Rose making an MVP case again as Bulls beat Spurs


Mar 1

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The conventional wisdom — and if it’s accepted it’s not particularly knowledgeable — is that Derrick Rose isn’t going to repeat as MVP. It generally seems to have been decided the Bulls played well without him and he missed too many games.

But in scoring 29 points Wednesday to carry the Bulls to a 96-89 road victory over the San Antonio Spurs in a tough game, Rose continues to demonstrate he has to do what no other player in the NBA does.

“Down the stretch he’s got the capability of making big shot after big shot,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau.

Sure, the Bulls got nice contributions with a pair of late three pointers from Luol Deng after a poor shooting game, a strong defensive quarter from Taj Gibson playing the fourth for Carlos Boozer and some opportunistic offense early in the quarter from Ronnie Brewer in transition.

But as we saw last season, no one is asked to do what Rose is.

LeBron James and Kevin Durant are considered the favorites for MVP. Tony Parker is mentioned with the Spurs now 24-11, though Rose Wednesday dominated him both offensively and defensively. Rose basically dominates — without ever saying anything — every top point guard he plays in the game, from Chris Paul to Deron Williams to Rajon Rondo. And then when someone rises up like Parker, who was averaging 25 points this month, Rose led his team to the win and chased Parker into his poorest game since late January with 11 points on five of 16 shooting.

“Playing every point guard on the planet is fun, where I love the challenge,” said Rose.

“I thought defensively (Rose) played very hard,” added Thibodeau.

And, yes, the Bulls went to 29-8 and back in an effective tie with Miami for best record in the Eastern Conference on team effort. Joakim Noah had 10 points and 13 rebounds, and good defensive play early on Tim Duncan to enable the Bulls to take a 50-42 halftime lead.

C.J. Watson, whom I thought could have played more with Rose as the offense was slumbering much of the game, was second to Rose with 12 points in just under 13 minutes. Omer Asik and the reserves, quiet in recent games and poor Tuesday against the Hornets, were much livelier with 37 combined points as Kyle Korver got his stroke back with a pair of threes.

But the Spurs are one of the smartest teams in the league, their division leading record basically without injured Manu Ginobili as much a product of basic fundamental play as talent. Their bench, though Gary Neal was huge with 21 points, doesn’t seem as good as advertised. And in Richard Jefferson and Danny Green they start two basic non scorers. Which was another reason Parker has gotten so many raves this season.

But I cannot see anyone still doing more with less than Rose, particularly on offense. True, Deng hasn’t shot well for weeks with one game shooting better than 50 percent in February. He’s shooting under 42 percent this month back from his wrist injury. Carlos Boozer never got much going and got lifted for Gibson and defense the last 15:51. Richard Hamilton, starting again after his long absence, was just one of eight shooting as he works slowly back into the lineup.

Brewer had three big baskets early in the fourth after the Spurs had gone ahead 69-65, though two on runouts as the Spurs basically played off him and Noah. Noah one time signaled Rose for the ball, but then failed to shoot, resulting in a little lecture from Rose: “You asked for it? Shoot it!”

Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah

Now compare this to James, playing with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and Durant with Russell Westbrook and James Harden, the latter who easily would be the Bulls second best offensive player.

And then Rose continues to amaze, even after scaring the heck out of his team when he crashed knees with Parker early in the game and writhed on the floor for a few minutes.

“When I first hit him, there was a lot of pain in there,” said Rose. “But after laying down there for a little bit, I got up and was good.”

Rose walked off slowly as the Bulls took a timeout, and then came back into the game and blew to the basket for a score.

Fake, fake!

Not really, though it was a terrific effort again for Rose after he closed out Tuesday’s win over the Hornets with his game winning shot and free throws. He constantly beat Spurs double teams, flashing to the basket past Parker, Duncan and weak side help for twisting layups, floaters, scoops, pullups, crossovers and jumpers whenever the Bulls could not find offense, which was almost always.

The Bulls had a big 50-42 rebounding edge with 13 offensive rebounds as the defense had to shift to contend with Rose. So Noah, Deng or Gibson slipped in for follows or just enough plays to keep the Spurs from pursuing the sort of fast paced game they wanted to play with the Bulls coming in on the second of a back to back.

But with the Spurs relatively small and with Duncan no longer the defensive force he once was, the Spurs weren’t able to rebound and run by trying to account for Rose. It’s not only what a player like Rose scores, but the effect he has on the defense which frees up others.

