Bulls make it 8 of 11 with double OT win over Wizards


Jan 16

Slowly, though perhaps steadily, the Bulls are turning into a team. That’s 8-3 now since they moved Kirk Hinrich and Taj Gibson into the starting lineup, since Tyrus Thomas returned from injury, the team’s second four-game winning streak in that span with Friday’s 121-119 double overtime victory over the Washington Wizards thanks to Derrick Rose’s game winning 10 footer in the lane with 5.4 seconds left.

Not long ago a team that routinely was collapsing down the stretch, unable to find enough points and big game players, uncertain and uneven, the Bulls go into their final Western Conference trip of the season averaging 108 per game the last six games and with Rose officially a closer as he finished off Friday with a career high 37 points.

“Usually we were always a team that let it slip toward the end if we were in a close game,” said Rose, who rimmed out a potential game winner at the end of regulation. “It shows how much we’re improving and we’ll get better. These are the type of games you dream about when you are younger. I’m playing in my hometown, so everybody is standing up cheering. I’ve got the ball in my hand and everybody is looking at you and seeing what you are going to do. You hit the shot. It’s crazy. I really couldn’t believe it. I don’t show no emotion anyway, but I was happy. I think I missed like 20 something of these to lose games, too. To hit this one told me I’ve come a long way.”

And maybe, finally, so have the Bulls, now 18-20.

They got still another relentless effort from an admittedly “gassed” Joakim Noah with 17 points and 15 rebounds and rugged combat with Wizards center Brendan Haywood, who had 16 points and 20 rebounds and outweighs Noah by maybe 50 pounds.

“He’s definitely heavy,” said Noah, who made all seven of his free throws with pressure ones at the end of regulation and one late in the second overtime. “He’s always leaning and putting a body on you.

In the beginning of the game he was a nice guy. At the end there was nothing nice about him.”

John Salmons, after a scoreless first half, had the game tying drive and layup in the first overtime, a tough move with 14 seconds left to save the game as Salmons had to cradle the ball to keep it from Wizards hacking at it and finished over Haywood.

And Kirk Hinrich scored 19 points, but made some big defensive plays down the stretch on Randy Foye with big assists from Luol Deng, who was so aggressive on overplays of Wizards leading scorer Jamison that the Wizards first option broke down almost every time in a game with 29 ties and 22 lead changes. So Foye, who had 22 points, ended up trying and failing to beat Hinrich with potential game winners at the end of both overtimes.

“I tried to deny him (Jamison) the ball,” said Deng, who added 17 points. “I wanted to make it hard for them to get him the ball and take time off the clock. Kirk did a good job. They kept coming at Kirk and he kept stopping them. We’re starting to feel better about ourselves and I think we’re playing together and that’s the key thing.”

It was a heck of an effort and a terrific game, or, at least, finish, the kind of game you sat there thinking there was no way the Bulls would win because you’ve seen them lose so many of these.

The Wizards, of course, with Gilbert Arenas’ felony gun possession guilty plea earlier Friday, were in what coach Flip Saunders called before the game a “surreal” state with players called all week to testify before a grand jury and meet with prosecutors and lawyers. Normally a jovial locker room, the Wizards’, predictably, was quiet and the players mostly remote.

The pro’s pro of the group and unofficial spokesman has been Jamison, who said afterward, “It doesn’t matter what’s going on off the court. It just matters what (happen) on the court. Off the court doesn’t affect us at all. We’re out there playing hard, but we’re just coming up short.”

Obviously, that cannot be true, though the players apparently agreed, according to people around the team, to deal only in stock answers. I feel badly for Jamison, who is a class guy and having an All Star season despite the Wizards being 12-26.

When I was president of the Professional Basketball Writers Association I helped inaugurate an award, which we named the “Magic Johnson Award,” to celebrate something of the writers’ perfect player, the player who was excellent on the court and always professional and cooperative with media and fans. Jamison was one of the first recipients of the award, which has included the likes of Ray Allen, Grant Hill, Brandon Roy and Elton Brand, the classic good guys/good players.

Jamison had 34 points and 18 rebounds in playing 55 minutes Friday, though Deng did a terrific job in holding him to four points and just two shots in the two overtimes combined.

