Bulls take over best record with win over 76ers


Mar 5

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The Bulls were finished with the pregame warmups and preparing for the last minute instructions before playing the Philadelphia 76ers Sunday. It’s a time when Derrick Rose usually sits stoically and contemplates the game, his facial mask rarely revealing much. This time was different. The specter of the 76ers Feb. 1 win in which the starters were benched down the stretch still was with Rose.

“They were laughing at us here last time,” Rose told his teammates. “It’s not going to happen again.”

The 76ers didn’t get that last laugh, but mainly thanks to a brilliant game by Rose with 35 points, including 20 in the second half. And Rose also made the game winning floater with 20.2 seconds remaining, an amazing degree of difficulty effort going hard left into traffic and shooting right that effectively clinched a 96-91 victory.

“He jumps off the right foot, faded to the baseline and it seems like two or three guys are trying to block it,” marveled Carlos Boozer, who was second to Rose with 13 points. “Crazy. I told him it was an amazing shot. Pooh is so humble and just says to me, ’Thanks Booz.’”

Thank you, Derrick, the Bulls were saying once again.

Yes, there was some other good moments for the Bulls, who at 31-8 with their sixth straight win and 13th in their last 15 now have the league’s best record over Oklahoma City and a two game lead in the Eastern Conference over Miami.

Joakim Noah had 11 points and a season high 18 rebounds, though he had a colorful scene with coach Tom Thibodeau after failing to come up enough to catch a pass from Rose with the 76ers trapping and the Bulls ahead 87-83 with three minutes left. It led to a turnover and fast break basket for Thaddeus Young, who led the 76ers with 17 points. Thibodeau lit into Noah in the next timeout, though Rose seemed to tell Noah not to worry. Noah then came up with a terrific assist to Boozer the next time Rose was trapped, leading to a layup and 91-87 Bulls lead with 1:58 left.

Earlier in the fourth quarter that began with the teams tied at 64, Thibodeau went off on Taj Gibson, screaming for him to run the court after Young with 13 points in the fourth beat everyone for a fast break layup as the 76ers were getting back into the game after a 17-4 Bulls run to open the fourth. But that 76ers team doesn’t quit. Neither do the Bulls as Gibson went back out with a reassuring pat from Rose.

Though Rose seems to stand out more as a leader with his play, he makes his point behind the scenes and his teammates know he has their back. You’d say Thibodeau can be too tough, but his demands relate to the game and not punishment. After his vivid moments with the players, Thibodeau puts them back in and they’ve produced. They know. It’s not personal. And they seem to love it.

“I love this team,” Luol Deng announced on his Twitter account after the game. “We just find ways to win. It doesn’t matter how.”

Look at me. I know where to find Twitter.

There was more, meanwhile.

C.J. Watson

C.J. Watson, after suffering a sprained ankle late in the first half that leaves him day to day regarding playing Monday against Indiana, played just about all the fourth quarter in the backcourt with Rose. Watson scored seven fourth quarter points including a momentum changing three with 4:35 left to give the Bulls an 87-78 lead with the 76ers charging back.

That came the possession after a timely Noah tip in on a Boozer miss after a 10-2 Philadelphia run. And then there was Watson again with a step in jumper after the 76ers had pulled within 87-85 with 2:35 left.

“Jo was huge on the boards and making plays,” said Thibodeau. “And C.J. hit that big shot in transition. Big shot.”

Deng, who started slowly, also made a pair of big shots, again a pair of three pointers in the fourth quarter that ignited the Bulls opening run that gave them an 81-68 lead with 7:53 left.

But this 76ers team that leads the Atlantic Division is relentless, if not overly talented. They are one of the league’s poorest in close games because of the lack of the true so called go to scorer like Rose. So it came down to chances for the 76ers in the last 90 seconds.

