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Rose rocks and rolls in Cleveland
by Sam Smith
Posted on Dec 9
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Sure, Derrick Rose hit that three the other night to force overtime and save the Bulls against the Houston Rockets. And Rose carried the Bulls through the once feared Western road trip averaging about 30 a game.
On Wednesday night in Cleveland–snowing and miserable, which is the symbol on the city’s flag–in a game that will be little noted nor long remembered, Rose may finally have won the battle over whether he can be that closer, that MVP guy for the Bulls.
“He’s a blur,” lamented Cavs coach Byron Scott on the short end of his team’s best game in weeks, an 88-83 come from ahead loss to the Bulls. “Sometimes he lulls you to sleep, and then he goes right by you. He can go either way pretty effectively. He’s a big-time point guard.”
Rose finished with 29 points, eight assists and four rebounds, but it was how he finished that showed who he has become in his third season, probably the second best player in franchise history.
With the Bulls trailing by four with just over two minutes left, Rose, relentlessly trapped by the Cavs, scored seven of the team’s next nine points, including a get-out-of-my-way-I’m-winning-this-thing drive and three-point play with the Bulls trailing by a point with 20 seconds left.
Rose’s drive past Mo Williams and then hanging finish after colliding with Anderson Varejao and free throw gave the Bulls an 85-83 lead when Williams and Daniel Gibson missed on the next Cavs possession and Joakim Noah closed it out with the rebound, foul and two free throws.
But Rose’s beautiful finish only masked an ugly, uninspired effort that raised serious questions about the state of this Bulls team.
“I still can’t eat right now because of the way we played,” Rose said afterward. “My stomach is messed up with just the thought of us losing that game. It hurts. We can’t accept that, the way we played. We played terrible. I am really thankful to get this win.”
Look, any win on the road in the NBA is something of an accomplishment. There are no easy road games, though this was as close as you’d get. The Cavs, after their nationally televised humiliation by LeBron James and Miami, were working on five straight losses by an average of more than 20 per game, playing their fourth game in five nights after a road blowout loss in Philadelphia Tuesday, with half their players arriving minutes before the game because of a snowstorm and three new starters in the lineup.
So the Bulls start the game ahead 10-0, a Cavs team ready to surrender, and the Bulls pretty much pack it in with indifferent defense, slow play and a lot of jumpers they were admiring.
“I thought at the start of the game, we started off fine,” agreed Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “I thought, to their credit, they kept playing. They changed their lineup. It was more a pick-and-roll game. They spread us out pretty good. I didn’t like us offensively. I thought we played a low energy game. We didn’t get into transition. We didn’t get any easy scores, and when we did get opportunities, we didn’t convert.”
Sorry, but it was way more than that.
Thibodeau talks about the team needing to get out in transition, to run to score given the general lack of offensive players. And I agree.
But then he keeps starting Keith Bogans. I know Bogans only played about eight and a half minutes, but, c’mon, if you want to get in transition and play a pressure defense, you cannot start Bogans. The Bulls whine about slow starts, but then they have a starting lineup that doesn’t necessarily put any pressure on anyone.
As I’ve written, it’s not Bogans’ fault. He was brought in to be an emergency reserve. Make him one.
At least for now, get Ronnie Brewer in there to start.
Though Brewer doesn’t create on offense and doesn’t have great shooting range, he can help get the team in the open court with his defense. Remember, he has been among the league leaders in steals two of the last three seasons. He had six, one off his career high Wednesday in Cleveland, including two big ones with under two minutes left after the Bulls got within 80-78.
Brewer then tied the game after the first one on a putback of a Rose miss, though my favorite Brewer steal was this terrific swipe against Manny Harris in the open floor in the first half, a thing of beauty that was so deft and with sleight of hand it resembled a suave pickpocket.
Brewer almost had a most unusual triple double with nine points, eight rebounds and six steals. Sure, he’s playing the so called starters’ minutes, almost 30 Tuesday. But it’s time to use him to open the games and try to create that transition play this Bulls team needs to score. They just don’t have enough scorers, and they have to run to be effective.
Yet, the start leans more toward slower play, and you can’t even describe the lethargy that was Carlos Boozer Tuesday.
Though he’s had a couple of big offensive games of late, this is just his fifth game and he’s clearly not in full condition yet.
He was just awful Tuesday, not playing in the fourth quarter and finishing with four points and three rebounds in 21 minutes.
But it was worse than that as Boozer was matched with Jamison, who basically was responsible for getting the Cavs into the game in the first quarter, blowing past Boozer for scores and hitting the boards. At one point in the second quarter after the generally deliberate Jamison whizzed past Boozer for a slam dunk, a late helping Noah turned to Boozer and was yelling for him to get there.
