NEW YORK -- The bad news first.
In their first Christmas game since You Know Who played in 1997, the Bulls didn't quite resemble those vintage Chicago teams that regularly played on the holidays, losing 103-95 to the New York Knicks thanks a languorous fourth quarter.
Chicago still has a gaping hole at the 2-guard spot and another one in the post, with Joakim Noah out with his hand injury. While Noah will be back after the All-Star break, there are no easy answers to the poor showing at the off-guard, besides an unforeseen heist before the trade deadline.
The good news?
Well, besides Noah's swag-a-riffic red pants-black jacket combo that set him apart sartorially from the masses, we definitely know Derrick Rose is capable of getting outwardly mad.
We've seen Rose get pumped up, yell, celebrate, do a faux Jordan "shrug." But he got, as they say, "heated," in the fourth quarter, barking at fellow All-Star Amare Stoudemire.
The team's resident stone-faced star almost turned into The Hulk, jawing at Stoudemire after one of a series of blocks and hard fouls by the self-proclaimed STAT (Standing Tall and Talented). The two started conversations in the first quarter after Stoudemire blocked a Rose layup.
In the fourth, there was nothing more than fighting words being offered back and forth as teammates separated Rose, but you could feel his ire growing. After the game, Rose was reserved and polite, as usual. But nearly two weeks after getting his first technical, we're getting a little fire from the young guard. That's a good thing. He had every reason to be mad at himself, and the Knicks, in this game.
Maybe he watched "The Fighter" on Christmas Eve. Maybe it's just enough is enough, as he's dealt with a dearth of favorable calls in his third year.
"That's basketball," Rose said. "It got heated there for a minute, but there's nothing more than that."
"It was great," Stoudemire said of the team's second straight win over Chicago.
"It was a lot of fun. We know Chicago is a team to beat right now."
Rose finished with 25 points (on 12-for-28 shooting) and added eight assists and six steals, thrilling the crowd with several of his patent-pending drives, but he also had seven of the team's 21 turnovers, and failed to take over in the fourth by forcing the issue. The Knicks did a good job of packing the paint and taking away Rose's driving lanes. His shot wasn't falling, either.
Rose's running mate Carlos Boozer also had seven turnovers, but he led the Bulls with 26 points and 19 rebounds.
You could gauge the team's fortunes by watching their eclectic head cheerleader Noah on the bench. Dressed in Bulls colors (aside from a blue cast protecting his hand) in his hometown, Noah was energized nearly all game, talking to the refs and cheering on his teammates. At one point in the fourth, coach Tom Thibodeau had to tell him to zip it. By game's end, Noah sat glumly, his head in his hand.
This game was designed to highlight the Eastern Conference powers of the 1990s and their return to relevancy. For the most part, everyone got a good look at their potential, and their weaknesses. The Knicks, despite tightening up on defense, were sloppy with the ball. The Bulls gave up way too many open looks on defense and looked uneven, or uninspired, on offense.
Offensively, Rose and Boozer needed help, but none came. It's a recurring problem. Luol Deng was the only other player with double figures, scoring 15 on
5-of-12 shooting. Chicago made only 4 of 14 3-pointers and 11 of 20 from the free throw line.
Conversely, all five Knicks starters scored in double figures. Stoudemire had 20 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks, also committing seven turnovers. He helped set a defensive tone that turned the Bulls into bad jump-shooters late in the game. Raymond Felton had 20, Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari had 15 each, and Landry Fields had 14.
Fields is the kind of player the Bulls need at the off-guard spot. The athletic rookie from Stanford hit 5 of 7 shots and added 11 rebounds. New York shot 53.2 percent from the field and hit 12 of 22 3-pointers.
Boozer's jumper gave the Bulls a 54-52 halftime lead.
As the fourth quarter started, Carlos Boozer Sr., in town from Raleigh, N.C., to watch his son, looked at me and flashed four fingers to signify a forthcoming run. It never came. After the game, he joked, "I was being nice. I wanted to get out of here alive."
The Rose-Stoudemire near-skirmish didn't inspire the Bulls as they had a terrible fourth quarter, letting New York go on a 10-0 run and missing 11 of 13 shots in the first 10 minutes. Chicago shot just 5-for-19 in the quarter, getting outscored 18-12.
"There wasn't a groove to the game where we went on a run," Rose said. "Our runs were like four points or something like that, then a turnover. It just wasn't the way we wanted to play."
Rose and Boozer combined for just seven points in the fourth and no one else could help them, and that's why the Bulls lost.
"It wasn't one of our most fluid fourth quarters," Boozer said. "Shots weren't going in. They did a good job packing the paint, making us play a more perimeter style. We tried to attack that a few different ways."
The Bulls don't play New York again until the penultimate game of the season April 12, also at the Garden. It could be a potential preview to a playoff matchup.
"We're going to get them," Rose said. "I'm not worried about that. We're going to get them."
Tough words from a tough player, and we'll see if the Bulls can back them up this spring. All I know is the Bulls will need more than Noah to really matter again.
Can someone see if Isiah Thomas would be willing to talk Charles Dolan into trading Fields?
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.