Andre Iguodala, who did a good defensive job on Deng and later guarded Rose, is the 76ers All-Star. But he’s a relatively poor shooter and with 1:11 left and going for the lead he airballed a three point attempt. Boozer then missed a 15 footer. Noah grabbed the rebound, his seventh offensive, but threw the ball away trying to get it back out.

Again with a chance to tie or take the lead, this time Young missed a 16 footer and Rose rose among the big guys to snatch the rebound.

Then came The Play.

We see this stuff now so often, but you have no idea how difficult it is. One of the reasons the 76ers are so good even without a 20-point scorer is the diversity of their offense where they can go to four or five different players. Everyone knew where the Bulls are going. And this was against the No. 1 defensive team in the league in points allowed and shooting.

“The first, second, third topic for the other team’s defense on the board is D. Rose, and he still puts up 35,” said Boozer. “And he’s playing at an even higher rate after the All-Star when guys are tired.”

Yes, guys get tired. Apparently not guys named Rose. So here’s Rose facing as aggressive a half court trap and double as he’s seen all season, and against a relentless defensive team. But he’s not tired. The defenders are.

“I was very tired,” admitted Young afterward. “Derrick said that to me, “You’re going to be tired.” I said, “I’ve been tired.” He’s a load to try to handle. He’s an All-Star type of player, a superstar. He’s going to go out there and have games like he had tonight every night, so a big thing is just to try to contain him. Sometimes, you feel like he’s going to get his, so stop everyone else, but I think, for the most part, he just made a lot of tough shots.”

Oh yeah, game on the line. The 76ers, like good defensive teams, push Rose left as he’s a stronger right handed player. So Rose drove left with two defenders off the top trailing and one coming across the baseline. Rose then veered back to his right hand and put in the floater for the 93-89 lead with 20.9 seconds left.

“I was excited to play them again,” said Rose somewhat innocently, not betraying the inner fire for this game. “I remember playing them here a little while ago. They got the best of us. They’re a good team. I couldn’t wait to play them again. Anything it takes to win (I’ll do).

“My game is (to) kind of hit crazy shots all the time,” said Rose. “That definitely was a crazy shot. I was able to get it off. They were trapping me almost the whole second half. I saw Thaddeus Young was kind of tired from trapping and I just attacked him. He let me turn the corner and I had a clean look at the rim.”

Let’s stop there. One of the guys who is trapping is more tired than the guy who two and three guys are trapping? And he calls that a clean look?

Rose was asked about going back to his right hand on the shot.

“I don’t shoot it with my left hand at all,” he said with a laugh, though I’ve seen it plenty of times. “I’m not that good yet. I just saw an opening, my floater’s all right, and I just got it up there.”

It should have been over then when Elton Brand, who was really good with 14 points, 13 rebounds and five assists, committed an offensive foul on Deng on the subsequent inbounds. The 76ers then had to foul. The Bulls couldn’t get the inbounds to Kyle Korver and Noah came up with it and made one of two for a 94-89 lead with 18.2 seconds left.

Jrue Holiday, who had 16 points, then drove and scored to cut the Bulls lead to three. Taj Gibson then was fouled, but missed both and suddenly the 76ers had a chance to tie with 8.3 seconds left. But they were one of 11 overall on threes and don’t have that finisher. The Bulls played good defense and Iguodala launched a three that went wide left. Noah rebounded, was fouled and made both to end it.

“I liked the way we fought in the second half,” said Thibodeau.

And it was a battle with a 76ers team that is difficult to play. They are aggressive defensively with a deep bench and go small. Yet, they outrebounded the Bulls 50-45 as Thibodeau had to match small in the fourth quarter with that Rose/Watson backcourt.

Watson was limping as he left the arena late Sunday night and wasn’t sure whether he could play Monday.

“It hurts,” he admitted. “It should stiffen up on the plane. It’s going to hurt more tomorrow. I’ll get treatment and go from there.”

It’s been a bruising season for Watson with a series of injuries, including a dislocated elbow and concussion. Still, Watson retaped his ankle and went out after being listed as questionable at halftime for a return.