It was that kind of effort for the Bulls, who were coming off one of the biggest wins of the season the night before in Boston, a comfortable victory over the Celtics. Washington was resting back in Chicago, and with Jamison, Caron Butler and Foye the Wizards can score on anyone and have been one of the hard luck teams of the league with seven losses of three points or fewer.

“Sometimes people underestimate teams because of their record,” said Noah. “They have a lot of talent on their team and a lot of offensive firepower.”

I know Noah didn’t mean the double entendre connected to Arenas and his firepower which has gotten him into so much trouble.

It’s been a Murphy’s Law season for the Wizards: Whatever can go wrong will go wrong.

“Maybe one of those seasons,” an exasperated Wizards coach Flip Saunders shrugged after the Wizards outrebounded the Bulls, had more assists and shot about the same and had the ball with last shots to win at the end of both overtimes.

Regulation ended with the Wizards blowing a chance for the last shot when Butler was angling for a last shot and lost the ball to an aggressive Hinrich, who dived on it and called time.

With 5.1 seconds left the Bulls set up a final shot for Rose on an isolation. He went to his favorite left elbow spot from about 18 feet and the ball spun in and out.

“I wanted that one to do in so bad,” said Rose, whose eventual game winner was his first as a Bull in a game in which he attempted 33 shots. “A jump shot it would have been great. I thought it was in. I faded away and (said) ‘It was in.’ When it came out it hurt.”

In the first overtime, Foye hit a pair of jumpers and Jamison another as Washington took a 112-110 lead with 41 seconds left. It didn’t look good when Hinrich drove and almost at the rim passed back to no one for some reason and a turnover, Deng missed a wide open 20 footer, and then down two with 30 seconds left it appeared Rose lost the ball out of bounds. But it actually went off Haywood and the referees went to instant replay and reversed the call.

“I knew it was their ball,” said Jamison. “I knew the ball went off my leg and he didn’t touch it. I was hoping we could just take it down the court but when they stopped the play I thought, ‘Hmmmmm, we’re not going to get this.’”

Salmons then hit his tough drive to tie the score with 14 seconds left and Foye missed a 20 footer with Hinrich in his face with about a second left. The Bulls tried a lob at the basket and got no shot.

Second overtime.

Washington went up again, a pattern that went on pretty much all game as it always seemed it was about to get away from the Bulls. The Bulls played just the starters and Salmons for Gibson all the way in both overtimes with Rose playing 50 minutes, Deng 46, Hinrich 44 and Noah 43.

Jamison and Foye were fouled and made free throws and Foye hit a 20 footer with two minutes left to give Washington a 118-116 lead after the Bulls did a bad job spreading the floor and Rose dribbled into a crowd and a turnover. Rose then missed from 18 feet, but DeShawn Stevenson dropped a Jamison pass out of bounds.

Deng, who had been mostly quiet offensively, came on with a hard drive up the middle and pull up short jumper for a score. Noah was setting a screen deep and drew a foul when Haywood pushed him out of the way for a three point play to give the Bulls a 119-118 lead with 1:11 left.

Salmons forced Foye into a miss on a switch, but Rose missed a wild reverse along the baseline. Haywood was fouled and made one of two, setting up Rose to make that step back drive move and short jumper he’s become so proficient at for the win.

“I’ve been doing that move since college,” said Rose. “If I want to go a certain way and they play me a certain way, I got to spin and I got a nice little floater. I was just being aggressive, making sure their big men had to step up and contest my jump shot or floater instead of just standing back there. Usually I used to think of what move I’d have to make. Now I’m just letting it come to me.

It’s impressive right now, this win. Somehow we pulled it out.”

But not before Foye got a jumper along the right baseline that Hinrich contested. It came up short and the game ended just before Haywood could put it back in.

“Big time players make big time plays,” said Haywood. “Derrick Rose is young, but he’s a big time player in this league. Down the stretch, there’s nothing you can do when the point guard gets to his spot, raises up and is basically shooting jump hooks. That’s tough, because he’s so big, he’s so strong, he’s so powerful, that when he gets to his spot it’s one of those things: Is he going to hit it or is he going to miss it? Down the stretch, he’s going to hit it.”

This time, at least.

It wasn’t a classic effort as the Bulls came out sluggishly, tough not falling well behind as they have so often at home this season.

