibodeau was not concerned because he has seen Barrett’s act before. “I wish I had the answer, I know he worked all summer,” Thibodeau said. “All three years, it’s just a steady climb. He [Barrett] doesn’t get rattled, keeps forging ahead.”
The Knicks’ defensive intensity was on full display in the fourth quarter as they held the Bulls to four points for the first eight minutes. Chicago scored 12 more points in garbage time, but the damage was done. “Our defense, even though they [the Bulls] shot a high percentage, I thought we had great activity,” the head coach said.
Things are going so well for the Knicks that they won by double digits yet got only 18 points from the bench. Immanuel Quickley had a night to forget as he was 1 for 12 from the field, 0 for 7 from three while Isaiah Hartenstein was 1 for 7 for 3 points, but he did have 10 rebounds.
Thibodeau is seeing a team that’s beginning to come together as a unit. “You want the focus to be on daily improvement and build the right habits and if you’re doing those things, you’re gonna get better as you go along. Guys are building chemistry with each other and that chemistry is on both sides of the ball,” he said.
If the Knicks did anything poorly in this one, it was their free throw shooting. The Knicks were 23 of 32 (72%) from the free throw line.
The former Bull, Derrick Rose got off the bench for the first time in six games and got a standing ovation when he entered in the fourth quarter. The loudest roars from the crowd came when the former NBA MVP merely touched the ball. “Feeling the love and the vibrations like that was surreal.” said Rose.
“I know what he [Rose] means to this city, to the fans, to the Bulls and I know how he feels about the Bulls and the city,” Thibodeau said.
The Knicks will complete this three game trip at Indiana on Sunday before beginning a four game homestand against the defending champion Golden State Warriors, minus Steph Curry on Tuesday at the Garden.
The Knicks have not lost since Thibodeau went to a nine man rotation but he knows how quickly it can turn back the other way.
“The important thing for us is not to feel too good about ourselves,” he said. “Enjoy the win tonight and tomorrow we gotta start getting ready for Indiana.”