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Rose and Bulls are jazzier again against Utah
by Sam Smith
Posted on Dec 21
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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or their Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors.
Watch out. Derrick Rose is back, and it could mean some better days ahead for the Bulls, who beat the Utah Jazz Saturday at the United Center 106-98.
So you say, where had he gone?
“I knew for a couple of games I have been kind of relaxed,” said Rose, who had 24 points, 10 in the fourth quarter as the Bulls came back from four down with about seven minutes left to pull away. “It’s aggressive from now on. If they stop me, that’s what my teammates are for. If they don’t and I get open I’m shooting a layup or jump shot.”
It’s something that’s been obvious to me for several weeks now while the Bulls hung around .500, though losing too many games to weak teams—that’s what others say when they lose to the Bulls, I know—in what should have been an easy part of the schedule.
I thought Rose has been too passive, looking to get teammates involved and waiting until late in the game to begin scoring. He is a rookie, after all, and there is a certain amount of deferring expected. But even the super rookie can’t turn it on and off quite like that. And, really, it’s unfair to ask the youngest, least experienced player on the team to be the focus of the offense, especially when he’s a point guard.
How much, after all, can you ask of a kid?
A lot from now on, Rose suggests.
That was one of two stories of this game as Ben Gordon had 26 points while Mehmet Okur had 23 for Utah and Paul Millsap 22. The win gave the Bulls a season sweep of the Jazz for just the second time in the last dozen years and moved their record to 13-14, 10-3 at home and 5-0 at home against Western Conference teams.
The other story is how the Bulls have to play and what, grudgingly, coach Vinny Del Negro is likely to do more and more this season, employing the guard oriented lineup he did virtually the entire fourth quarter with Rose, Gordon, Larry Hughes, Thabo Sefolosha and Andres Nocioni with Joakim Noah getting a few minutes in between.
It’s, in a sense, a reluctant acceptance of what this team is: One which is driven by Rose’s scoring and has to take advantage of its aggressive potential to open the court and play more a Phoenix Suns style ball.
Though Del Negro continues to protest that’s impossible to do on short notice and continues to start Aaron Gray, the team is likely to be most productive forcing the tempo and scrambling the game because there is no established system of defensive play and few lock down type defenders.
So the Bulls overcame an 11-point Jazz lead in the first quarter with smaller players. No, that doesn’t work all the time and shouldn’t have worked against the Jazz. But sometimes, as seemed the case Saturday, you lure teams into playing that style as the Suns often did.
“They outhustled us,” said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan. “We just took too many quick three-point shots and didn’t take advantage of our size. They got rebounds (surprising 42-33 edge) and got the ball down the floor quickly. If our threes didn’t go in (two of 11), you saw the track meet we got into. We shot our free throws well and could have gotten more if we were patient. We had mismatches inside, but had trouble getting the ball back inside and kept looking for threes. We had three offensive rebounds (on one possession) and got three three-point shots. We should have put the ball back (in play) and made them play defense. It’s little things like that.”
Indeed, it was surprising to see the Jazz with Mehmet Okur being guarded by the likes of Sefolosha and Nocioni or even Gordon on Andrei Kirilenko at times and not see them inside. Though neither really are classic post players and the Jazz’ best, Carlos Boozer, remained out and indications were he could be out for a considerable time with a quadriceps injury.
Still, the Jazz is a relentless inside screening team, and they appeared a little too impatient to take advantage of the open shots you get against the Bulls.
This often has been my point when you are at a disadvantage with size. Teams might try to exploit it with players not accustomed to posting up or attacking a smaller player inside and go away from what works best for them. For the Jazz, it’s generally patience. But the Bulls got them into a faster game, and it worked for the Bulls who had a 35-15 fast break edge and outscored the taller Jazz in the paint 54-42 thanks to the guards driving.
An aside on Sloan, who never changes and hasn’t since he never took a day off in the backcourt here almost 40 years ago.
The Jazz won in double overtime in Detroit Friday and couldn’t get out after the game because of bad weather. So they left Saturday morning in their third game in four nights. One of the Salt Lake City reporters wondered about the schedule being over taxing.
Sloan would have none of it, not surprisingly.
“Five cities in five days, you should be tired,” Sloan said about a schedule when he played. “Especially when you go East Coast to West Coast and back to East Coast (which Sloan’s Baltimore Bullets once did). I don’t like to hear people saying they are tired when they are getting paid to play basketball. Guys work eight to five. They don’t want to hear about guys being tired. I’m sorry. I’d like to be a lot more compassionate. A lot of people pay a lot of money to watch us play and they don’t like to hear about us being tired.”
And none of the Jazz players said they were. Though Deron Williams, whose ankle injury is not yet fully healed and had 19 points while being blown by often by Rose, did talk admiringly of Rose.
“He’s been doing it all season,” said Williams. “He’s a great player. He’s not playing like a rookie. I don’t think he’s a rookie anymore. He’s one of the best point guards in the league and he definitely took it over. He did it in Salt Lake City (25 points in a Bulls win) and he did it again today. He took over the game, especially down the stretch.”
It was Bulls trailing 89-85 with just over seven minutes left when Sefolosha rose up quickly for a three.
