Houston, you had a Rose problem


Nov 17

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It’s now official. Derrick Rose is unguardable.

We kind of thought so before. But when Rose also makes the three-pointer, as he did three times in the fourth quarter Tuesday when he scored 17 of his 33 points in the Bulls’ 95-92 win over the Houston Rockets, it’s time to git along little doggies.

How ’bout them Bullies, now 6-3 on the season?

“Whatever it takes to win, I’ll try to go out and do it,” offered Rose, who dominated an 18-0 run to open the fourth quarter that was crucial in an exciting, if not always artistically played, game that had 13 lead changes, five ties and 43 turnovers combined. “They were leaving me open. The preseason helped me, where I was shooting four, five threes (per game). I just kept shooting the ball.”

And, darn, if it didn’t keep going in, a three to open the fourth with the Bulls trailing 71-63, another after one of two Omer Asik free throws, then after Luol Deng added a three one of those fullback drives, cupping the ball, taking the contact, hanging, scoring and actually getting a foul call.

“He was hitting tough shots,” agreed Kyle Korver, who had a terrific effort, as much of the bench did, with 10 points, six rebounds, four assists and three steals. “Those threes were tough, and then that cradle, he’s hanging in the air three seconds, incredible.

“I’ve watched a lot of point guards take over games,” noted Korver, who played with Deron Williams and Allen Iverson.

He didn’t want to slight anyone, but you could tell he was marveling.

Rose wasn’t done, though, while a Bulls reserve group with Korver, Asik and Ronnie Brewer joining Deng and Rose was thwarting every Houston offensive thrust.

Rose feathered in a teardrop from 12 feet and dribbled into a third three to give the Bulls an 81-71 lead with 7:37 left in the game.

“Derrick was Derrick; he was phenomenal,” agreed Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “Attack, attack, attack. When he’s like that he’s impossible to guard. He took control of the game and realized what needed to be done.”

Because with Rose picking up a fourth foul with 5:31 left in the third and the Bulls leading 60-58, the offense went dead for the rest of the quarter as the Rockets closed with a 13-3 run behind Luis Scola, who led Houston with 27 points.

It seemed Thibodeau, whose defensive schemes were terrific in bottling up the lately high scoring Rockets, almost made a fatal mistake earlier. In giving a foul at the end of the second quarter to limit the Rockets chance to score, he had Rose commit the foul, then Rose’s second.

But when Rose picked up two within three minutes midway through the third and had to leave, it almost meant doom.

Momma, don’t let your best babies give unnecessary fouls, I say.

“In hindsight, as I look back he had one foul. But we probably won’t do that in the future,” said Thibideau. “Some guys can play with fouls. Normally, he’s not in foul trouble. It’s a calculated risk. I thought the way the game was going we’d take a shot at it. It did not work.”

And the Bulls certainly couldn’t afford not to have a great Rose Tuesday and have a chance to win.

Joakim Noah had 12 points and nine rebounds, but wasn’t at his best and sat most of the fourth quarter for Asik. Deng shot just six for 21 in getting 16 points and 10 rebounds, but he was vital playing power forward most of the fourth quarter against Scola and fronting him on several late Rockets plays that went awry because of Deng’s aggressive defense. Taj Gibson was one of nine for two points on an unusually poor night and had to yield much of the defense of the wily Scola to Deng, who also is quicker and can deal better with Scola’s Kevin McHale-like head and shoulder fakes. And Keith Bogans left early in foul trouble and beating overwhelmed by Kevin Martin.

So it was left to Ronnie Brewer, Asik, Korver and C.J. Watson, and except for that stretch with Rose out late in the third, the reserves carried the water enough for Rose to enable the Bulls to drink from the cup of victory.

Geez, even I winced with that one.

But Texas can drive anyone to hyperbole and purple prose, if not also drive-in bar-b-que.

“It was a team effort,” agreed Noah. “Omer played big, affecting shots, Ronnie’s been playing really well, Kyle Korver rebounding. The bench was big. Derrick is going to do what he does. He’s been incredible for us all season, putting the team on his back. But the bench also deserves credit. The starters gave up a couple of leads, at the start, the beginning of the third, and the bench did a great job getting it back. Our bench really helped us win this game.”

It was a big win to go 6-3 on the nascent season as any victories are in Texas and on the annual November Western Conference trip. The Bulls hit the tougher Spurs Wednesday and Mavs Friday, a combined 15-3.

But Houston, though 3-6 and without Yao and Aaron Brooks, had won two straight and features the tough Scola, former Bull Brad Miller, who scored 21, and high scoring Martin, who was held to five for 15, mostly by Brewer’s tenacious play, for 18 points.

“I’ve seen a lot of defenses that tried to take me out of the game but I definitely have to rank that one (Chicago) as number one,” said Martin. “The head coach over there did a phenomenal job.”

No, Thibodeau isn’t quite a household name yet. Certainly not in Martin’s household. But the Bulls continue to respond to his coaching, outrebounding Houston 40-32, hitting eight of 12 threes and even making it difficult on themselves with just 15 of 28 free throws, for 53.6 percent. But they had a dozen steals, three each by Rose and Brewer, and made just enough plays down the stretch, the keys being a Korver rebound with 23.8 seconds left and clutch free throw shooting to close the game (We’ll make ‘em when we have to) by Noah and Deng.

