Bulls elbow past Pistons amidst worries about Rose’s elbow


Jan 5

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It was the kind of night Wednesday in Detroit for the Bulls to keep it simple: Get a win over a non-playoff team and get out healthy.

Well, they accomplished the winning part. And hopefully the other, though there’s always breath to hold and prayers to say when it is Derrick Rose heading for X-rays.

The Bulls rather easily, never trailing and ahead by double digits after midway through the third quarter, defeated the Detroit Pistons 99-83 to raise their record to league best 6-1 along with Miami.

But with 3:35 remaining and the Bulls leading 89-75, Rose took off after Will Bynum missed a drive and fell, giving the Bulls a nice extra man opportunity.

Rose, who had 17 points and 10 assists in an unselfish effort with the Bulls getting 31 assists to 18 for the Pistons, took an outlet pass and drove at Tayshaun Prince. Rose crossed him over going to the left side of the basket. Rose then went up to lay the ball in and appeared to get a little shove in the back from Damien Wilkins as Rose went by.

Could it be an omen, Damien?

Rose landed onto his left elbow with a thud echoing around the sparsely populated arena. Rose lay on his right side awhile holding his elbow. Rose then rolled over onto his back with his arms crossed over his eyes. Rose then got up and walked off with trainer Fred Tedeschi.

It was the third such incident late in the game with Ben Gordon getting called for a flagrant foul for grabbing Joakim Noah around the head and pulling him down, though I thought that was mostly accidental given Gordon’s one foot height disadvantage. Also, a few minutes earlier, Richard Hamilton, who was making his first return to Detroit, went down hard on a drive after being fouled by Bynum. Hamilton was playing after missing two games with a sore groin. Hamilton said he felt another slight pull with the groin, though not on that play but before halftime and he’d get treatment.

Rose seemed to be in pain after the game with his elbow wrapped. But Rose gave no indication he won’t be able to play in Orlando Friday against the Magic and Dwight Howard, who has taken down Rose for two hard falls in previous seasons.

“Just like any other time when you fall, you’re definitely going to be sore,” Rose told reporters. “Thank God we don’t play tomorrow and I can rest.”

It’s not good form to guess people’s injuries, their pain tolerance and ability to play. So I don’t do that. The Bulls said X-rays were negative and didn’t seem overly concerned, that Rose was fine and should be able to play for the Friday/Saturday set in Orlando and Atlanta. We know from his history he has played through injuries often. Rose said it was too soon to speculate about Friday’s game.

But there were other issues related to the events that somewhat overshadowed a solid Bulls effort in which they methodically took care of an under talented opponent. Luol Deng had a rare off game with two points. But after sitting out the fourth quarter against the Hawks Tuesday, Carlos Boozer had 19 points in 28 minutes and effectively put the game away in the fourth quarter after Detroit got within 11 with an outside/inside pass from Joakim Noah and three baseline jumpers. Noah, who sat all but the last few seconds of the fourth quarter Tuesday until his game winning pass to Deng, had 13 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks. Both played closer to expectations. Taj Gibson had maybe his best game of the young season with 12 points, seven rebounds and two blocks in 20 minutes, and in his return Hamilton an efficient 14 points on nine shots and five assists.

“It was fun,” said Hamilton. “I couldn’t wait for the ball to be thrown up. A lot of emotion early in the game being on the visitor’s side. I’m not accustomed to it in this building, so it was difficult. I was like ‘Man please don’t start crying, but hurry up and let the ball get thrown up so I can get out there and play.’ The fans appreciate what I did here and they always have been supportive of me even when stuff wasn’t going so good.”

There weren’t many in an arena the Bulls have been accustomed to seeing rocking that now offers vast sections of empty seats. Though attendance was announced at about 9,000, it seemed perhaps half that.

So were the Pistons taking cheap shots?

I really didn’t think so. I thought it was more a function of not-so-talented players like Wilkins and Bynum not quite athletic enough to make the right play on contact.

“That’s part of the NBA,” shrugged Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “Just got to be ready for the next one.”

Then comes the frequent fan lament of why Rose and the starters were in the game leading by 14 with 3:35 left.

I don’t have a huge problem with that given the Pistons had made a bit of a run to get it down from 18 to 11 with 6:38 to go and that the Bulls, themselves, had overcome an 11-point deficit in the last 3:44 to win in Los Angeles a little over a week ago.

Rose is averaging 36.3 minutes for the season. He played 40 Wednesday and stayed in the game another two minutes and missed a three before leaving. Deng played 38 minutes Wednesday and is averaging 39.7 on the season, which leads the league. But I haven’t heard either complain about playing time. Yes, it is a compacted season with more games in a shorter time. But I don’t expect Thibodeau to change.

If you like Thibodeau’s coaching, this comes with it.

He believes in playing your best players the most minutes. When the Bulls won championships in the early 1990’s, Michael Jordan averaged more than 39 minutes per game and Scottie Pippen averaged just under 39 minutes. And both were slightly older than Rose and Deng are now.

