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Bulls and Rose get some payback against Clippers

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Feb 3

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That was like Michael Jordan for Derrick Rose Wednesday in the Bulls 106-88 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.

I know, I know. No one is supposed to do that. No comparisons to Jordan. Not fair. And, anyway, Jordan never missed a shot in his career and showed every fan to their seat and popped the corn before every game he ever played, so there cannot be any comparisons.

But in Rose’s Hall of Fame induction speech, I assume he’s going to credit the Clippers and Dec. 18, 2010 for motivating him.

“They beat us last time and I wanted revenge,” said Rose of the game last month when he missed a free throw with under a second that could have sent the game into overtime.  ”It was because of me that we lost because I missed a free throw and that really hurt me. If anything it really made me stronger as a player, but in these types of games you never want to be in that type of situation where a free throw is the reason why you lose a game. We just tried to come out here and be aggressive from the beginning and take control of the game.”

To be accurate, Rose scored 34 points in that game and without him the Bulls probably lose by 40.

But it’s a better story if he cost the team that game, then quietly seething for a month like Jordan would have done over some perceived failure that no one much remembered but him and then coming out the next time against that team and taking the game away from the beginning.

Which is pretty much what Rose did in a game the Clippers, riding a nine-game home winning streak, never led.

Rose scored 13 first quarter points, including three pointers on three straight shots, as the Bulls led 28-23 after one quarter, by six at halftime and then opened the game up with a 13-5 start to the third quarter. The game never really was close after that despite 32 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists from Blake Griffin.

Rose had 32 points and 11 assists, Luol Deng added 26 and Taj Gibson was big off the bench and defending Griffin in grabbing a team high 12 rebounds.

“I thought offensively we were really good,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau of the Bulls 51.3 percent shooting and a season high 12 three pointers. “I thought our rebounding was very good (41-30) and I thought we shared the ball very well (27 assists on 40 baskets). The second half, I thought our defense was even better. I thought [the Clippers] made some tough shots, but overall we came out with a very good win.”

And, yes, Deng was very good as was Gibson. Carlos Boozer had a quiet 16 and 10, though he never got to the free throw line, and C.J. Watson had a good run with nine points and a pair of threes in 10 minutes.

But it was a Rose payback that was the difference with a wonderful first half duel between Rose and Griffin, the latter the budding Clipper superstar with 25 in the first half.

“[The Clippers] are a really good team and Griffin is a great player,” said Thibodeau. “I just think Derrick was excellent. He’s (Rose) never satisfied. He wants the team to do well. He’s always driving himself to get better. I thought he had great command during this game.  The way he started off the game really set the tone for us as a team.”

It really was special stuff as Rose, who tends to wade into the game in the first half, came out flying, attacking, drawing the defense and finding teammates, shooting when the Clippers backed into the lane or went under screens.

Rose is so good he can play half games and still average 25 points. It’s one reason the Bulls tend to have slow starts as Rose often surveys the defense, tries to get his teammates more involved and perhaps, unconsciously, preserves some energy for the close, which is always his now.

The coaches have urged Rose at times this season to attack to open the game to give the team a boost, but Rose generally prefers to pick up his game after halftime.

Not Wednesday as less than five minutes into the game Rose already had hit three three pointers. Clearly, the Clippers weren’t expecting this as they were playing under screens, but also cognizant of Rose’s early game tendencies.

Rose was now off, taking the ball in hard from the left wing and scoring on baseline reverses before the Clippers could react. They began to fall deeper into the paint to cut off Rose, who then drove them back and passed out. Rose also with four assists and a block in the first quarter.

“He’s an unbelievable player,” said Griffin. “He’s extremely talented. He does a great job distributing the ball, but he can also score so it’s tough to defend him.”

Rose didn’t particularly say anything afterward as it’s not his style to verbally challenge another player. But Griffin has become something of the darling of the NBA this season with his highlight dunks and unofficial title as suddenly the game’s most exciting player.

And he is terrific, coming out with drives and spins and relentless activity to match Rose’s 13 in the first quarter and add a dozen in the second after the Clippers had fallen behind 43-31 midway through. He was impressive given the Bulls played way off for the shot, but he kept getting to the rim, anyway.

But you also suspected Rose had heard plenty about this and wanted to make his own statement, which comes primarily with winning.

The Bulls had little answer for Griffin’s activity in the first half as Griffin was 11 of 18. They opened with Kurt Thomas, who encountered quick foul trouble and just isn’t agile enough for someone like Griffin. But Gibson with nine points, 12 rebounds, including five offensive and a pair of blocks, showed the defensive aggressiveness the Bulls haven’t seen enough from him this season with a series of various injuries, including a concussion when the Bulls last played the Clippers.

It even looked like Gibson tweaked his bad ankle early, but he played on and played well.

A word about Gibson. There is much talk about a trade for a shooting guard at some point. But it would be a mistake to give up Gibson to fill that position. It’s one thing if you are going to get a star type talent like Carmelo Anthony, whom the Bulls are not. But you don’t give up a player like Gibson, especially given the Bulls had to use Boozer on offensively challenged DeAndre Jordan because Griffin would be too much for Boozer to handle on defense. Yes, the Bulls should get Joakim Noah back in a few weeks as he’s traveling again with the team. But Thomas only has so many minutes in him and Thibodeau clearly isn’t yet comfortable with Omer Asik.

