Bulls use trademark defense to shut down the Knicks

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The Knicks came into Saturday’s contest in Chicago against the Bulls at the top of the league in offensive efficiency, averaging 111.2 points per 100 possessions.

The problem was, they were facing a Bulls team that was fourth in the league in the same category on defense, and playing without Carmelo Anthony, Chicago was able to stifle New York’s offense on the way to a 93-85 victory.

Anthony missed his second straight game due to a laceration of a finger on his non-shooting hand which required five stitches to seal. We all expect him to try to make it back to face his former Denver Nuggets team on Sunday, but in his absence on this night, and with the Bulls playing excellent team defense, the Knicks simply couldn’t get anything going offensively.

New York was able to beat the Heat without Anthony for two very specific reasons that tie together quite nicely: One, Miami has been disinterested in defending at all this season, to the point where the defending champions rank just 23rd in defensive efficiency on the season. And two, the Knicks shot the lights out from three-point distance.

Percentage-wise against the Heat, New York wasn’t necessarily fantastic in this category. But making 18 three-pointers while attempting 44 of them certainly helps the offense, even at just a 40 percent clip.

Against a Chicago team that stayed home on the shooters due to the knowledge that there was virtually zero threat from dribble penetration or legitimate post-up opportunities, the Knicks managed to make only eight three-pointers on 23 attempts.

The Bulls forced Raymond Felton into taking 30 of the Knicks’ 84 shot attempts, which was more than double that of anyone else on the team. Felton only converted nine of them to finish with 27 points, and Chicago likely couldn’t have been happier with the distribution of its opponent’s shots.

This was a trademark performance from the Bulls; a gritty win brought on by a stellar effort on the defensive end of the floor. Without Carmelo Anthony there, New York struggled to move the ball and find someone who could take control and get buckets when the team needed them most.

On the Chicago side of things, Marco Bellinelli was big with 22 points on 8-of-15 shooting, 17 of which came in the first half. He ended up playing 45 minutes, right there with Joakim Noah and Luol Deng, as Tom Thibodeau continued his practice of playing his studs until they drop in order to secure a victory.

The Knicks will be fine, provided Anthony comes back in a timely manner, and they don’t have to face teams like Chicago who win games with defense above all else.

It would actually be a pretty big surprise if the Knicks didn’t bounce back with a win on Sunday, considering it will be the first time that Anthony faces the Denver Nuggets — if he plays, that is. But he’d be hard-pressed not to, considering it will be his first opportunity to play against his former team since forcing a trade to New York back in 2011.