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Bulls outshoot the Hoosiers
by Sam Smith
Posted on Jan 30
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You don’t usually have long conversations with Derrick Rose. So Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau wasn’t expecting much when he cornered Rose before Saturday’s 110-89 victory over the Indiana Pacers.
Rose had been diagnosed earlier this week with ulcers, and the pain hadn’t quite subsided. So Thibodeau just wanted to make sure. Yes, Thibodeau does live life one game at a time. He claimed after the game he still doesn’t know the Bulls record.
Shhh, don’t let him hear. It’s now 33-14 with their eighth win in the last nine and 17 of 22.
“Let me know if you’re not feeling well enough and I’ll get you out of there,” Thibodeau told Rose.
Rose looked up, nodded. “Okay,” he said.
Of course, there was no chance Thibodeau would hear from him again.
So then with the Bulls hanging onto a 77-72 lead to start the fourth quarter, Rose hit a spinning, driving banker for a 79-72 lead after a Kurt Thomas block, and then after a long, lazy James Posey miss, Rose crossed over A.J. Price on a dribble, losing him and pulling up for a 20 footer that gave the Bulls a nine point lead. And the Bulls were off from there to the blowout victory in what had been a close, tense game.
Rose finished with 20 points and seven assists, wincing his way through 35 minutes after 22 points in 38 minutes in Friday’s win over Orlando. So Rose, uncomfortable enough that he admitted before the game he’d be better off not playing, averaged 21 points, 9.5 assists, 4.5 rebounds and just 1.5 turnovers, including making all 11 of his free throws the last two games.
“He said it himself,” noted Luol Deng, who had 19 points, eight assists and six rebounds in what Thibodeau called another All-Star effort. “He sees himself as and old school kind of player. Stuff like is going to rub off on everyone. The next guy not feeling too well will play through it, which is really good for the team.”
There’s an old saw around the NBA, probably pro sports, about your best players. If they practice the hardest and work the hardest, you’ll be something as a team since others will follow. That’s in contrast with a team like, say, the Pacers, whose best player, Danny Granger, often plays indifferently, taking poor shots and long, unnecessary threes. He played 41 minutes Saturday with one assist.
“He (Rose) doesn’t want to miss games,” said Carlos Boozer, who led the Bulls with 24 points and 10 rebounds. “You guys heard him at the beginning of the season say he wants to be the MVP. MVPs don’t take days off.”
And they don’t settle, either.
Here’s a little thing, but what makes Rose the special kind of player.
The Bulls open a tough February Wednesday in Los Angeles against the Clippers.
The Bulls played the Clippers in the United Center Dec. 18 and lost when Rose had a chance to tie the game in regulation, but missed the second of two free throws. Free throwing had been something of an Achilles for the team. Rose didn’t say much. He just went to work.
Going into that game, Rose was shooting 76.1 percent on free throws and the team 70.2 percent.
Since that game, Rose has shot 86 percent on free throws and is now 82.6 percent for the season. Rose is 94 percent for the last five games and 92 percent the last 11 games. The team is 78 percent since that Clippers game, a respectable average that no longer costs games, to raise the overall season average to almost 73 percent.
That’s a big element of leadership. It is defined in many ways, but Rose exemplifies it for this Bulls team, though hardly only in his scoring or highlight plays. It’s in the toughness to battle through the odds, in the work ethic to constantly improve and do what’s necessary. And as Rose goes so goes everyone else. How can you not if you have any pride and competitiveness at all. And this group of Bulls players seems to.
No big deal. No need to broadcast it. Just do it!
“Kind of the same,” Rose offered with prodding about his aches. “A little sore. I came out kind of slow. I kind of took it easy before half time. In the second half, I tried to be aggressive, taking shots that they were giving me and they were just falling. Like I said, there is nothing to complain about right now. We’re winning.”
Just win, Pooh.
That’s what Saturday’s game was all about, not necessarily a colorful or artistic effort, but still a 20 points plus victory over a pretty good defensive team that ranks in the league’s top 10 and one that can get hot with its shooters and score.
But the Bulls outrebounded the league’s fifth best rebounding team 46-39—yes, still no Joakim Noah—and held the Pacers to 40.7 percent shooting after trailing by eight early and the game tied at 70 with four minutes left in the third quarter.
But Rose squeezed in a three to close that third quarter and then came out fast to move the Bulls into a tie with the Lakers for the league’s third best record.
“You knew they had a lot of young talent,” said Kyle Korver, who had a big game with 16 points off the bench, nine in the fourth quarter. “Booz, myself and Ronnie (Brewer) felt we were pieces who fit in well here. We weren’t maybe the elite superstars they were looking for, but we knew we were pieces that would fit well and I think that’s shown so far. It remains to be seen how good this team really can be. One of the good things is Jo’s (Noah) a piece who’s easily going to fit back in (around All-Star break) because of the way he plays, hustle and rebounding. I don’t think the adjustment process will be quite as long as it was with Booz. The future is bright, for sure.”
The Pacers, now 17-27, had a nice plan for the Bulls, putting the taller Roy Hibbert on Boozer and Josh McRoberts on Kurt Thomas. Boozer is known to have trouble with size, and he could only get two free throws while it wasn’t a great risk to play McRoberts on Thomas as Thomas doesn’t post up for a big man.
