Bulls take out league-leading Spurs


Feb 18

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It was a big game for the Bulls Thursday as they defeated the league-leading San Antonio Spurs on national TV, 109-99.

So, Johnny, how big a game was it? So big that even Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau thought it was a big game.

No, you won’t get Thibodeau ever to admit that even if he were tied to an ant hill—red, fire ants, too—and someone was reading his scouting reports.

But we know this because for the first time this season Thibodeau called Derrick Rose into his office before the game and delivered a ranting, fiery motivational speech.

“I wanted to get up and yell with him,” Rose said. “I kept quiet (big surprise there) and tried to take it out on the court.”

I’ll say.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, too.

“That point guard, what’s his name?” joked Popovich. “I didn’t know his name before the game. I should have checked. Wow. Wow. He was something.”

I’ll say. Did I say that already?

Rose set a career-high with 42 points against the 46-10 Spurs, who had been tearing through the NBA. Rose added eight assists and five rebound and shooting 18 of 28 with just one turnover against the usual traps and triple teams.

It was simply another spectacular performance from who even Thibodeau said should be a leading MVP candidate.

“He’s something, huh,” gushed Thibodeau, or about as close as he’d come other than to a perfect down screen. “Anyone who’s watching and seeing the things he’s done this season and where we are as a team (38-16)… I cannot imagine anyone doing more not only individually but what he’s done for the team. Any of you know winning is more important to Derrick than any of the individual stuff. To my eyes, he deserves (MVP).”

That will be up for debate, but as much as Thibodeau likes to run away from such labels, it was a statement Thursday from the Bulls and Rose.

Sure, the Spurs were finishing their brutal nine-game rodeo road trip and 12 of the last 13 on the road. But they’ve easily been the league’s best team and Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Tim Duncan all continue to play at a high level. Perhaps the Spurs weren’t as sharp as they might have liked, but they were pretty good. They shot 48.8 percent, were seven of 14 on threes and committed just seven turnovers.

“We scored 99 points and shot 49 percent and made seven threes,” noted Popovich. “You feel you should have a great chance to win. He negated that.”

This was a Monday Night Football for the NBA.

With all but four teams done for the All-Star break and TNT televising with their studio crew in Los Angeles, this was a game most of the NBA was watching: Best team in the league with the best road record facing the up and coming team with the fastest growing young star with the best home record in the Eastern Conference. And still without Joakim Noah until after the All-Star break.

OK, let’s see what you’ve got.

Rose showed them as well as Luol Deng with 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists and helping bother Ginobili into six of 18 shooting and 15 points and six rebounds from Carlos Boozer.

Taj Gibson had six rebounds and a pair of blocks off the bench and combined with Omer Asik to help hold Duncan to 14 points and nine rebounds.

“I thought the Bulls played very well,” said Popovich. “They were sharper than we were. They played a very physical game tonight.”

It was a game the Bulls basically controlled from the start. The Spurs biggest lead was two points early in the game and the Spurs led for a total of 105 seconds. The Spurs are a top 10 rebounding team, fifth on the defensive boards, and the Bulls outrebounded them 41-29. The Bulls had 24 assists to their 16 despite the Spurs being sixth in the league in assists. The Bulls were quick and active on defense and moved the ball with precision, shooting 53.8 percent. The Bulls had a 20-5 margin in second chance points and 44-38 inside.

To quote Popovich, “Wow.”

This was against the big boys, leaving one of the biggest boys of all, Charles Barkley, to gush on TNT the Bulls were in an even mix with Boston, Miami and Orlando to go to the Finals.

Particularly, certainly on this night, due to Rose, who had 11 first quarter points in a relatively rare aggressive opening for him. Rose tends to want to ease into games, at times frustrating the coaches. But it generally seems a combination of unconsciously preserving his energy knowing how much he is called upon after halftime and trying to get his teammates more into the game. Rose often goes to staff members to ask what he can do to help a slumping teammate.

“Hard working, good looking, doesn’t beat his chest, modest demeanor. Just a class act,” said Popovich. “All of those qualities will serve him well. He has taken a monster leap this year.”

But Rose did understand what this game meant, and Thibodeau as well, though he’s somewhat more loath to acknowledge it.

