Surprise Toronto. That's what a Rose looks like in January.


Jan 15

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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 its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

This could still turn out bad for the Bulls after Wednesday’s impressive 102-98 win in Toronto.

Joakim Noah made the play of his Bulls career, a straight on block of Raptors star Chris Bosh, who was attempting to tie the game after a knuckleheaded turnover by Kirk Hinrich. Hinrich, who was a crucial element of a new Bulls ball sharing offense that had an amazing 33 assists on 40 made baskets, inexplicably threw away an inbounds pass, virtually straight to Bosh with the Bulls ahead by two and 14 seconds left. Catch, make free throws, game over. Not for these Bulls.

With a chance to tie and send the game into overtime, the Raptors isolated their All-Star Bosh, who faced up on Noah, tried baseline first and then pump faked. But Noah didn’t bite. Finally, Bosh attempted his usually unerring jumper, and Noah got it. Luol Deng picked up it and finished the game with a pair of free throws.

“It was the last possession of the game and I know that he pump fakes a lot,” said Noah, who had eight points in 17 minutes. “I didn’t go for the first fake. I knew the shot clock was going down and I knew he was going to try and get it up. I got my hand on it and got the block. It feels great, it feels great to win and to be a part of it.”

So, yes, Hinrich probably owes Noah a dinner, and you know hanging around with free spirit Noah may not be a good thing for the new father from Iowa.

But it was a night to smile and enjoy as the Bulls got just their fifth road win in moving to 17-22 and just a game and a half out of eighth in the East. No, it’s no great accomplishment. But this Bulls team should remain in the running in the East the rest of the way.

As long as Derrick Rose remains healthy, that is.

Lots of good things happened for the Bulls Wednesday: Finally holding a team under 100 points, dominating in points in the paint, second chance points and offensive rebounds. The Bulls moved the ball as well as they have all season. Luol Deng back starting was aggressive with 16 points and 14 rebounds, Andres Nocioni added 16 off the bench and Hinrich a dozen and some spirited all around defense.

But this really was mostly about Rose, who was brilliant well beyond his 25 points—17 in the fourth quarter—with 10 assists and one turnover.

The “You Won’t Believe This” moment was with about 90 seconds left after Bosh drove hard off a screen for a layup to bring Toronto within 98-96. Rose took the ball upcourt and ran into a Raptors trap. So Rose passed to his left to Deng.

Hinrich, Nocioni and Ben Gordon were spaced out, and you could pretty much see nobody wanted the ball.

It was as if they were muttering, “Take us home, Derrick.”

Deng gave the ball back to Rose like it was a live hand grenade. Deng then ran over to set a screen.

“He was feeling it,” Deng said. “Just give him the ball and get out of the way.”

Rose took the brush screen, but it hardly cleared anyone away.

So Rose dribbled into the middle at Andrea Bargnani, who was a puzzle to the Bulls small lineup with a career high 31 points and 10 rebounds. Guard Roko Ukic was to Rose’s right and athletic Jamario Moon to Rose’s left with Bargnani blocking the middle.

Rose went left of Bargnani, was blocked, came around right, splitting Bargnani and Ukic. Rose then covered the ball with his left hand and ducked under the leaping Moon and came up with a scooping layup off the glass on the right side of the rim for a 100-96 Bulls lead with 1:15 left.

Absolutely, wow!

The Raptors then came out of a timeout to Bosh. Tyrus Thomas picked him up on a switch and did a nice job staying with Bosh on the drive with Deng helping on the backside, and Bosh missed. Nocioni then missed a 20 footer after a pass back from Rose, probably going too quickly as Anthony Parker got Toronto back within two on a driving layup with 29 seconds left.

That would have given Toronto a chance to play defense and perhaps get the ball back with enough time for a potential tying play. But they foolishly—it seemed then—fouled Rose with 14 seconds left, thus forcing Toronto to foul on the inbounds down two. Make two free throws and go home. The Bulls don’t make it easy.

