Rose, Bulls rise like a Phoenix in Arizona


Jan 23

How ‘bout dem Bulls?

“They outplayed us and deserved to win,” said Suns All-Star point guard Steve Nash, who was dominated by Derrick Rose’s offnese and Kirk Hinrich’s defense in a 115-104 Bulls win Friday.  “They were  better than us. Take your hat off and congratulate (them) on a  wonderful performance.”

Yes, the 19-22 Bulls, who had just lost the first two games of this Western Conference road trip to Golden State and the Clippers.

But behind Rose’s 32 points and a dunk John Salmons called one of the 10 best in NBA history, a terrific defensive effort on Nash and wonderful defensive game plan, and some amazingly accurate shooting from Rose, Salmons and Luol Deng, the Bulls on the national ESPN game played one of their best games of the season in beating the 25-19 Suns.

“I wish there was that perfect (game) button you could push,” said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro.

There are no perfect games, but this one was about as good as it gets for this Bulls team, shooting 50.6 percent and almost 60 percent in the first half.

“I think Chicago did the unexpected and hit shots,” said Amar’e Stoudemire, who led the Suns with 23 points while adding  a puny five rebounds and almost switching to help on defense, but not quite. “They’re not known as a great shooting team and came out tonight hitting shots. We had to make an adjustment and try to run off their shots in the second half. But once they got it going, it was tough to turn them off.”

The Bulls held the Suns, the league’s best shooting team, to 38.5 percent shooting while the Bulls also shot 82 percent on free throws, including nine of 10 from Joakim Noah. Noah battled foul trouble, but finished with 19 points and eight rebounds and several jumpers which Stoudemire viewed from several feet away.

“Joakim Noah even hit a few jumpers tonight,” complained Stoudemire. “Some nights you get games like that where guys are really up to play and they hit shots.”

Actually, Noah has become a pretty competent jump shooter with his side spinning “tornado” shot and is shooting an impressive 77.3 percent on free throws.

But what was most impressive was Rose, who looked like Ray Allen shooting jumpers in the first half (nine of 11 as the Bulls led 64-54) that barely rippled the net. And then he looked like Dominique Wilkins in the second half with a jumper he overshot that banked in (‘Nique did that a lot) and a two handed tomahawk slam dunk that blunted a Suns late rally and effectively ended the game in giving the Bulls a 99-91 lead with about six minutes left.

“We were talking (in the locker room after the game),” said Salmons with a laugh. “That just knocked somebody out of the top 10 all time greatest dunks ever.”

It came after Salmons hit two big jumpers when the Suns pulled within 92-89 with about 10 minutes left. There was a three-minute gap then of frenzied basketball with the Suns missing on several offensive rebound chances as the Bulls closed with blocks, one each from Taj Gibson, Tyrus Thomas and Salmons. Finally, Salmons dribbled into a pullup jumper for a five point lead. Jason Richardson answered with an alley oop slam dunk that got the arena howling.

Salmons, who missed the last game with stomach flu, then punched in a big three. Reserve guard Goran Dragic missed a three and Thomas got the long rebound and pitched ahead to a streaking Rose with Dragic chasing.

Rose could feel Dragic trying to come up and foul, so Rose just powered up and launched himself like he was blasting off to take the Shuttle into space and dunked with two hands and was fouled, the usually impassive Rose screaming as the crowd gasped and quieted.

“I was on the side I’m a good leaper, off the right hand side when I jump with two (hands),” said Rose. “I guess I got up pretty high.”

I think he got one of those tee shirts they drop from the areas ceilings during timeouts on the way down.

The Suns would get within three again on a Channing Frye three as he broke out of a slump with 16 points. But Salmons then hit another big pullup on a drive (he shot six of nine and had 14 points) and Rose stripped a driving Nash and ran out and was fouled, making one of two. Noah then fronted Stoudemire, and the Bulls were late on the rotation and Stoudemire dunked to bring the Suns within 103-99.

But Noah rolled toward the basket as the Suns doubled Rose on the pick and roll and Noah was fouled, making both. Noah then blocked a Stoudemire drive and got a big rebound in traffic when Frye missed a three. Deng then lined in a 20 footer, and Hinrich again smothered Nash, leading to a turnover.

And this was the kind of amazing game it was for Rose, who earlier in the third quarter hit that three off the backboard straight on. This time Rose faked and drew Nash into a foul, which wasn’t called as Rose off balance pushed off a 20 footer that went in for a 109-99 lead with 1:13 left and mass arena exodus.

“I was just shooting,” said Rose. “I’ve been working on it the whole summer, after practice, before practice, just working on my form, getting the ball up and it’s been going down.”

It was a big night in many ways for Rose, who had his fourth game of at least 30 points in the last month on a night he was among 10 NBA players from the Wasserman Media Group, his agents, who pledged $1,000 for every point he scored Friday night to the Bush/Clinton fund for Haitian relief.

“They need it right now,” Rose said. “The Haiti people, I feel for them. I’m happy that I gave it to them.”

The others included Pau Gasol Joe Johnson, Tyreke Evans, Spencer Hawes, Antawn Jamison Mike Miller,  Kendrick Perkins and Russell Westbrook.

Rose was animated about that and the possibilities in a national TV game and his second 30-plus game in a week of being voted by the coaches as an All-Star reserve. The results will be announced Thursday.

“I hope so,” Rose said. “It would be an honor (to make the All-Star team). I’d be speechless. My family would be happy. I know Chicago would be happy.”

Chicago is probably just relieved now, at least Bulls fans, the team won’t go 0-7 on this road trip and gained a bit of breathing room on the final playoff spot as the Bulls moved two games up on ninth place Milwaukee at 19-22.

But the team wasn’t due into Houston given the late ESPN game Friday until after 4 a.m. for Saturday’s game.