“I’m just trying to win,” Rose said of his career scoring output. “That’s the biggest thing. This gives us confidence knowing we can beat some of the best teams. We’ve surprised some people, surprised people in here (media in locker room). We always knew we had a good team. We’re just trying to keep this going and I think we can.

“We get up to play teams like this,” Rose said. “Everybody gets on the same page for tough teams. It’s exciting, a challenge. That’s our measuring stick. This is really the (kind of) game that measures how good we are.”

Which is one reason why Thibodeau surprised Rose with the unusual pregame session.

“Never done that before,” said Rose. “First time.

“Coach told me to come into his office,” related Rose in the crowded post game locker room with media growing as this Bulls season shows more and more promise. “He gave me a speech about being aggressive, motivational speech. I love a coach like that, showing emotion before the game. Me and him talking and him showing emotion like that.

“He was just saying the team is going to go with me,” said Rose, “to play aggressive, some way effect the game. It worked. So long as we keep winning he can continue to do it. I’ll prepare for it. When you’ve got a coach being emotional like that it makes you want to play hard, especially me.”

So Rose did, and this time right from the start.

The Bulls got some early production from Boozer in the post against the smallish DeJuan Blair, and I thought perhaps the Bulls would go to Boozer more as his weakness is more against size. But Boozer has had a tendency more lately to settle for jump shots. With Noah returning next week, the team believes they’ll get more transition play—Rose joked you have to wait for Kurt Thomas—and perhaps it wil give Boozer more of a chance to run the court and finish, which had been a strength.

Boozer got a pair of scores beating Blair, and then Rose went to work scoring and hitting Keith Bogans for a three as Bogans continues to shoot well, this time two of four on threes. That gave the Bulls a 24-14 first quarter lead with a brilliant Rose crossover move leaving Tony Parker looking for a croissant and the Bulls went on to lead 30-25 after one.

The Spurs mounted their only real threat in the second quarter behind Gary Neal, who was four of five on threes in the game.

Rose stayed off the floor until 5:01 left in the second and by then the Spurs took what would be their last lead of the game at 44-43 as Duncan took advantage when Boozer took him as the Bulls went small up front with Boozer and Gibson.

But Rose returned and busted by Parker, who led the Spurs with 26, with the help either too slow to come or unable to react quickly enough once they were there. The Spurs knew well Rose’s effect, but their older bigs like Duncan and Antonio McDyess simply couldn’t react quickly enough.

“Derrick Rose turned into a really hard to guard player because of his explosiveness,” said Ginobili. “He is very reliable with his teardrops and 15 footers. He’s hard to guard. The team is playing around him very well.”

The Bulls surged to a 58-51 halftime lead as Kyle Korver added a three and Rose stunned Parker and Duncan again in turning them into spinning tops as he hustled past for another layup.

“We got up early, and then D Rose just took the game over,” said Boozer. “All we had to do was get him the ball and play defense. They really couldn’t stop him. I just said to him ‘Keep attacking until they stop you.’ He’s playing phenomenally and he played great again tonight.”

The Spurs hung in during the third quarter behind Duncan, especially later when they went back to Gibson for Thomas and Boozer stayed inside with Duncan while Gibson chased Matt Bonner. Bonner had hurt the Bulls when the Spurs won in November with his outside shooting, and the Bulls did a better job this time not giving him the shot and closing on him. Bonner was zero for three shooting.

Rose then from a sitting position grabbed a miss, got up and scored and closed the third with a little runner on George Hill as the Spurs began to put more size on him without much success. That gave the Bulls an 83-77 lead after three quarters.

Thibodeau usually rests Rose a good part of the early fourth quarter. But he brought him back with 9:29 left after Ronnie Brewer and Gibson scored on slam dunks off nice ball movement.

First Deng, who played a heck of an all around game, hit a three and assisted on a Gibson score, Omer Asik scored on a follow, and then Rose took over with five straight field goals on a mixture of stunning drives and jump shots, sandwiching a Korver miss and a Boozer turnover to close the game with the crowd roaring like not too often this season and the rarely beatable Spurs looking suddenly very vulnerable.

“I don’t know how to react to that,” Rose said of Popovich offering the exclamation about Rose’s play. “For anyone to say that, especially him, that means a lot. I was just trying to win the game. I was just trying to do whatever it takes to win and tonight I guess it was just scoring the ball.”

Yeah, just like that. Nothing much to it, eh?

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