“I thought we showed a lot of resilience,” said Thibodeau.

They also got some good fortune as two wild, seemingly last second Kyle Lowry desperation shots in the second half, one a three, were later overturned on replay, costing the Rockets five points.

“Love it, Love it,” Thibodeau cracked about the instant replay rulings. “Best thing (instant replay) that happened to this league.

“(Seriously), it was good fortune,” he said. “Those were two tough shots and it was fortunate those two things worked in our favor.”

It was an uneven start for the Bulls with Rose and Noah pretty much carrying them early. But that failure to get up on the three point shooters hurt early as Shane Battier hit three of them in the first quarter while Deng and Gibson were a combined one for 10. Gibson was being pushed out a bit farther on his shot and was missing it, and the offense looked confused.

On one play late in the first quarter the offense broke down so badly that everyone was almost stopped, leaving the Rockets waiting and getting called for a defensive three second. The Bulls got a point for being inept. Two sequences later, Rose got stripped by Martin as the spacing broke down and Rose was waving players away from him.

But one reason that kind of thing tends to happen against Houston is Battier probably is known as the best in the NBA at recognizing the opposing plays and calling them out to teammates before even the team gets set. Michael Jordan used to be expert at that. I recalled him once telling Gary Payton what play it was as Payton had trouble hearing the coach but Jordan saw the hand signal.

Battier reads those quicker than just about anyone in the NBA, and it was no coincidence the Bulls committed 20 turnovers for what is usually a losing 29 points. The Mavs Dirk Nowitzki also is one of the best at it and the Bulls see Dallas Friday.

Houston led 26-19 after one, but the Bulls regained control in a terrific second quarter led by nine points from Brewer, who played the rest of the half after Bogans went out after five minutes. Brewer is regaining his explosiveness, and is a tough cover inside along the baseline where he is adept at making strong moves.

Rose began to find him on baseline cuts and Brewer even posted up and made a few nice spin moves for scores. Also, Korver said in Utah he and Brewer never played together, but know one another’s moves from practicing together for so long and now coming off the bench together with the Bulls feel comfortable working together and Korver found Brewer with some nice passes in the first half.

Though Brewer did run out of gas late in his longest stint with the Bulls when he missed three free throws with 3:17 left and a seven point lead and followed that with a pair of turnovers as he fumbled Rose passes that enabled the Rockets to pull within 89-86 with 1:09 left.

But the Rockets’ missed with a chance to cut it to one as Korver cleared that last big rebound and the Bulls free throws closed it out.

I thought Rose, who also had seven assists, could have gone to the basket and created contact and perhaps drawn fouls to close the game then. But it’s hard to criticize a pass to a wide open teammate a few feet from the basket.

After all, Rose cannot score every point. He likes to see his friends do well, too.

Meanwhile, earlier the Bulls closed the second quarter on a 19-9 run, though the offense still was sputtering at times as Thibodeau got particularly annoyed with Noah who had an easy roll after a screen but flared away to the corner and Korver’s pass was picked off. Turnover for Korver, but as they say in football, the receiver ran the wrong way.

Noah hasn’t been quite as energetic lately with his third straight game of fewer than 10 rebounds, though he says he’s fine, and he always seems to be enjoying life.

“Sometimes the starters don’t do it,” he said.

Acually, Asik, who had six points and five rebounds and is a very good help defender and inside presence, has come on and without foul trouble this time was able to keep Noah on the bench in the fourth quarter until the last 3:21 as that group with only Rose and Deng among the starters outscored Houston 26-11.

“When Omer is on the floor, it’s harder (for them) to score,” said Thibodeau. “His rebounding is excellent, the effort to the offensive boards and defensively he brings a lot to the floor for us.”

In the plus/minus statistic which measures how the team does when you are on the floor, whether it scores or gives up more points, Asik was plus 16, tied with Brewer and just behind Korver at plus 23. So with Rose at plus six you know it’s a flawed statistic, though it means something.

“That group was functioning extremely well and I wanted to stay with it longer,” said Thibodeau. “With Lu at four, it opens the floor more for us. Defensively, he did a very good job fronting. He made it hard for them to get it into the post. I wanted to go with it as long as we had the lead, and then we went offense/defense the rest of the way.”

“The way I was shooting I had to do something,” laughed Deng.

It was no laughing matter after halftime as the starters again coughed up the lead with Houston opening behind Martin with a 16-6 spurt to take a 57-55 lead with seven minutes left in the third. And then when Rose went out two minutes later, Houston closed the quarter with an 8-0 run as C.J. Watson again struggled to run the offense.

And then came Rose, rested and ready to go with three three pointers and a three point play in the first four and a half minutes of the fourth.

“The game plan was to go under on pick and rolls,” said Battier. “He made us pay.”

That’s the book on Rose. Play off him because he can’t shoot. Well, we know he can, but the point is what else can you do?

“You get up on him and he goes right by you,” said Martin. “We were frustrated about that.”

“I was frustrated having to sit,” said Rose. “I was just hoping we’d keep it close. They got that eight point lead. When he put me back in the game, I guess I did what I was supposed to do.”

Well, few really ever are supposed to do things like that. Only the truly special ones.

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