And it was working. The Bulls were having difficulty picking up McRoberts on defense on the crossmatch with Boozer and the Pacers took a 27-25 first quarter lead in a higher scoring game the Bulls don’t want to play with Indiana, especially without Noah.
“I was trying to get to free throw line, but it was one of those games,” said Boozer. “We had to grind it out. But we keep coming and tonight it happened to break for us in the fourth quarter.”
After a slow start Friday against Orlando, the Bulls got Deng into the game more quickly, and Deng has been showing a spark we’ve never seen from him. Yes, he is a better three point shooter, now 35 percent on the season though Rose has moved to the team lead in threes made. But Deng is driving and finishing strong at the basket, dunking the ball in traffic, drawing fouls.
One knock on Deng has been a tendency to go so called soft to the basket, flipping the ball up in a finesse game and getting it blocked. But Deng got into it right away with a fast break dunk and later in the quarter attacked the defense for free throws.
“That’s something I did not do well in the beginning of the year,” said Deng. “The last few games I’ve done a good job of attacking the rim and going in there aggressive.”
Korver got it going in the second quarter, which is vital for the Bulls without great perimeter shooting, hitting a pair of jumpers and even a driving baseline reverse. Though it’s the defense which carries this Bulls team, and it’s wonderful to watch it in action.
All it takes is hard work. Seems so easy, but you don’t see it that often. Yet, the Bulls carry it off with players often previously reviled for their defense, like Korver and Boozer.
Here was one example late in the second quarter with the Bulls grinding along ahead 47-42.
The Pacers had the ball out of bounds with Mike Dunleavy throwing in. He got it to Roy Hibbert, who screened Korver trying to catch Dunleavy. Kurt Thomas came out to help, so Dunleavy dropped it to Hibbert. Korver had dropped back to Hibbert and Thomas turned to recover. But seeing that, Boozer already had come from the weak side to get Hibbert. Hibbert passed the ball out of the post on top to Paul George, who rotated it into the right corner to Darren Collison. But Rose got back to protect against the shot and Collison passed inside to McRoberts. But Boozer had moved back and McRoberts missed an awkward baseline fade away with three Bulls in rebounding position.
Just a play, but it’s the way the Bulls play it virtually all game. Yes, Boozer did get burned some by McRoberts, who had a career high 20 points, and Boozer did have problems going into traffic against the size and doubles. Yet, he still gets 24 and 10 without much notice.
“Things weren’t going his way early,” said Thibodeau. “He kept plugging along and all of a sudden he gets on a roll.”
The Bulls led 55-51 at halftime with the Pacers attacking Rose with the double team, Rose going one of seven and then seven of 10 after halftime when he had to push.
McRoberts did get things going against Boozer in the third. So after McRoberts fifth basket of the quarter, Boozer did get a bit angry. He set up aggressively in the left post on a side pick and roll, slapping his thigh twice while looking at Rose as if saying, “Me! Now!” Boozer screened Collison and when Jeff Foster went to meet Rose, Boozer slid toward the basket and Rose hit him with a perfect pass for an angry slam dunk.
Another thing: Rose is a point guard! His passes are spot on, right where they need to be delivered where a shooter or scorer has the easiest time with them. It’s not as easy as you think, and not that the scoring point guards like Russell Westbrook, Ray Felton and Stephen Curry do. It’s about making is easy for your teammates.
The Bulls led 77-72 after three, and Rose got them started quickly.
But the Bulls suffered a frightening moment when Taj Gibson stepped on Brewer’s foot going to help on a drive and went down in agony in the fourth. It appeared to be the kind of serious sprain that could keep you out for weeks. Gibson writhed on the floor and was helped off, his right foot hanging limp as he was escorted to the locker room.
“I thought it was serious because it was in the same spot place I turned it a couple of weeks back,” said Gibson, “and the pain was way more worse. I was a little scared. I couldn’t put pressure on it I was nervous.”
But X-rays were negative and trainer Fred Tedeschi even said Gibson could have returned to the game. Gibson said he expects to play in L.A. Wednesday.
And by then a return was unnecessary as Korver was running that baseline screen like Reggie Miller with purpose. He curled off a screen for a jumper on a pass from Boozer for a 90-79 lead. Korver then circled past Deng and Boozer screens for another pull up that put the Bulls up 92-79 with just over six minutes left.
“Derrick Rose and Korver we couldn’t guard down the stretch,” Pacers coach Jim O’Brien said.
And the Pacers would soon melt down and out.
The Pacers trapped out on Rose, who dropped the ball to Deng at the free throw line. Deng feinted toward Boozer in the left post and then passed right to Brewer, who was diving from the right wing. McRoberts turned back, but he was too deep and Brewer dunked hard two handed in McRoberts face, McRoberts staggering backward like a boxer with jelly legs.
“Heat of the moment,” said Brewer of his exuberant reaction. “Plays like that kind of put a nail in the coffin. The momentum was on our side and we kind of did not back off after that. I was excited to be part of that play and get the win.”
Brewer was fouled and in shooting the free throw, McRoberts was initially ejected for pushing Boozer in what was called a “hostile act,” a new NBA flagrant definition, though it was later reversed to a flagrant foul while O’Brien also was ejected.
The Pacers all left soon thereafter.
“I blocked out and wasn’t trying to be hostile,” said McRoberts.
No, it was the Bulls who were doing the damage once again.