Bulls beat Pacers with Rose improving


Apr 26

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You can breathe now. Go ahead. Derrick. He’s all right. Yes, really.

“I’m going to be all right,” Rose said after Wednesday’s relatively meaningless 92-87 victory over the Indiana Pacers.

See, he said it himself. Derrick said it!

He really did. He walks! He talks! He shoots!

Well, not that great, three for 11 for 10 points with seven assists and one turnover. But everything worked: Toe, check. Back, check. Groin, check. Ankle, check. Foot, check. Rose did drive once late in the second quarter, miss and then in trying to put back his miss and missing again he grabbed his left upper arm. Oh, no, Mr. Rose! Stat! Stat! Get Mayo on the line!

No, not O.J., you idiot!

“If the game was a crazy type of game and at the end I needed to take over, that’s what I’m going to try to do,” said Rose.

Whew, he’s OK.

Derrick Rose

“Every day getting better,” said Rose. “Trying not to do much out there. Trying not to get reinjured. That’s the biggest thing and making sure I’m playing with confidence. I’m just trying to play in a groove.”

No, it was nothing to write home about, or at least send to the voters regarding MVP. Rose’s jumpers generally came up a bit short, and there weren’t any ooohs and perhaps a quarter of an ah. Rose crossed over a few times, scoring on a left handed drive in the first quarter, hitting a floater late and getting fouled in the fourth quarter on a drive with a bit of a burst. Not that after burner stuff, though there wasn’t much need against a Pacers team mostly not into it and likely not facing the Bulls in these playoffs.

“I thought Derrick had a really good bounce to his game,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, who, as he has reminded us, is now Mr. Optimism. “(Rose was) a lot more explosive. I just think he’s gotten more comfortable. He was out a long period of time. And he usually when he comes back gets up to speed pretty quickly. He’s feeling a lot better after two days of practice. That’s a real good sign, I’m encouraged by that. I thought he had some real good attacks on the basket. The ball was in and out for him. Seven assists, one turnover, taking care of the ball, running the team. I thought that was very good.”

Well, not all that great, but no one quite needs great from Rose yet. Perhaps not for a few weeks. The Bulls still don’t know their first round playoff opponent or opening day, Saturday or Sunday. The 76ers and Knicks both won and remained tied. The Knicks have the tiebreaker and play Charlotte with 22 straight losses Thursday while the 76ers without Andre Iguodala, Elton Brand and Thaddeus Young play the Pistons. It would still seem most likely the Bulls host the 76ers.

And why not as the first drama of the series began with Chicago native Evan Turner telling the Delaware County Times the Bulls are the best matchup for the 76ers.

Asked what it would mean to him to play Chicago in the first round, Turner said, “It means we’re dodging the tougher team. That’s what I think.”

Turner had a career high 29 in the 76ers win in Milwaukee Wednesday, but has had problems against the Bulls In three games this season, he’s six of 22 shooting and averaging 4.7 points and 5.0 rebounds against the Bulls. In his only start against them, he had six points and six boards. The Bulls are 2-1 against the 76ers this season after 1-2 last season. The 76ers have fared poorer against the Heat, whom they would play if they pass the Knicks. Knicks reserve Jared Jeffries said earlier this month the Knicks would prefer to play the Bulls than Miami. And the Knicks almost blew a big lead against the Clippers Wednesday night after the 76ers won, which would have pushed the Knicks more toward a Bulls matchup. But J.R. Smith made two late shots to bail out the Knicks. Their magic number to face Miami is one.

“I think we’ll be able to compete well against Chicago,” said Turner. “And have an opportunity to win the series.”

The Bulls weren’t much enthused when quizzed by reporters about the alleged slight. Sort of like whispering to enemies what someone else said and standing back to watch the fireworks.

Kyle Korver

“I’m not going to get into a war of words with Evan Turner. All right, come play us,” said Kyle Korver in about as much as anyone could get out of any of the Bulls.

Korver, actually, was very good against the Pacers with a team high 20 points and four of six threes. I thought what was most impressive was the way Korver not only made his shots, which we’ve seen before, but wasn’t run off them and took shots even with the defense creeping close. Korver, at times, has a tendency to look for the perfect shot and won’t shoot that much. He’s such a good shooter he even needs to get up bad shots. They probably have a better chance of going in than good shots for many other players. So I thought the best part was Korver attempted 13 shots for a guy only averaging about six this season.

“I thought we came out with a great start,” said Korver. “ We set the tone early with a high energy level. We moved the ball real well and it was just a nice game for us. I thought Derrick looked better tonight. He was moving around a lot better. He had good energy and we executed well.”

