Before the New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls tipped off on Thursday night, Derrick Rose and Carmelo Anthony were both officially named Eastern Conference starters in the 2012 NBA All-Star Game. As a bit of poetic justice, the game itself served to reinforce exactly why the honor absolutely befits Rose, but is discordantly attached to Melo. The NBA's reigning MVP imposed his will on the game, blowing past Iman Shumpert on command and consistently weaving himself around Tyson Chandler in the lane for feathery floaters and acrobatic finishes at the rim. Rose took the ball wherever he wanted to go, and perhaps more importantly, understood where the ball needed to be at all times. His team-high 32 points and game-high 13 assists almost represented his dominance well enough, and the reality of a 105-102 Bulls road win fill in the most crucial gaps.
As for Carmelo Anthony, he lacked a steadfast belief in his role as a team leader and top performer. In the first half, Melo attempted to serve as facilitator on offense, but ended up looking more like less dangerous and less aggressive version of himself in the process. Sure, he recorded two assists in the first quarter, but the vectors on his passes and drives lacked a disruptive element and came off more as passivity than an effective transformation of style.
When the smoke cleared on the first half of play, Anthony's two early assists looked inconsequential next to his four turnovers and 3-10 shooting. In the second half, he returned to his roots as a more decisive and focused scorer, finishing with 26 points on 10-26 shooting and just three assists. Like Rose, Carmelo can usually take the ball wherever he wants to against the defense, but unlike Rose, he still doesn't quite seem to know where he should be going or what he should be doing when he arrives. To punctuate his performance, Anthony rushed the ball up court with 5.2 seconds remaining and a chance to tie the game with a three, but only managed to throw up a leaning 30-foot attempt that caught more backboard than rim.
Not everything for the Knicks was infused with the same uncomfortable tone. They actually made the contest one hell of a spectacle down the stretch, especially considering that they never held a lead after grabbing a 15-13 advantage with 5:18 remaining in the first quarter. Most of the surge came during the third quarter, when they hit 14 of their first 18 shot attempts and managed to avoid committing even a single turnover as a team. Melo played his most dangerous stretch of basketball in the third -- 12 points on 6-10 shooting and zero turnovers - while Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler added some tough baskets in the paint.
Amare's game-high 34 points represented a career best against the Bulls and marked the first time he has scored more than 25 points in a game this season (he did so 37 times in 2010-11). Most of his damage came on high pick and roll plays where Iman Shumpert or Landry Fields created enough room for STAT to get a step or two of momentum before hitting the next line of defense on the rotation from the hard roll or lateral pop, just like the good old days in Phoenix with Steve Nash. Stoudemire got a great look at a three to tie the game late, but simply couldn't execute the shot out of a well-designed set play. As for Chandler (9 points, 8 rebounds), he played fairly well and continued a rather odd streak. Of his 239 points in 2011-12, Chandler has still scored every point this season either in the paint or at the free throw line. Landry Fields added 17 points on 7-10 shooting, while Iman Shumpert dished out a team-high 8 assists.
The Bulls supported Rose's effort with 12 points from backup point guard C.J. Watson and 16 points from both Carlos Boozer and Kyle Korver. With Luol Deng and Richard Hamilton still unavailable, head coach Tom Thibodeau turned to rookie first-round pick Jimmy Butler, who played disciplined team defense and added seven points and two steals in almost 21 minutes of action. The only truly confusing moment from Thibodeau and the Bulls came in the final minute of the game, where Ronnie Brewer fouled Carmelo Anthony when the Bulls had a 4-point lead and then declined to foul Melo on his final effort to tie the game in the final seconds. As John Schuhmann noted after the game, Thibs did not intend for the fouling to take such a nonsensical turn and cited a "miscommunication" with Ronnie Brewer.
The victory pushes the Bulls to an Eastern Conference best 19-6 record, while the Knicks fall to 8-14 overall.