Rose quiets the Jazz and boos for Booz


Feb 10

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The Bulls stole one Wednesday against the Utah Jazz–literally, figuratively and not so convincingly–in a 91-86 victory.

Still, it was enough to break a two game losing streak and some bitter hearts in Utah, leaving the Bulls as they head to New Orleans Saturday 2-2 on this road trip, 35-16 overall and one of four teams in the NBA without a three-game losing streak.

“We’re still not playing well defensively,” noted Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau of the Jazz shooting 47.4 percent and with more open shots that missed. “But we did what we had to at the end of the game to come up with the win.”

That started with a Defensive Play of the Year type effort from Derrick Rose, swooping up behind the overmatched Deron Williams and stealing the ball and recovering it with 65 seconds left and leading 87-86.

“Huge!” said Thibodeau. “That was a great hustle play. That basically wins the game for us. Ronnie (Brewer) made a big steal, too.”

That Brewer steal, also off Williams, who collapsed down the stretch in a series of sophomoric plays, came later. First Luol Deng, who had a rough game with eight points, got a handoff from Rose on a drive but was blocked by Andrei Kirilenko.

So the Jazz, with five chances in the latter stages to take the lead, came down again. But Williams’ pass to Paul Millsap was deflected by Boozer for a steal, the second of three in the last 1:05 for the Bulls.

It probably didn’t hurt for the Bulls to have the inside and insight of three former Jazz players on the court down the stretch and familiar with the Jazz’ system of play.

Meanwhile, with no other Bull doing much offensively, and despite the Jazz pretty much knowing that, Rose drove and was fouled, going to the line and calmly making both free throws for an 89-86 Bulls lead with 13 seconds left.

So what would the Jazz do? Put the ball in Williams’ hands, of course. Again, the Bulls were waiting. Rose, who did little short of a brilliant defensive job on Williams after being mocked by soft Frenchman Nicholas Batum in Portland for allegedly poor defense, stayed in front. Rose forced Williams to lay the ball off to his left, where Brewer stepped in for the steal and the clinching free throws.

“D Will is the leader for them and they had to go to him,” said Brewer. “We did a good job of cutting him off and giving up the ball and we got the steal. It was a big win for us the way we’ve been playing. Derrick was huge. He’s been that way the whole year. That’s why I keep saying he’s the (league) MVP. He keeps making big play after big play in big games. And to me, on the road, after losing two straight, this was a big game.”

Big in a lot of ways, so much so that Rose said afterward the players were talking among themselves with the return of Boozer to Utah for the first time they were surprised it wasn’t a national TV game. The Bulls still aren’t taken that seriously.

But it was Boozer’s much anticipated return here, and though Boozer pooh poohed it as another game, he clearly was pressing. He finished with 14 points and six rebounds and at least a half dozen of his shots blocked. Yes, they knew his game, too.

It also was the matchup of the two point guards experts generally regard now as the best in the game.

And though Williams was whining to teammates after the game about his wrist being hurt, Rose not only dominated the matchup with 29 points, seven assists and one turnover (to 11 points, 12 assists and five turnovers for Williams), Rose made the big plays when no one else on his team was playing well while Williams stumbled late in the big moments at a time Al Jefferson had 26 points and eight rebounds and Paul Millsap had 20 points and 14 rebounds.

In fact, every Jazz starter outplayed and outscored his Bulls counterpart except for Williams against Rose. The Jazz shot much better, outrebounded the Bulls, had more assists and double the number of blocks. The box score suggested a rout for the Jazz, now 31-23 amidst rumbles there are issues with the team.

Coach Jerry Sloan, according to veteran Jazz media, stayed in the post game locker room longer than any time in his career meeting with management and the team abruptly cancelled Thursday practice. Speculation went from Sloan resigning to a big trade. Nothing could be confirmed.

Except the Bulls’ win and Rose’s extraordinary effort.

No one player wins a basketball game. Brewer and Boozer had those late steals. Omer Asik, matching Deng for game high rebounds with seven, was vital after halftime in disrupting the Jazz inside scorers, which Kurt Thomas was unable to do. Even Thomas after the game acknowledged Asik’s size and uncanny help ability for a young player made a major difference. That Thibodeau kept Thomas in so long was the head scratcher and nearly fatal.

But it was Rose who bailed everyone out with a magnificent all around effort that demonstrated a gigantic will to win and inspire his team.

“The biggest thing is coach always says it starts with me, the way I play,” said Rose, ever humble yet determined, being aggressive. “Every single thing. It kind of comes down to how I play. I was just trying to play aggressive. Everyone played aggressive tonight. I think everyone had a lot of confidence in Booz and everyone played good. If not for my team, I would not be able to do what I did tonight. I’m just thankful we got this win.”