Had the Bulls been making shots, Rose again would have easily had double figure assists.

Though having gotten that MVP award, I’m sure Rose doesn’t care a bit about another anymore. It’s only about winning now, and because Rose continues to play like the league’s true MVP the Bulls do have a chance.

It was a very good win for the Bulls against one of the league’s hottest teams, the Spurs recently off an 11-game winning streak. Yes, they were probably a bit rusty in their first game after the All-Star break as the Bulls were home against the Hornets Tuesday.

But at the same time, it was the Bulls who made the deciding plays down the stretch on the road after the Spurs got back within 85-82 with 2:09 left on a Neal three.

Actually, it was primarily Rose with a little help from his friends. No, his game wasn’t going to be out of tune. It would be sweet music and hardly out of key.

“We are definitely proud,” said Rose. “We came in here and played a team that plays great at home. We played together, stuck through it and came out with a good win. We came in and knew it was going to be a hard game, like a playoff atmosphere.”

Come playoff time, Rose will have to do these things. So a game like Wednesday’s against a team like the Spurs was significant.

The Spurs crowd, one of the liveliest in the league, was up roaring now as Rose carried the ball into the front court with that three-point lead and just over two minutes to go. Deng came over from the weak side to set a screen as Thibodeau began using more the one/three screen and roll with Rose and Deng instead of Thibideau’s more favored screen/roll with Noah. It’s always been a question because Noah isn’t a shooter, though he is an excellent passer and probably overall better than Deng. But Noah had become tentative with his shot against the Spurs, eschewing several open looks that seemed to force Thibodeau to use Deng in the pick and roll with Rose. Deng had just moments earlier leading 80-77 hit a big three off a screen/roll with Rose, and now the Spurs were growing a bit reluctant to leave Deng.

Deng set the screen and moved across heading toward the close left corner, where he generally has his best shot at a three. Brewer then flashed from the weak side, but the Spurs easily closed the middle against him. It was a particularly slow developing play with the Spurs looking for Rose. Brewer gave the ball up to Gibson who hot potatoed it back to Rose with just five seconds left on the shot clock. That’s where you see the brilliance.

With Parker in front of him, no slouch, Rose got a screen from Gibson to pick off Parker. Burly DeJuan Blair stepped up, but Rose shimmied past him. Neal reached in from Rose’s left as Rose got by Blair. But Rose then veered to the right as Duncan came at him across the lane. Falling away with Duncan coming straight at him and Parker recovering and coming down from the top. Rose put up a one handed push from nine feet that banked in for an 87-82 Bulls lead with 1:46 left.

“Very tough, a great player,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.

Derrick Rose

Earlier in the fourth with the score tied at 75, Rose made one of those drives that leaves you gasping to try to describe or explain. Though everyone appropriately raves about James’ open court speed and Durant’s uncanny shooting, Rose’s combination of quickness and strength is truly unique. Rose took an inbounds pass from Deng on top, lost Denny Green as the Spurs tried some size on Rose, then left Duncan in cement sneakers leaning left as Rose blew by on his right and somehow got the ball up lefthanded, off the bockboard and in for a 77-75 lead. Parker then missed a floater and Rose ran the one/three screen with Deng and found Korver coming off a weak side screen for a three and 80-75 lead that gave the Bulls enough space to carry that last sequence. After an unaccomplished three quarters in which the Bulls shot 35.7 percent, they shot 66.7 percent in the fourth.

But the Spurs weren’t done as Duncan, with 18 points and 10 rebounds, isolated against Noah. Duncan then drove by and put up a right handed half hook to get back within 87-84 with 1:32 left.

Everyone knew it was coming back to Rose. And the Spurs couldn’t do anything about it.

Before the game, Popovich joked to reporters: “We know who the most important guy to try to stop is. We also know we’re not going to stop him.”

Rose walked the ball into the front court. This time Noah came up to set the screen. Duncan stepped up to show, leaving Noah. But Rose skipped a pass across to Brewer. Neal wasn’t playing him very close, but Brewer threw back to Noah in the middle. That’s the conundrum for the Bulls down the stretch. To go to a defensive lineup, Thibodeau has to put several non scores on the floor. And if Deng isn’t shooting well, as he hasn’t been since his injury, the Bulls have as few offensive options as any top team. That presumably will change once Hamilton gets up to speed as he’s a good defender. But with Brewer, Noah and Gibson, it was pretty clear where the ball was going.