Hinrich threw it almost directly to Bosh, somewhat reminiscent of his brain lapse in the sixth game of the 2005 playoffs in Washington.

“My fault,” said Hinrich. “I should have just called a timeout.”

But Noah bailed him out.

“I made a mistake,” said Bosh. “Joakim Noah played good defense and I need to keep my dribble next time. It won’t be the last time that we’re in a situation like that or I’m in a situation like that. I made the mistake of picking up my dribble after he cut off the baseline. I have to keep that in mind and capitalize next time. You just know (the clock) is ticking off and you want to get a shot off. When he (Noah) came out I should have just shot the ball, instead I pumped faked, hesitated just a little bit and I let him get back into the play.”

After Rose got his team back in the game.

“I was just trying to let it come,” said Rose, eight of nine in the fourth quarter. “I knew that me driving would open up a lot of things so I was just trying to get my teammates open.”

Simple, eh?

It sounds so from the unflappable Rose. But this was an epic performance, and perhaps the rudimentary beginning of some good stuff for the Bulls.

Larry Hughes, mercifully, was finally left on the bench, and—surprise!—the Bulls established a season high for assists.

Must have been a coincidence, eh?

It was a beautiful thing to watch the ball finally move around, four, five, six passes as the Raptors scrambled back and forth. Simple basketball. You move the ball and you move yourself, and the defense loses you and you get open shots, better lanes to the basket. So the Bulls ended up shooting 48.8 percent, and that with Ben Gordon having an uncharacteristically miserable night at four of 13 and two of nine on threes for 10 points. And most were the kind of good looks Ben usually makes. It happens.

But you can overcome that when the ball is moving and the defense is more active.

“We have got to try to play with a lot of energy,” said Deng. “I thought the last few games, standing around watching, we lacked a lot of energy. The one thing I want to put in my mind is to come back with a lot of energy. I’m trying to be more aggressive, trying to be active but mainly just trying to make a lot of plays out there with energy. I think we (with Hinrich) brought energy. I thought defensively we are still not there yet. But you can see everybody’s (improving) awareness, trying to talk on defense every possession. The awareness is a lot better. Our heads weren’t down the last two games.”

Because it’s much more fun as well to play hard instead of moping around feeling sorry for yourself that maybe you’re not the man, and some kid is upstaging you, and maybe you’re not playing enough and how are you going to get a better contract that way?

Play hard, win a few games, and life is a little better.

And so it seemed Wednesday despite Drew Gooden having to sit out with a bothersome groin. Coach Vinny Del Negro started Noah, and though Noah played well early, he didn’t play much until the end, which perhaps should begin to change with the improving effort he is giving.

Sure, Noah can be a pain at times. And he could use some directions to the weight room and the energy shakes but say this about him. He seems to be one of the guys on the team for whom winning does matter. Perhaps because he can’t get big offensive numbers. Now the question is whether he tires after an early run or the coach just thinks he does and takes him out. Though credit Del Negro for substituting Noah in for that last play against Bosh.

“We were going small big, small, big with Tyrus (Thomas) and Joakim,” said Del Negro. “I told Jo to stay down and he did a great job staying down on Chris and got the block. That was huge for us. I am very happy with the way that we won the game by getting a defensive stop and that is big for us.”

Noah also was very good to open the game, actually hooking up twice with Thomas on nice rolls to the basket for scores. The Bulls then had a terrific stretch in scoring field goals on six straight possessions to take a 20-10 lead, the final score when Rose attempted a lob to Noah and Bargnani tapped it into the Bulls basket.

It was at that point Del Negro took out Noah and Rose, and I hate to see that when things are going so well, especially to put in Aaron Gray. I like to ride hot streaks, though it wasn’t a disaster as the Bulls still came out of the quarter leading 27-18, though they failed to score on five of their last six possessions. These are young people. I think you can ride them when they are hot.