“That three was a big shot,” said Sefolosha, who took the time primarily of Luol Deng, who didn’t play the last 17 minutes. “I didn’t think. I took it and it went in for me. I was happy.”
Sefolosha was even happier to finally be playing again. Sefolosha played a season high 33 minutes and 43 seconds and had 10 points and four steals and hit two threes while playing good defense on the Jazz’s bigger players. Sefolosha got back in the rotation Friday in Boston with Tyrus Thomas and Drew Gooden hurt after playing a total of nine minutes in the previous 11 games.
“Stay ready,” said Sefolosha. “I know everybody says the same thing, but I keep working in practice. You’ve got to stay positive and keep doing your job. Of course (when you are not playing) you go home and say you wanted to play so much and felt you could help the team. It is frustrating, but you go back the next day and keep working.”
Though my favorite part was when Sefolosha picked up an offensive foul late in the first half and drew a technical foul.
I asked Sefolosha if that was his ferocious Swiss temper. I said I thought the Swiss were the peacemakers and neutral.
“I didn’t say nothing,” he said with a laugh. “I don’t know why I got that. I was a little upset by those fouls and I told him there was no foul. All those (peaceful thoughts) go out the window in a game.”
It generally was assumed Sefolosha wasn’t getting to play because Hughes was taking his time away and that Hughes was too much of a potential disruption to be benched. Plus, Hughes, who had 10 points Saturday, generally has shot the ball well of late. So Sefolosha as he returned to the rotation has been taking minutes away at forward from Deng, who had eight points and a steal in 25 early minutes.
It will be intriguing to watch, especially with Kirk Hinrich talking about a return within a month and Thomas having played better before his concussion. It’s not like the Bulls are taking All Stars out of the lineup. But part of the issue with the team’s makeup is most of the principal players are relatively equal in skill level though they do different things. And while Del Negro has tried to accommodate players when they seemed upset, he also has been quick to remove players from the floor when they didn’t perform as well. That could be one good reason for the team’s general refusal to give up on games.
After that Sefolosha three brought the Bulls within one, Rose shot by a retreating Kyle Korver and was fouled and made one free throw for the tie. Kirilenko, defended by Hughes, ran out after a Hughes deep corner miss with Kirilenko lost in transition defense, which has been a Bulls weakness. Nocioni matched his with an 18 footer, and after the Jazz got an illegal defense technical to take their last lead, Rose took over.
He drove and was fouled on a reverse attempt and made both, Okur committed a turnover, Rose scored on a driving bank shot and then Williams attacked but stayed to complain to the referees that he was fouled. Rose took off again in a hockey like rush and hit Nocioni who found Gordon for a three and 98-92 lead with four minutes left.
The Jazz came out of a timeout patient going to Okur for a score and foul and had their chances as Rose and Nocioni missed. But Nocioni drew a charge on Millsap and after the Jazz missed twice inside on the same possession, Rose snuck between Kirilenko and Millsap to steal a key rebound and found Hughes quickly upcourt for a drive and two free throws.
Williams then threw an inside pass attempt out of bounds and Gordon followed with a hard drive and foul, making one of two.
“We were aggressive getting into the lane,” said Gordon. “We took advantage of the small lineup. We have to play more like that. We were more aggressive getting into the lane and to the free throw line.”
Williams then missed on a drive and Gordon drove hard and was fouled again, making both to put the Bulls ahead 103-95 with 90 seconds left.
Rose effectively finished the scoring a minute later, though Gordon would add a free throw, flashing by Williams once again down the left side and scoring.
It’s seemed of late Rose has been concerned about trying to involve his teammates as much as possible and has come out in games passing and backing off. He hasn’t had that many assists, but there weren’t a lot of shots being hit. The Bulls Saturday had 16 assists on 41 baskets, which is not a good ratio as teams generally pine for ball movement to set up plays.
But I like to see at this stage Rose attacking the basket because it occupies the defense and frees the other players, much as Michael Jordan did. There are different ways to make your teammates better.
“On those high pick and rolls he has a tendency to go east to west (side to side),” said Del Negro. “When he makes that sharp turn with his explosiveness he can make people rotate. I thought in the second half he did a much better job attacking the basket. He was able to make plays and everyone stepped up.”
Actually, I could see the difference from the start with Rose though the Bulls got down quickly and the home crowd was murmuring after the blowout in Boston Friday
The Jazz was ahead 19-8 when Deng made a nice drive and kick to Nocioni for a three, Gordon drove and was fouled for a three-point play, Deng cut inside and scored on a good drive and pass from Sefolosha and Gordon ran out and slammed after a steal by Sefolosha and the Bulls were down back within 29-27 after one.
Joakim Noah had an aggressive run with eight second quarter rebounds as the Bulls trailed 52-51 at halftime and 79-78 after three as Gordon and Rose drove relentlessly in the third quarter and the Bulls did get away with a bit too much standing around. Though they often do that and if they do, it is better to attack the basket.
“I thought to myself awhile ago I need to start (going to the basket),” said Rose. “I’ve got my energy. We got the win. As long as we win it’s good.”