The Bulls did get out quickly and basically controlled the game throughout in leading the entire game. When the Pacers closed within five to end the game that was as close as they’d been since late in the first quarter.

“I thought our bench was terrific,” said Thibodeau. “I like the way our starters started the game. I thought it got us off to a good start. Carlos (Boozer, eight of 10 shooting for 16 points). I like the plays Rip (Richard Hamilton, just two of 10) was making off the catch and shoot. Rip’s shots were good shots. They were all in and out. Very pleased with our starters. Then our bench, you can’t say enough about those guys. Kyle 20 in 20 minutes, Taj (Gibson) great defense, Omer (Asik) with nine rebounds in 13 minutes. A lot of good stuff from the bench guys. There’s always things you can do better and we need to work on, but we’re getting there. Our starters haven’t played a lot together all year, so it was a good opportunity for them to get some quality time on the floor and I thought that was good for us. Our bench has been terrific all season long. It was good to have everybody. I want us to continue to take it step by step. I want our starters to get more time together. It will be similar to tonight (Thursday against Cleveland). I just want us to continue to take it step by step. The rest takes care of itself… don’t worry about the other stuff.”

That other stuff begins this weekend, and actually the Bulls seem well prepared.

It’s probably the healthiest they’ve been all season, and while Rose isn’t quite exploding, it does seem like he’s doing much better and is more pacing himself and taking some tentative steps until he feels more confident.

“Each day he gets better and better,” said Thibodeau. “That’s what we’re looking for. And I think he’s getting a lot more comfortable. His body is feeling a lot better. He needs to play in games. He’ll get up to speed very quickly.”

So Rose played about 26 minutes pretty much divided evenly between halves and playing in all four quarters. He didn’t look to score all that much, not unlike the game against Dallas Saturday when he returned.

The Bulls got off to a 32-24 first quarter start with Boozer’s jump shot unerring with five straight. The bench was strong again in the second quarter as the Bulls took a 49-36 halftime lead behind Korver’s nine points in the second quarter.

The Bulls’ passing, especially between Boozer and Joakim Noah, was sharp as the Bulls had 27 baskets on 38 field goals and Boozer had a beautiful behind the back bounce pass in the second quarter to Noah for a score.

The Pacers came out after halftime with a stronger defensive effort. But Noah, with 14 points and 14 rebounds was dominant on the boards in the third and led a fast break later in the middle, passing to C.J. Watson on the wing and Watson then to Hamilton for a score and 67-59 lead after three quarters. It was one of the rare kinds of players the Bulls can make with their big men such good passers and Noah able to handle the ball on the break.

Korver had a huge fourth quarter with 11 points to hold off the Pacers and Lance Stephenson, who led Indiana with 22 playing for the resting Danny Granger.

It was a big quarter for Korver with three more three pointers, but I was intrigued by the scenario with about six minutes left and the Bulls leading 78-71. Again, the final result for the Bulls was relatively meaningless, at least for the Eastern Conference. The Spurs beat the Suns Wednesday despite not playing their top players and coach Gregg Popovich not attending. That kept them in the race with the Bulls for the best record. Both now are 49-16. If both win Thursday, the Bulls would have the tiebreaker with a 1-0 record head to head against the Spurs this season.

Korver, meanwhile was receiving a pass. But Tyler Hansborough stripped the ball away and ran out and scored. Thibodeau called timeout and as the players walked to the huddle, Thibodeau was screaming at Korver to grab the ball more tightly.

It’s always been the unique part of pro sports, or most sports, really. Basically nowhere in the work place anywhere is anyone screamed at for a simple mistake like that. I frankly could never imagine accepting that. I like to joke with journalism colleagues about what players go through. I tell them to imagine how it feels to have 20,000 people looking over your shoulder when you write, screaming, “Verb, you moron, verb.”

So here’s Korver having a great game and getting absolutely blitzed by the coach. But one of the great things about the Bulls and Thibodeau is they don’t take it personally and Thibodeau doesn’t seem to remember after 11 seconds. Because he put Korver right back into the game and even ran the play for him and Korver hit a 20 footer for an 80-71 lead.

The Bulls then closed it out with a pair of Korver threes.

And now it’s finally on to the final game of the season that ends with a big sigh, and with the good part coming up the Bulls seem in better shape than they have been any time in the last two seasons.

“We are playing for us right now,” said Noah. “We want to be playing good basketball at this time of the year. This is a fun time of the year with the playoffs just around the corner. We have had a lot of injuries this year. We’re still gelling. Are we playoff ready? I think so. Are we championship ready? I think so too.”

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