So second guess all you want. I seriously doubt it’s changing. And even with Deng not having a strong game Wednesday, Thibodeau took him out midway through the fourth quarter with the Bulls ahead by 11, but brought him back about 90 seconds later for the finish.

“I liked the way were moving,” said Thibodeau. “I think we responded well to our performance yesterday The concentration was really good today. I want us to move in the right direction. This was a good day, but in this league once you start feeling good about yourself you’re going to get knocked on your butt.

“Carlos was very good. I thought Jo was great in the fourth quarter making great decisions,” Thibodeau added. “He made the right plays. That’s one of his strengths. He’s got a great skill set. It’s a little different for a big. I thought John (Lucas) was terrific. I told you guys all along. That doesn’t surprise me. I thought Ronnie (Brewer) played extremely well. We had a lot of guys play well. Derrick had good command of the game. Rip and Ronnie were really good at the two. Kyle (Korver) was good in his limited minutes. Lu was working on defense. It was a good game for us.”

Not so for the Pistons, who were led by Greg Monroe at center with 19 points and 13 rebounds. It was especially bad again for former Bull Ben Gordon, who’s become a shadow of what he was with the Pistons. He had seven points on two of 10 shooting and didn’t even get to attempt a three as the Bulls defense kept him closeted.

“I thought we played terribly,” said Gordon. You have to give them a little bit of credit, but I thought we just had a horrible effort overall. No disrespect to their defense, but I thought we could’ve done a lot better job. Pretty much everything (went wrong). We didn’t play well on either side of the floor. This is a team that played last night. We’re supposed to have fresh legs, but it looked like we played last night.”

The Bulls were too much for the 2-4 Pistons from the start with eight Bulls scoring in the first quarter for a 22-14 lead. Boozer had a basket on a slick pass from Hamilton coming off screens, and Hamilton added his own three point play on a hard drive to make it 9-2. The Bulls were all over the boards, led by Noah, with 16 first quarter rebounds with Rose getting a big tomahawk slam dunk late in the quarter.

Thibodeau went to the bench to open the second, and Lucas at point guard kept the game in control after a rocky start with C.J. Watson disclosing his elbow was dislocated. But the Bulls don’t seem to feel that changes his timetable as it was felt initially he’d be out about a week and he is listed as day to day. Thibodeau asked him to come on the trip with the possibility of playing.

The Bulls came out pushing the ball better than in their lackluster opening against Atlanta, and Lucas hit a three after settling down in the second and Gibson, who’d been shooting poorly — 41 percent coming in — hit a pair of jumpers to move the lead out to 10 when Rose returned midway through the second quarter.

Boozer got a nice seal and basket on Charlie Villanueva and then a jumper and Villanueva returned to the bench for the duration after playing less than five minutes. Noah had a fast break score after a turnover, Korver hit a three with Hamilton finding him and then the Bulls closed the half with the ball still flying around as Hamilton found Rose and Boozer found Noah and the Bulls led 51-35 at halftime.

The Bulls opened it up further after halftime with a 10-6 start that concluded with Hamilton posting up the smaller Gordon for an easy score, a move Hamilton doesn’t often employ. Rose dropped off a great no look to Noah for a score as Rose mostly concentrated on moving the ball and the offense. Rose later found Hamilton for a three and followed that stepping in front of Prince to draw a charge. Later, Rose would chase down Bynum on an easy fast break and knock the ball out of bounds. Rose is playing much better defense, though he won’t get that much credit nationally yet because of so much attention on his scoring. But Thibodeau wasn’t happy, as usual, until afterward, and quickly yanked Omer Asik after the big center let as easy pass slip through his hands to prevent a dunk. Still, the Bulls led 71-58 after three after Rose wove through a traffic jam for a score to close the third. The Bulls got back to pushing the ball all game and had a 25-11 edge on fast break points.

The Pistons showed a bit of interest early in the fourth with Bynum pushing the ball for a pair of scores. Though after the Pistons pulled within 80-69, Boozer got a big basket inside on a pass from Noah. And after Jonas Jerebko missed one of two free throws, Gordon caught Noah rolling in with that neck tie for the flagrant foul. Ben’s not a dirty player, though he clearly is a frustrated and not very good one, any more, it seems. Rose then made another terrific defensive play, deflecting a Bynum pass for a steal and the Bulls finished it with a Hamilton run out for free throws to get the Bulls back up 14 with about five minutes left. That’s when Hamilton went down, and a few minutes later it was Rose.

Coincidence? Yes, it seemed a lot of takedowns in a short time, and it’s not like the Bulls haven’t experienced that before in the Palace, though not this era’s Bulls. Boozer then closed it out with those jumpers as the defense kept surrounding Rose, leaving plenty of openings that the Bulls welcomed. Now they just need Rose to keep it up in Orlando Friday, elbow permitting.

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