“I just tried to go out and see if I could run a little and push off,” he said.

Then he was three of three shooting in the pivotal fourth quarter.

“CJ’s playing with a lot of injuries,” said Deng, “But he keeps coming back and not complaining. He never mentions it. Some days he’s out there struggling, but he gives us whatever he has.”

It was a quiet night for Richard Hamilton, who played just over 18 minutes with eight points on four of six shooting. But he didn’t play in the fourth quarter. That will have to change if the Bulls are to sustain, you’d assume.

Rose, though, came out with purpose, scoring 13 first quarter points with a pair of three pointers when the 76ers backed off him. His expression wasn’t saying much about the game, but his actions were.

“The beginning of the game what I have to do is lead by example,” said Rose. “We let them score too easy, but we fought our way back into the game and got the win. I just try to do whatever it takes to win the game, passing, scoring, making plays, whatever. Tonight it was making shots.”

But the 76ers are tough in large part because of coach Doug Collins. The 76ers move the ball well and get good shots, even though most have to come from the perimeter without much inside scoring and center Spencer Hawes injured. They force teams into mismatches with their versatile lineup and the Bulls were often caught scrambling out of position on defense. They play the lanes well and the Bulls had an unusually low 21 assists. With Iguodala, one of the league’s best perimeter defenders, shadowing Deng, it limits the Bulls offensive options, though the Bulls led 26-24 after one.

The 76ers closed off the middle well in the second quarter, forcing the Bulls into more perimeter shots and a relative lack of movement. The shots were going awry and it’s not easy to get cheap points off the 76ers, who rarely commit turnovers and had just five for the game, one in the first half.

After the 76ers took a 44-36 lead in a stagnant Bulls second quarter, Rose helped rescue the team with one of still another end of quarter shot as he closed each quarter with a tough jumper.

“Rose obviously made an incredible shot,” said Collins. “He’s a great, great player. Made a great shot at the end of the quarter, first quarter. Made a great shot at the end of the third quarter.”

Thibodeau said he was disappointed in much of the second quarter play, particularly, the way the 76ers were moving unimpeded.

“I thought we settled,” added Thibodeau. “I thought we had some opportunities. We could have driven the ball more. The second quarter I did not like the way we played at all. We were back on our heels. The third quarter we were more aggressive.”

That quarter included one of those explosive Rose drives for a three point play and Hamilton shooting three of four to get the Bulls back tied at 64 after they trailed 46-40 at halftime. The Bulls are now 28-0 when tied or leading after three quarters, and we have a pretty good idea why. And now after making good the loss in Philadelphia, the Bulls return home Monday to face the Indiana Pacers. Remember, the Pacers won in Chicago Jan. 25 and there was discussion about whether they acted appropriately. Though no one is quite sure the proper etiquette for road wins.

“It’s going to be a fun couple of day where we’ve got an opportunity to play two great teams that beat us pretty good,” said Rose. “Indiana beat us at home last time. I can’t wait to play. I haven’t forgotten about anything. I remember that (Indiana post game celebration). They’re a good team. I know they’re definitely going to be ready. I’m going to be ready. It should be an exciting game.”

Yes, guys, especially Rose, take license plate numbers. It wasn’t just Jordan. Actually, the Pacers were a bit taken by surprise after it was relayed to them afterward that Rose had said something, though minor, about their post game glee. It really wasn’t over the top, but both coach Frank Vogel and center Roy Hibbert got somewhat defensive. Hey, the regular season needs that kind of stuff. And Noah, of course, understands.

“Derrick gets hype off people celebrating,” Noah offered after the game in response to some questions about the Pacers and Rose. Of course, if anyone knows celebrating it is the free spirited Noah.

“When people talk about celebration, you’re not going to out celebrate me,” Noah added. “Roy Hibbert cannot out celebrate me. So if they want to see some celebration, when we win, I can show them some celebration.”

Hey, everyone, rivalry! Rivalry!

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