Games like this, with the Bulls subject to a hostile reaction because of Boozer’s return, often come down to that cliché of wanting it more. It essentially means making the play against someone of your comparable talent, but coming out ahead. Look, Williams is a terrific talent, an All-Star and premier point guard. The Jazz have All-Star level players.

It’s like what coaches will tell you about when you have something going as a team: If your best player practices the hardest, then you know you can build something.

So it is with Rose, voted to start the All-Star game in a little over a week. If he goes the hardest and makes the play, how can you not? So Boozer and Brewer stepped up late, though another of my favorites and the kind that win games came earlier in the fourth quarter.

The Bulls were hanging onto a 69-66 lead when Rose, who still doesn’t get the officials’ respect he deserves, drove into a crowd—doesn’t he always face one?—and missed a short jumper. You could see Rose hesitate for a moment and take a quick, perturbed glance at the official for no call. So he just followed the ball as it hit off the rim and bounded high, going up in a crowd and grabbing the ball above Asik and putting it back in to keep the Bulls ahead by five.

I love to see those plays, which are the essence of sport. Denied, perhaps unfairly? Don’t whine. Don’t give up. Go make a better play.

“I was kind of upset about that,” Rose recalled. “I knew where the ball was going to come off. I grabbed it pretty clean and I think I’m pretty strong where I can finish a little bit. They (defense) gave me an angle down to the backboard and I just got it up there.”

No, that is amazing stuff.

It wasn’t only Rose, of course. Thomas had a nice dunk for the next Bulls score with good ball movement as the Jazz’ defense rotates well. Boozer got a follow off another of Asik’s three offensive rebounds (he probably kept six other balls alive with tips to others who got the rebound). And Korver, who I say again needs more shots, hit a three after a Williams driving score to give the Bulls an 87-83 lead with 2:17 left. The Jazz got within a point five times in the last five minutes, but they could never make that one stand or one score to take the lead. Thus the Bulls kept the lead, never more than six points, for the last 15 minutes and didn’t lead by more than four after Korver’s three the last six minutes of the game.

“Even though we allowed a high shooting percentage, too high,” said Thibodeau, “there were stretches we played better defense.”

Not many, so Thibodeau shouldn’t be fooled. He’s got to get Asik more time, especially against smaller inside players, like the Jazz have. He’s got to get Korver more shots, a minimum to 10 to 12 a game. Even when Korver is missing, the defense reacts to him and opens the floor more for Rose. I’d also run more open court isolations for Rose. The pick and roll brings too many defenders to Rose. Sure, you have to use it. But Rose can beat anyone off the dribble, and he needs to be able to do that and have shooters in the corner more, though, yes, I know, the Bulls don’t have many other than Korver.

So they grind, which was the way they worked through Wednesday’s win. Though grinding is hardly the right adjective for the flair and artistic joie de vivre with which Rose plays, the breathtaking drives and pirouettes that turn into assists.

Even when Rose does the wrong thing it works. He tends to get up in the air to pass too much, which is a no-no for point guards. But Rose can stay up long enough to look off his first option if it is covered like a great NFL quarterback and then find someone else and still get a pass there like a Bob Feller fastball.

What, you think I’d reference someone in the last 30 years?

The buildup in Salt Lake was for Boozer’s return, and it was, as expected, not particularly friendly. Korver and Brewer received warm ovations, especially the popular Korver. But every time Boozer touched the ball the arena erupted in boos. The Jazz TV carrying the game did an in game poll with the results: 26 percent like him, 53 percent don’t like him, 21 percent don’t care.

“He did very good,” said Rose. “He did not let it get to him. He wanted to score more in the beginning, but they were double teaming him and he made the right passes. He messed up on a few when they came quick or the guard went through and then went back and got him.

“I don’t see how he played through it,” said Rose. “The whole arena was booing. I told him before the game, ‘I hope you are ready for it because they are not saying Booz.’ He was laughing.”

But it was no laughing matter for Boozer and the Bulls as Boozer got his first two shots blocked and his man, Millsap, had 11 and six in the first quarter. After taking a 17-9 lead, the Jazz led 23-21 after one and Rose had two fouls. The second foul was what’s making a joke of the league where an offensive player raises up into the hand of a defensive player while not really trying to shoot and gets a foul. Same with that bad pump fake and draw someone into you and throw up a wild shot. Whatever happened to intent and playing the game correctly? The league should not reward that.

The Bulls tightened up in the second quarter to lead 44-41 at halftime as C.J. Watson did a nice job along with an active Brewer. Boozer still was struggling with three of nine shooting at halftime.

“Part of the game,” said Boozer, who tried to downplay the return as he was excoriated in columns in the local newspapers Wednesday. “Sometimes you come back to an arena where you played. They weren’t calling fouls, so I did not get free throws so had to keep grinding. I’m not going to have a great game every night. It wasn’t one of my better nights. But it’s the team. Our whole team played well enough to win.”

