NEW YORK — The Chicago Bulls courted free agent Carmelo Anthony over the summer, but when the star forward decided to return to the New York Knicks, the Bulls turned their attention to signing forward/center Pau Gasol.
In the Bulls’ 104-80 win over the New York Knicks in the season opener Wednesday at Madison Square Garden, Chicago’s newcomer made his mark. Gasol, a 13-year veteran who spent the last six-plus seasons with Los Angeles Lakers, scored 21 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. He shot 7-for-11 from the field.
“I thought this would be a good fit (with Chicago) for me based on my experience,” Gasol said. “I think I can to add what they have going on here. It’s a pretty young group, so they are hungry.
“It’s a great opportunity for me to take them to the next level.”
Gasol said of the choosing the Bulls in the offseason, “It was the most difficult decision of my career. I’m happy I’m here. Now I just have to focus on my team.”
The Bulls also received a lift from their All-Star guard, Derrick Rose. Playing in his first game in almost a year, Rose scored 13 points, dished out five assists and recorded two steals in 21 minutes.
Rose missed the final 71 games of last season after tearing the meniscus in his right knee, and he sat out the entire 2012-13 season recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. He was the 2010-11 NBA MVP.
Without their star player for most of the season, the Bulls still tied for the third-best record in the Eastern Conference last season at 48-34 before losing to the Washington Wizards in the first round of the playoffs.
After Chicago led 84-60 through three quarters in the season opener for both teams, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau decided to rest Rose in favor of guard Aaron Brooks, who finished with 13 points.
Rose said playing with Team USA over the summer helped him prepare for the opener.
“My emotions were the same,” he said. “USA Basketball did a good job of making sure my nerves weren’t too high. It led to me playing the way I normally play.”
Forward Taj Gibson led the Bulls with 22 points off the bench. Chicago’s subs contributed 55 points. Forward Doug McDermott, the NCAA player of the year while at Creighton last season, contributed 12 points for Chicago.
“In practice, we attack the first unit, and it shows,” Gibson said. “We push ourselves every day.”
The 24-point margin was the second-worst, season-opening loss in the 68-year history of the Knicks, and it ruined Derek Fisher’s debut as New York’s coach.
Forward Carmelo Anthony led the Knicks with 14 points, and center Amar’e Stoudemire added 12 points and eight rebounds.
Fisher, who retired after playing 18 years and winning five NBA titles, is charged with implementing Knicks president Phil Jackson’s triangle offense, which stresses ball movement.
Fisher was dealt a blow before the opening tip when newly acquired point guard Jose Calderon was a late scratch due to a strained right calf muscle. Calderon was replaced by Shane Larkin, a second-year pro out of Miami (Fla.) who scored six points.
Chicago dominated the second quarter and the second half. New York’s last lead was 20-18 at the end of the first quarter.
“We wanted to make a push in the third quarter, and they got their separation and we never recovered,” Knicks guard Iman Shumpert said. “We can’t die like that. I think our energy died, and we can’t do that.”
The Bulls increased their lead to 53-43 at the half. Gibson scored 10 of his 13 first-half points in the second quarter. Meanwhile, the Knicks’ offense went stagnant. Stoudemire and Anthony paced New York with eight points apiece in the half.
Rose was able to penetrate the lane, converting seven of his eight free throws in the half.
NOTES: Chicago G/F Jimmy Butler was out with a left thumb sprain. He was replaced in the starting lineup by Kirk Hinrich, who scored 12 points. … Knicks F/C Andrea Bargnani is expected to miss the first three games of the season because of a strained right hamstring. … The Knicks play seven games in nine days to open the season. … New York picked up the $1.3 million third-year option on G Tim Hardaway Jr. and now have five players with guaranteed deals next season. … The Bulls led the league in scoring defense last season, limiting opponents to 91.8 points per game. … Chicago F Doug McDermott is the fourth Wooden Award winner to go from college (Creighton) to the Bulls. He joins Michael Jordan (1984), Elton Brand (1999) and Jay Williams (2002).
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