Commentary

Style vs. substance

The Knicks' star power is no match for the Bulls' consistent team effort

Updated: March 13, 2012, 1:28 AM ET
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson and a bunch of other players most self-respecting New York fans couldn't pick out of a lineup, defeated two superstars and a global sensation Monday night.

Except for the global sensation, it wasn't a whole lot different than most nights for the Chicago Bulls this past season and a half.

On paper, despite the five-game losing streak New York lugged into the game, the Knicks looked superior. On the court, for much of the night it was even more glaring, with Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire starting at forward against Kyle Korver and Carlos Boozer. Bulls rookie Jimmy Butler played 28 minutes, Gibson 26.

[+] EnlargeTaj Gibson
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesTaj Gibson had 15 points and 13 rebounds in the Bulls' win over the Knicks.

Once again, the Bulls, who won 104-99, were without key components Luol Deng, Rip Hamilton and C.J. Watson.

Once again, they faced an opponent with a player -- in this case Anthony -- who many Bulls fans would have been only too happy to acquire from Denver before the trade deadline last season. Rumors swirled that Joakim Noah was in the offing. Also thrown into the proposed deal was Deng, who was clearly ready for the scrap heap before last season began.

The word was that Anthony only had to improve his rebounding. And maybe his attitude toward the team concept.

These may or may not have been the same people who believed the Bulls braintrust needed to get off their collective duffs and snag J.R. Smith this season. This is the same J.R. Smith who already twice in his infancy with the Knicks has had fans and media wondering if he would be fined or suspended for conspicuous sulking on the bench, and was fined -- $25,000 by the NBA on Saturday -- for posting a picture of a semi-naked woman on his Twitter account last week.

Knicks fans can't understand why the team isn't much better, mostly blaming it on the old standby, We just need to jell. Amare Stoudemire needs to play more with Jeremy Lin. Tyson Chandler is new. This crazy schedule is not allowing for enough practice time, particularly with the complex offense of coach Mike D'Antoni.

The Knicks did play better Monday night, or at least better than they had during this recent losing streak, raising their level of play before a national television audience by playing inspired defense at times, moving the ball, shooting well and looking engaged.

The Bulls, on the other hand, came out shooting 34 percent in the first quarter. Rose sniped at officials and was overly amped to go up against Lin as the aforementioned global sensation actually looked more composed.

"It's me against him where, whoever I'm playing against, I'm trying to win the matchup," Rose said.

Eventually, as expected, he did, finishing with 32 points -- 19 in the second half -- and seven assists to Lin's 15 points, eight assists.

But it was Gibson (15 points, 13 rebounds), who had his best all-around game of the season, and a whopping advantage over New York in offensive rebounds (22-9) and second-chance points (24-6) that made the difference.

It was Korver and Noah diving for loose balls; Gibson extending possessions with tipped rebounds; Butler showing an athleticism on the boards and in the open court that is making him resemble a young Gibson, that really told the story. That typically tells the story for the Bulls.

"It's the confidence we have in each other where we hold each other accountable when we're on the floor," Rose said. "We know the way we practice and everything, we can compete with some of the best teams in the NBA if we go out there and [execute] the game plan."

It sounds simple enough and yet few teams can do it consistently.

The Bulls have been doing it for a season and a half under Tom Thibodeau.

It's a superstar league.

And the little team from Chicago still believes they're the underdogs.

Melissa Isaacson

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for espnW.com, ESPN Chicago and ESPN.com. The award-winning writer has covered Chicago sports for most of her 31-year career, including at the Chicago Tribune before joining ESPN in 2009. Isaacson has also covered tennis since 1986.

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