“Back to backs. I don’t think the people who are in their seats don’t understand what backs to backs are,” said Noah “Everyone in the NBA has to do it, but it takes a toll on your body when you are playing games like that. I had nothing left in the tank. I‘m just happy we got the win at the end.”

The Bulls did lead 26-24 after one, though there were awful signs from the bench as James Johnson committed a series of gaffes in a three minute stretch and never got back in and Tyrus Thomas was standing around watching so much you’d thought they’d charge him admission. Until Thomas had a block with three seconds left in the first half he’d played 13 minutes without anything in the box score, a foul, a shot, a rebound, an assist, steal or turnover. It’s what called 13 trillion in the NBA for the minutes played and all zeros in the box score.

It was no surprise, then, when Taj Gibson picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter coach Vinny Del Negro went with Salmons instead of Thomas and moved Deng to power forward, which you can do against Jamison.

The Wizards led 48-47 at halftime as Jamison had 17 and Butler 15 and the Bulls bench was zero for five with only Brad Miller showing any life with seven of eight free throws.

Thomas did revive some when he got back in later in the third quarter with a hustling rebound that led to a Hinrich three, though Washington got hot late to pull ahead 77-74 after three.

“These games are hard,” said Rose. “You come in and you’re on cloud nine because you beat a good team and teams like this can come in and beat you and crush everything because they got great players. They’re the type of team that has a lot of scorers and can put you away.”

Washington surged early to open the fourth quarter as tiny Earl Boykins blitzed Jannero Pargo and Washington went up 85-78. The Bulls cane back impressively with a Rose driving three point play, another for Noah on a nice cut and Rose pass and then Rose on one of his full court one man fast breaks weaving like Crazy Legs Hirsch for a score. That’s OK, look it up. Best nickname in sports.

That gave the Bulls a 90-86 lead with 7:38 left, and the Wizards continued a trend as Haywood missed a pair of free throws, the Wizards 20 of 30 at the line fatal in the end. But the Wizards, an explosive shooting team (sorry, but we’re always going to be thinking gun references with them now) turned smokin’ hot again with more of those Jamison leaners and when Jamison added a three they led 97-93 with three minutes left. Trouble.

Rose and Salmons sandwiched a Foye miss with drives for foul shots, each making one of two. Jamison flipped another one in amidst his indescribable array of shots to go ahead 99-95 with 2:29 left.

Hinrich, three of six on threes and 12 of 27 the last five games, rattled one in on a nice set up from Deng to bring the Bulls back from the ledge. Jamison missed and Rose missed. But Noah saved the ball and Rose put the Bulls ahead 100-99 with 1:29 left with a 17 footer.

“I felt like we all were really fighting and we were really tired,” said Noah. “But it was a good sign nobody gave up and we really fought to the end and Derrick was huge for us down the stretch. Those shots he is hitting are great. If teams are going to play (off him) like that and force him into shots he is proving on a nightly basis he can hit it.”

The Bulls have freed Rose up better of late as well by going less to that predictable high screen roll and using more isolation on top of the floor, which makes it harder to bring a double team.

“My whole life, Memphis, everything, is isolation plays,” said Rose. “I know how to score in them. I had to get used to the pick and roll.”

Stevenson immediately fired in a three from the right corner as Butler sucked the defense in on a drive and pitched out. Noah then hurtled inside, was fouled and calmly swirled his tornado free throw through twice to tie the game.

“Big plays down the stretch from everybody, guys from their side and guys from our side,” said Haywood.

This was getting exciting.

Butler swished a 20 footer for a 104-102 lead with 33 seconds left. The Bulls came out of a timeout to Rose, who drove, was blocked, retrieved his own miss and floated outside for a 13 footer to tie it again at 104 with 26.2 second left. Butler then coughed up the ball driving right and Hinrich jumped on it, saving a last shot for Rose.

Some 20 minutes later he’d get another to win it.

“Both teams were battling,” said Del Negro. “I give Washington a lot of credit. They have gone through some difficult things in the last couple of weeks. They played extremely hard. Jamison and Butler are very hard covers. Haywood was very active for them. Our guys battled and they found a way. Fortunately we made one more play than they did. It could have gone either way.”

But now it seems to be going the Bulls way. We’ll know over the next two weeks on the road out west if it’s for real.

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