The Bulls were outplaying a casual Toronto team that is now 16-24 and one of the major disappointments of the season. Jose Calderon and Jermaine O’Neal remained out, and while the Raptors could use Calderon, the question is what they’ll do with the slothful O’Neal with Bargnani playing very well and obviously not a trading chip anymore. There’s little else of significance on the roster, and it doesn’t seem to be a much motivated team.

“We had a chance to win,” said Bargnani. “We can’t let teams like that jump on us in the first quarter. We could have won today against the Bulls. It’s not an easy game because they are a good team, but we have to win especially after two losses (to Boston).”

The second quarter didn’t follow as well for the Bulls, who began to revert to that stationary, stand around watching offense that is so excruciating. Along with some one-on-one dribbling by Deng and Gordon which everyone had a nice view of.

After taking a 34-21 lead behind a pair of Nocioni threes and a nice Thabo Sefolosha run out on a fast break, Toronto began to pound it to Bosh inside, and the Bulls curiously began doubling off Bargnani to help. So Bargnani, the team’s best shooter, fired in a few jumpers, and the Raptors were ahead 48-47 at halftime. Who’s got the scouting report?!

It was a nice halftime for the Bulls, or at least their traveling party.

Bulls radio voice received the John McLendon award for contributions to basketball as Swirsky was a hugely popular broadcaster for the Raptors for a decade.

Toronto seemed to gain control afterward by alternating Bosh and Bargnani against the smaller Bulls lineup as Thomas also went just 21 minutes and the Bulls mostly used Nocioni and Deng on the seven foot Bargnani. Known as a perimeter only threat, Bargnani made the Bulls pay by going inside.

“Chris has 25 and Andrea has 31. We can’t ask for much more from those guys,” said Toronto coach Jay Triano. “They played great. We pounded it as much as we could inside and scored but we couldn’t get the bucket when we needed it.”

Though perhaps the last Raptors bucket of the third to make it 71-68 Toronto saved the game for the Bulls.

Backup guard Ukic isolated Rose and blew by for a layup with no one coming to help.

Rose would never say so, and likely never declare his intentions. But he came out in the fourth quarter with the attitude of: “Oh, yeah? So you want to make me and my team look bad?”

“As we sat here in the pre-game talk, I said he is a great player,” recalled Triano of Rose. “The screen role was going to be difficult to guard and we tried switching it. We tried trapping it early and we tried making him go one way. If you trap it, they had four small guys out there that could shoot the three and that made it difficult for us to trap him late in the game. We tried to keep him in front but he is a very, very good player as we talked about.”

And Rose made it clear there was nothing they were going to do about it.

He came out of halftime driving right past the Raptors for a score and three-point play, and you said to yourself, “Finally. Enough with getting everyone involved.”

Sefolosha, who played just 13 minutes but had nine points, took a pass from Deng for a score as Sefolosha is generally moving, and then Nocioni drove for a score as the Raptors trapped Rose and the Bulls were back ahead 75-71.

“I think the passing was really good and Kirk really set the tone,” said Noah. “Defensively he was really aggressive and I think it really helped us. Lu did a great job, too, on the rebounds. I think that everybody came ready to play.”

It was a quarter to behold from there as Rose relentlessly drove around and through the Raptors for scores. The Raptors went into a zone, and it didn’t faze Rose, who pulled up for a jumper. But the Raptors got themselves a pair of threes in scoring in six straight possessions to take a 90-89 lead with 4:20 left.

But the Bulls were patient for a change and swung the ball around for a Gordon three, and after Will Solomon missed a driving layup, Rose took an upcourt pass and absolutely exploded by three Raptors for a layup and 94-90 lead with 3:27 left.

It looked very good for the Bulls when Deng played good defense in cutting off Bargnani on a drive and Hinrich was fouled and made a pair of free throws. But Bosh came back with two free throws, Gordon missed a wide open three and Parker drove to get the Raptors back within two before Rose stole the show and Noah preserved it.

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