“When you are out for so long and you miss training camp and the first 15 games you’re going to be behind a little bit,” conceded Boozer. “But everyday I get a little bit better, a little more comfortable on offense, a little more comfortable on defense. I got in foul trouble early, which took me out of the flow. I was more of a facilitator, trying to help my teammates in any way I can. They did a good job on me. I tried to get the ball to other people. Some nights are going to be like that. That’s why we play a team sport. Other guys pick you up when you are not having a good night.”
So Boozer gets a pass for now.
But it hurts him the Bulls have not been able to run because Boozer is good in the open floor. Also, though the Bulls tried to go to him in the post to open the game, Boozer clearly doesn’t have his stamina to hold the post position and seems, thus far, to be more comfortable playing away from the basket and facing up more.
You have to hope that will change, and it should given this is just five games in after being hurt for two months. As I’ve written, I probably wouldn’t even have been playing him yet if it were up to me. So give him that he’s willing to go through games like this to get more comfortable in the rotation.
But with Boozer eating up minutes as a starter and not consistent yet and Bogans occupying a place, it puts the Bulls in a potential hole to open every game.
That’s because they also are playing without their best perimeter threat, Kyle Korver, who was crucial to open the fourth quarter to get a dying Bulls team which was trailing by eight after three back into the game with the Bulls first 12 points of the quarter.
Korver had been scoreless on four shots through three quarters, but shooters shoot, and you have to go to him.
With a potentially dangerous (to the Bulls) lineup of Korver, Brewer, Taj Gibson, C.J Watson and Luol Deng to open the fourth, the Bulls found Korver popping out over screens in that little rub action he works with Brewer in which along the baseline they screen for one another and Korver pops the opposite way.
“The group at the start of the fourth quarter fought back and got us back in position,” said Thibodeau. “We were flat. They got some energy into the game. They got some stops and they got some scores.”
Korver was uncanny, which he can be when he gets hot. But the Bulls still couldn’t stop the Cavs enough, and I thought the key play, sort of the stand that said, “We are going to win this game!” came after Korver’s run closed with an 18 footer to bring the Bulls within 76-72 with 5:51 left.
Korver missed with a three after a Gibson miss, and Rose just refused to let the Cavs get the rebound. It was a case of willing himself for the ball, easily going over Williams and then up past seven footer Varejao, who gave Noah plenty of problems.
Noah had an active 13 points and 14 rebounds, but Varejao hit all seven of his shots with 17 points, more than doubling his season scoring average, and 12 rebounds, four on the offensive boards.
But Rose just had to have that rebound, and he nabbed it and then put the ball back in to get the Bulls within 76-74 with five minutes left.
“It feels good to win, but we are playing with fire,” said Noah. “I think it was definitely a low-energy game and we definitely didn’t play our best basketball. They played a hell of a game but we have to play with better effort.”
Rose then looked like he’d get the game even with a laser pass to an open Noah, who dropped the ball for a turnover. You were getting the feeling there was no way the Bulls playing that way were going to get this game. Especially after Williams shot a brick that hit the backboard and went in for a three. Jamison wiggled loose and was fouled after a Deng missed three, though the Bulls got a break when Jamison missed an open three as the Bulls remained small with Deng at four and Korver and Brewer on the wings.
It was then down 80-76 with about two minutes left that Rose took over the offense.
The Cavs troubles mostly have been selfish guards and forwards unable to translate Scott’s Princeton offense. But after Rose gave the Bulls an 82-80 lead with 46.9 seconds left on a driving and falling down bank, the Cavs executed a beautiful backdoor Princeton cut with Varejao slicing for the score as Noah was picked off. Rose tried to match with a foul line jumper that missed, and Varejao was fouled on a scramble. He made one of two for that Cavs 83-82 lead with 26.2 seconds left.
Just before Rose time, like Michael time or Kobe time or Bird time or Magic time or any of the big ones. The driving score and foul for the two point lead with 19.6 seconds left, effectively the clincher, was a thing of beauty and a force of will in a game where the Bulls had very few options.
They’d slowed down to a 21-15 first quarter lead and sleepwalked to a 41-35 halftime lead. Hello, guys! The traffic outside was at a standstill. Not inside.
How brutal was that? People actually braved a blizzard to see that?
Jamison, who led the Cavs with 21 back in a starting role, pretty much ran Boozer out of the game for good with 10 third quarter points as the Cavs took a 68-60 third quarter lead. The Cavs scored 33 in the third and shot 57 percent. The Bulls looked like witnesses once again.
Until Rose climbed the throne.
“There’s no denying it. We didn’t play our best basketball tonight,” acknowledged Noah. “Against the elite teams in the NBA, it’s not going to get it done. We are very happy we won on the road. They are tough. They have a lot of matchup problems for us. We are just happy Derrick put the team on this back again and made some huge plays for us down the stretch.”