Noah threw back to Rose and set a high screen on Parker. The Spurs have a history of tough defense, though not as good now, and Parker tried to fight over. Rose got by as Noah provided just a bit more butt than perhaps necessary. That enabled Rose to get to the left elbow, where he was met by Duncan and Neal. Rose stopped 18 feet away and went up and faded back a bit to create space — Rose is brilliant at making space where there doesn’t seem to be any — and made the shot for the 89-84 lead with 1:10 left.

Timeout Spurs. This kid is just too much.

“Derrick Rose is one of the best point guards in the NBA,” said Neal. “They’re a disciplined team as they come down and get into their sets and are not uncomfortable about anything. They got the shots that they wanted.”

The Spurs went back to the hot Neal, who had been abusing Brewer as Neal had 15 fourth quarter points. By this juncture, Thibodeau had gone to Deng on Neal with Brewer to Richard Jefferson. Duncan set a screen on Deng for Neal to get to the middle. Noah came up. But Neal went by him, and Gibson instead of stepping up stayed back for the block. Gibson went up, but Neal stopped and eased in a floater over him to bring the Spurs back within 89-86 with a minute left. It was really good stuff.

“We had a lot of big plays down the stretch and a lot of guys contributed,” said Thibodeau.

Rose set up this time from the right side and Noah came up for the screen. Duncan again left Noah for a hard double on Rose with Parker. Rose threw to Noah, who took one dribble and fired to Brewer in the left corner. That’s where the Spurs made the mistake. Jefferson ran toward Brewer leaving Deng. There was no way Brewer was going to shoot a three there. Brewer made a nice touch pass immediately to Deng, who squared up from the left wing and made his second three of the quarter after coming into the fourth one of six for three points.

“I thought the guys gave a heck of an effort,” said Popovich of his team. “They did a great job considering everything. I was really proud of them, but down the stretch Chicago showed why they’ve won all those games. They made shots and they were real solid defensively. We made a couple of errors on a couple of guys and they knocked down some threes, so that’s the ballgame. That’s what it’s all about down the stretch against a good team.”

Deng shot, held his right hand high in a pose and made the shot for a 92-86 Bulls lead with 39.6 seconds left as the Bulls bench exploded in joy and relief. It was, effectively, the end as Neal then missed a three and the Bulls made free throws to close it out.

“I felt like it was one of those games where I did not have a lot of shots,” said Deng. “I was not thinking that I was shooting bad. I just felt like I did not have a lot of looks. That is how it goes sometimes. I believe I finished with eight shots. Even though I did not get a lot of shots coming into to the fourth quarter, I knew I was going to get shots and looks. I knocked them down. This is a great game for us. They are a great team especially at home. They are playing so well. So for us to come in here in this building and play like we did was a good win.”

The Spurs led 22-20 after the first quarter despite 11 points from Rose and that knee-on-knee scare. The Bulls then got a nice boost from the second unit with Watson’s shooting, Asik on the boards and defending and Korver finding the range. It enabled the Bulls to take that eight point lead going into halftime.

“I thought our bench was terrific,” said Thibodeau. “For the bench in particular, they provided a big spark for us and they allowed us to buy some time for our starters.”

The Bulls stumbled in the third quarter after going ahead 56-45, though it is difficult to see this Spurs team going far. They don’t have any true shotblocking. Tiago Splitter is a good big man off the bench, but doesn’t finish strong and starting center Blair has no lift, Duncan isn’t a big minutes player anymore, leaving the front lone weak as they go to a spread game with Matt Bonner at power forward. But that have the Bulls a big edge on the boards.

Still, the Spurs compete hard and the low point for the Bulls was leading 56-50. Deng shot a jumper, which came off hard. Parker got the outlet and pitched ahead to Duncan, who beat both a typically trotting Noah, who was his man, and Boozer, who was easing down the court. Duncan dunked ahead of both as Thibodeau leaped immediately into an angry timeout.

Thibodeau didn’t make any substitutions and Rose then gave a glimpse of what was to come as Rose beat Parker off the dribble. Rose then split Duncan and Green and spun the ball off the backboard and in and was fouled for a magnificent three point play. Rose would later draw a charge, but no one else had more than two points in the quarter and the Bulls went into the fourth trailing 66-65.

“Things weren’t going well for us early on,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “Our ball movement wasn’t great. We got stagnant. Down the stretch Derrick made great plays.”

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