Not that it’s the same position, but James Johnson is absolutely tearing up the D-league and Wednesday had 34 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists and six blocks. He’s at least why the Bulls don’t need to add another free agent player now.

But it would be risky to lose Gibson unless you were getting a major player in return. He’s too valuable, especially if the Bulls want to compete in the playoffs against the size of the Celtics, which you have to at least think of now with the Bulls at a heady 34-14.

After taking that 28-23 first quarter lead, the Bulls opened it up to 43-31 with Watson leading  a strong second unit effort on a rare night of late Ronnie Brewer had no impact.

The Clippers did a bit better job on Rose when he returned in the second, but he used their overplaying to find Deng and Boozer for scores and keep the Bulls ahead 55-49 at halftime.

The Clippers closed some late in the second, first when Griffin converted a lob for a slam dunk and nearly decapitated Kyle Korver coming down, and to close the quarter when Boozer got a questionable flagrant foul for fouling Griffin on a runout as Griffin tried jumping from about the free throw line to dunk.

I suppose it’s OK to protect your stars. But that still does not explain how the league allowed Dwight Howard to take down Rose last season twice in acts that seemed clearly to me felonious and really deserving of suspension.

Though perhaps the Bulls and Rose’s best revenge is beating the Magic, which they did recently and the way Orlando is going likely for many times to come.

Still, what to do about Griffin in the second half?

Actually, the Bulls didn’t seem to make any great coverage change as the Clippers average almost 19 threes attempted per game and the Bulls didn’t want them getting into a running and shooting game at home. So they’d live with what Griffin was getting.

The Bulls tend to simply play harder on defense after halftime, a nice trait. But they also dropped in a little faster on Griffin’s catches. The result would mark the 13th consecutive game the Bulls have held their opponent under 100 points.

Though I thought the big change was two Clippers mistakes, perhaps designed to get other players involved as Griffin had 25 of their 49 first half points.

The Clippers were missing their No. 2 scorer in injured Eric Gordon. Randy Foye was playing for him and they went to Foye the first two possessions of the second half against Rose. In the first five and a half minutes of the quarter, Griffin had just one shot attempt, less, it seemed, from what the Bulls were doing than what the Clippers weren’t doing.

The Clippers also were running more high screen rolls, an old Vinny Del Negro favorite. And in making Griffin the high screener, it was taking him farther away from the basket. Thus it then was tougher for him to establish post position. And with the Bulls shooting so well and not making turnovers, the Clippers couldn’t get any fast break going, which excites their crowd with Griffin’s dunks.

“They didn’t let us get as much middle penetration in the second half,” said Griffin. “They tightened the floor us on and it forced us to take some bad shots.”

The basic of the Bulls defense, as with most teams, is to close off the lane. But the Bulls do it exceptionally well and driven by Thibodeau are excellent despite their general lack of athleticism in closing on shooters.

The Clippers tried a lot of zone defense in the second half, which led to a surfeit of offensive rebounds for the Bulls. And the Bulls were executing their plays. Thomas set a bruising screen for Rose on an out of bounds play that got Rose a layup, and Boozer began to run into deep position in transition, which is another thing the coaches plead for him to do more, and Rose found him for a couple of easy scores as the Bulls led 82-71 after three.

With the Clippers still in a zone, but a passive one, Watson hit another three early in the fourth and then Watson drove and drew the defense and passed to Boozer for a layup.

And if the Bulls can make threes….The Bulls came into the game ranked 19th in threes made at fewer than six per game. It’s a hole in the team’s offense, especially with Rose able to penetrate so deeply. It would open the floor for three point shooters. Thibodeau had said before the road trip started he’d like to see the Bulls make six to eight threes a game, and 12 of 26 was crucial Wednesday.

That makes the Bulls 54 for 126 on threes the last seven games, about 43 percent. If the Bulls can approach those numbers and percentage, it would boost the offensive substantially. At the same time, Bulls opponents are shooting about 28 percent on threes in the same stretch, impressive in the ability to get to the three point line and challenge while also protecting the middle. Though the Clippers thanks to Griffin shot 46.8 percent Wednesday. Griffin helped at four of 13 from the line.

Rose returned then in the fourth and got a nice back door feed from Korver and Deng made another slashing drive as he was beating Clippers off the dribble, not necessarily his specialty.  Yes, those three days off seemed to energize everyone. It bodes well for this trip with just five games in 14 days.

“They were more aggressive, especially off the dribble,” said Del Negro. “Derrick  was getting to the basket and Luol was slashing in there. We never got into any sync defensively with their penetration. We couldn’t get any fast break points because we couldn’t get any stops.”

The Clippers started to go back to Griffin in the post. But by then it was too late as the Bulls were ahead 98-80 with about four minutes left, and Thibodeau rode Rose until the end, I suspect, because Rose had a debt to repay.

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