The Jazz were continuing to cut the Bulls up with pick and rolls to Jefferson and Millsap, though with their small size they take a lot of jump shots. Really, too many to be very successful. But Williams is very good with that pocket pass to his big men, and Thibodeau finally went to Asik late in the third and Asik forced the Jazz’ inside guys away from the basket and Utah failed to score in the last 4:35 of the third, enabling the Bulls to break from a 60-58 deficit and lead 66-60 going into the fourth.

Memo to Bulls: Pick and roll defense. Bad. Work on it!

“Those offensive rebounds (of Asik’s) kept us alive,” Thibodeau conceded. “That gave us some defensive energy. He was very good.”

But the Jazz kept coming along with the fans.

They are known in Salt Lake City for their signs as it is more akin to a college crowd. One sign said the holder drove 320 miles to boo Boozer. One read, “Boozer is a loser.” Another had the games missed in their Jazz careers of Karl Malone (8), John Stockton (22) and Boozer (132 in a fourth as many games). Yes, they’re still mad.

Though the signs for teen heart throb Korver and Brewer were much kinder, like, “Every girl has a Korver fantasy,” and “Kyle, we still think your knee socks are sexy.” One to Brewer noted, “This long distance relationship isn’t working.”

But the Bulls had to work.

Williams apparently was growing frustrated trying to contain Rose and Sloan put Earl Watson on Rose for a time in the fourth. Good luck with that as Rose left Watson reaching and Williams coming back on Rose.

The Jazz kept hanging in as Thomas got called for a questionable flagrant foul for accidently hitting Andrei Kirilenko in what would become a three point play to bring Utah within 73-71 with 7:08 left.

Rose answered with a runner past the bewildered Watson, but Williams hit a 22 footer. Williams has had a bad wrist, though he did attempt 13 shots, hitting five.

Jefferson then got another Boozer shot to the delight of the crowd, but Rose recovered and hit a tough three from the left corner for a 78-73 lead.

“Everyone was trying to make it an individual thing for me,” said Boozer. “But it was one game and it was about the Chicago Bulls, getting back on track. I told D-Rose after the game he was phenomenal. He’s a bad man. I can’t say what I did say. He was making tough shots and defensive play after defensive play. He was the man tonight. His steal saved the game.”

Jefferson then scored to draw Utah within three and Rose missed a jumper. Williams put in a floater to get Utah back within 78-77 with 5:11 left, when the Bulls called their final timeout. They were fortunate not to need one late to advance the ball, though they had a few miscommunications with Boozer apparently surprising an annoyed Thibodeau with one and Rose calling another to save a turnover.

Asik rebounded a Rose miss out of the timeout and Boozer followed. Jefferson hit a 15 footer to get Utah back to one down. Kirilenko then came from the weak side to get a Boozer shot again, but Jefferson, who was now mostly scoring off Boozer, missed a 16 footer. The Jazz settle for way too many of those from their big men, who seem reluctant to go inside and risk blocks.

Boozer then grabbed a Rose miss and handed off to Thomas for a 10 footer for an 82-79 Bulls lead with 3:19 left. Jefferson did score on a pick and roll at that point. But Rose whooshed by Williams for a layup and 84-81 Bulls lead with 2:48 remaining.

After Williams scored on another drive, Korver hit that three for a four point lead. There was one more crisis when Jefferson rolled for a score and was fouled by Boozer, but missed the free throw as Utah got within 87-87 with 1:56 left. The Bulls got fortunate with an official time out as Thibodeau lit into the defense coming off the floor. Booz!

Boozer got blocked yet again and fouled Kirilenko, who missed one of two to get the Jazz within 87-86 with 1:28 left. That’s when Rose missed, but hustled back to shock Williams and the crowd.

“The crowd really threw him off,” said Rose. “He thought they were cheering for him to score (instead of yelling about Rose coming up on him). Thank god I made it there in time.”

Just like Superman.

That would be the first of the three steals, and the Jazz never got another chance as Brewer closed it with the free throws.

“We knew it was going to be a fight,” said Williams. “They are a tough team, well coached, good defensive team. They have great talent on that team led by D-Rose, and they executed well, got stops when they needed to and took over the game late. He’s a scorer. He’s going to get his points. We know that and we tried to contain everybody else. We were right there in the game. It was a tough loss. Put it on me. Because at the end of the game, I had the ball in my hands, I’ve got to make the plays to win the game.”

But when it’s winnin’ time, as Magic liked to say, the Bulls have their own magician.

“He did everything,” Thibodeau said. “Ran the team, made shots, made hustle plays (just two Bulls were in double figures). He had to chase Williams around a ton of screens. It’s not an easy thing to do. His effort was great.”

Just not letting you lose. It defines the great ones.

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