“We’ll take this one and jump it up and try to recoup some of the energy we had tonight,” said Del Negro, now 3-0 over the Suns since he left the organization to coach the Bulls.

And it’s a bit of a walking wounded team with Hinrich and Salmons admitting they were a bit tired from their bouts with the flu and Noah joining Gibson in the post game locker room with their feet in buckets of ice, now both with cases of planter fascitis. And Gibson’s  back and below was awfully sore from a hard fall he took grabbing a rebound and being undercut.

“Joakim, you could see him hobbling and limping a little,” said Del Negro. “He’s got that plantar fascitis like Taj. Hopefully he can stretch that out and we can get therapy on it because we need that for sure.”

The losses to the Warriors and Clippers showed just how thin the Bulls margin is. Tyrus Thomas, for the most part, played poorly, shooting one of seven, though he had seven rebounds and a pair of blocks. But he takes the defense out of position so much the way he hunts out blocks at times. He left Frye several times for wide open threes as basically everyone in the NBA has played up on Frye lately because he can’t do much else. And Thomas so often takes the guard on the switch without letting his guard fight over the top because Thomas seems to like guarding on top, perhaps to show he should be the small forward he wants to be. So usually he gets beat and Deng often jumped into help and was getting beat on corner threes.

But overall, the Bulls had an excellent plan, and the defense was sharp and smart.

Nash, obviously, makes the Suns go, and Hinrich, who added 14 points and five assists and hit a pair of threes, did as good a job on Nash as you can as Nash was held to eight points and seven assists and made five turnovers.

“You try not to let him get a full head of steam at you,” said Hinrich. “You try to pick him up early and throw his initial thrust down, and that helps a lot. Then after that you might have to play four or five pick and rolls in one possession. But the whole team did a good job of focusing in on what we were trying to do.”

That was giving help once Nash got to the paint. He’s always moving and Stoudemire lives off his pick and roll passes. But Hinrich stayed up and bothered him and pushed Nash toward the help, where Noah and Gibson were able to jump out at Nash to help with backside protection when Stoudemire broke toward the basket.

It’s the classic way defense is supposed to be played, sort of the five-guys-on-a-string theory, and the Bulls did a heck of a job at it.

“Kirk does a great job on me defensively,” says Nash.

And of Rose, Nash added: “He’s going to get better and better. On any given night like tonight he can play at a level few players can play at.”

That was on display early as Rose’s shot was a thing of beauty and the Bulls were moving the ball well. Hinrich threw a lob up to Rose for a slam dunk to tie the game at 10. The Bulls shot 62.5 percent in the first quarter in taking a 35-26 lead.

“We just really never got them to slow down,” said Suns coach Alvin Gentry.  “They made a ton of shots.  They were shooting 50 percent a lot of the game. They were in the mid 50’s, close to the 60’s.  I thought they made some tough shots with Rose and the three-point shot at the top. That even surprised him.  You have to give them all the credit. They came in and beat us.  It wasn’t anything that happened other than the fact that they made their shots (and) executed down the stretch. They were a better team.”

The Suns tied it at 41 midway through the second with a brutal stretch of reserve play with James Johnson dribbling off his foot and shooting an air ball and getting a quick hook and not returning. But Rose and Hinrich hit shots every time the Suns did anything and the Bulls went back ahead 64-54 at halftime. Rose, Hinrich, Deng and Noah were a combined 22 for 33 in the first half.

“Our game plan was to make them jump shooters and keep them out of the paint,” said Grant Hill. “For the most part, we did. And for the most part, they made their shots.”

The Suns came back in the third as the long halftime break for ESPN TV cooled off the Bulls shooters. Rose did hit that bank shot and did the Jordan shrug, saying he hadn’t shot one that far off since the Kansas game in college. Deng, who had 23 points and one more rebound than Stoudemire, got inside Stoudemire on a Brad Miller miss and put the ball back to help hold off the Suns as the Bulls shooters were going flat in the third.

Hill hit a pair of threes as Deng helped in the lane on penetration, and then Deng added his own three after the Suns tied it at 79. The Suns played zone much of that third quarter and it seemed to bother the Bulls, who didn’t do a very good job attacking it, and Phoenix pulled ahead 83-82 on a Stoudemire follow with 51 seconds left in the third.

“We played help defense, got some loose balls and held them off,” said Rose.

Salmons then hit another key shot, a three, and after Nash missed on  a reverse, Rose lofted in a long three to end the third quarter with the Bulls ahead 88-83.

Deng opened the fourth with a hard drive for a score and foul and emotional fist pump as the Bulls were beginning to taste that rare road win. But Noah committed his fifth foul jumping into Jared Dudley shooting a three, and when Dragic hit a three two minutes into the fourth quarter, Del Negro rushed Rose back into the game instead of giving him his usual four or five minutes off to start the fourth. And Rose was rested enough to soon jump over the moon.

“That (Rose) dunk was terrible,” joked Noah in a light Bulls locker room afterward. “I don’t understand what the hype about it was.

“No, that was a crazy dunk,” Noah went on. “He got his first body. We call that first body (posterizing someone). He got his first body, D. Rose. This was a huge win, a huge team effort. D. Rose was huge for us. He took that matchup (with Nash) really personally and he’s proving he’s one of the best point guards in the league when he’s healthy. He led us tonight. They tried to trap him with high pick and roll and it opened the floor for everyone else. When he’s healthy he’s one of the top point guards in the NBA.”

The Bulls would not fall behind again as the Suns would have a lead, no more than two points, for less than two minutes in the game.

“As of late we have been playing a lot better offensively,” said Hinrich. “We got off to a bit of a slow start this year but we did a good job tonight. We played at a good tempo and shared the ball well.”

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