Bulls gone with the wind in Atlanta


Dec 16

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The spotlight shines brightest on the star. With it comes the rewards, the fame and the fortune. But also the scrutiny like with no one else, the examination with a powerful telescope. Like a diamond in the sky. That’s fine with Derrick Rose, who didn’t have a particularly sparkling one Monday in a 93-86 Bulls loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

Again wondering what you are.

Rose, coming off a good week when he averaged 22.7 points and the Bulls won three straight, had 14 points on six of 21 shooting, zero for seven on threes with eight assists, five rebounds and six turnovers. The fourth quarter would not be his time this time with two points, two assists and two turnovers, including a curious one with 2:44 left and the Bulls continuing an all game uphill climb and trailing 85-81.

Rose drove into the citadel of the Hawks’ defense, gathered primarily near the rim. The ball got loose and Rose was called for kicking as it went off his foot, one turnover you don’t see much. The Bulls would get within 87-84 with a minute left before Al Horford with 21 points, 10 rebounds and six assists for the scrappy Hawks made a 19 footer. The Bulls got back within three once again, but the Hawks made their foul shots in the last 24 seconds for the victory.

“I thought I was going to be able to go right on Horford, lost the ball,” recounted Rose. “I thought it wasn’t a kick. It happened. They called the call and all I can do is learn, probably slow the ball down, make sure I catch them off guard another way.

“Every step along the way (is a positive),” Rose added. “Even with a performance like tonight. It’s fine. It’s already out of my mind, onto the next game. Just learn from it and try to keep it moving.

“Fourth quarter, certain spots I should have chosen to be aggressive and I didn’t and that’s something I can learn from,” Rose added. “We (all) missed some wide open shots, but it’s part of the game. We put ourselves in a hole; we should have gotten the lead a long time ago. Don’t get me wrong. They’re a great team, but we should have made sure we came out a little bit more aggressive in the beginning of the game

“Just missing step in threes, shots I normally hit,” said Rose. “Tonight they were flat. Didn’t have no lift to them. I guarantee next game that won’t happen. I’ve got to (take those shots). The way they were playing, making sure they were in the paint and making us take those open shots. Shots we normally make, but tonight they were not going down.”

They weren’t going down for a lot of the Bulls.

Jimmy Butler was excellent with 22 points and three of five threes.

“He’s on a mission right now and I can respect him for that,” said Rose.

Taj Gibson had another strong game starting for the injured (ankle) Joakim Noah with 15 points and 17 rebounds in an electric matchup with Hawks fellow overachiever, Paul Millsap who had 17 points and eight rebounds.

“Unreal, unreal,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “Taj has played extremely well as a starter, the rebounding, the post play, the defense. Every aspect of the game.”

But the Bulls bench mostly faltered for a second consecutive game, outscored 24-11 as veteran former Bull Elton Brand made several big plays for his eight points in 13 minutes. Pau Gasol, though getting a double/double with 13 points and 12 rebounds, wasn’t moving as well and repeatedly missed in close. Gibson had a crucial travel in the last minute, Kirk Hinrich saw Kyle Korver block his three point attempt with 2:11 left and the Bulls trailing by four. Mike Dunleavy spun a three in and out early in the fourth with the Bulls opening with a 7-0 run that could have given the Bulls their first lead since 9-7. They never would lead again in the game. The Bulls lost a crucial jump ball trailing by three with 23.7 seconds left. Aaron Brooks missed back to back threes close to 30 feet midway through the fourth with Atlanta ahead by five.

Everyone had chances to change the outcome, but the light shines on Rose up above the conversation so high.

No problem. Bring it on; he’s fine with that. But that’s also what helps make a star.

“I put more pressure on myself than my coaches, you all, my family, my fans,” said Rose. “I put more pressure on myself than anybody.”

It will remain the theme and narrative of this season for the Bulls.

Even with Gasol having an All-Star season; Butler as well. Dunleavy able to have big games like in Sunday’s win over the Heat. Gibson and Noah once he returns to help solidify the defense. Good stuff, but not great enough.

With Rose it can be, so Rose understands.

But also understand Monday was just Rose’s ninth consecutive complete game since missing two years. But that it was his ninth consecutive complete game was the encouraging part. Rose is playing full games now. It was his second back to back this month and averaging at least 30 minutes in both games. Shots come and go. One can argue over threes or drives or turnovers, which everyone has. A healthy Rose is the difference, and that has been the encouragement of the last month.

“I like the fact that he battled,” said Thibodeau of Rose. “He tried to work through things. He didn’t seem like he got into a rhythm. They got a lead. We fought back. We kept putting ourselves in position. There’s going to be rust. There’s no negative. The only way he’s going to come back is by playing and working. That’s it. Even if he were 100 percent, not every game is going to be perfect. And when it’s not perfect, you have to try to do something else to help us win, play defense, move the ball, break a defense down. Some of that stuff is again him getting used to back-to-backs. Those are plays he’s going to make. He’s finding his way. Right now, I’m very pleased that he’s stringing the games together. Overall, he’s doing well.”

Which again remains the larger point. It’s less these days about injuries and knees than penetration and threes.

That’s a good thing.

Though the attention always is directed toward Rose, especially when the game is very good or not so; the Bulls lost this game elsewhere.

It is a good Hawks team that went to 17-7 and 12-2 at home. The Bulls are 15-9 and 11-4 on the road. It’s not a great Hawks team; it’s not going too far in the playoffs because it’s simply too small. They’ll win their share of regular season games, but are yet to be built for more. They got four threes from Korver, defended by the Bulls best in Butler and survived a 57-40 Bulls rebounding edge. They did so imposing their game on the Bulls rather than the Bulls able to impose their strength upon the Hawks.

That was the real difference Monday, though the Rose discourse and scrutiny always is the more lively topic.

Even Thibodeau didn’t want to hear when the Hawks pick and roll was brought up post game.

“I’ll take a look at the film,” said Thibodeau. “You (media) guys seem to be the expert on pick-and-roll defense, too.”

Yes, it is difficult to engage Thibodeau in a nuts and bolts basketball discussion. The guy is like a walking People magazine. He probably was as upset as I was. There was this nice man sitting near Thibodeau during the game at whom people kept yelling something about being ludicrous. It would make someone want to stand up.

“When you play the Bulls, it’s always going to be a slugfest,” said Korver, the former Bulls who is now teammates with former Bulls Brand and Thabo Sefolosha. “They’re such a physical team. There’s so much length. Because we’re not as tall and long as them, we have to play physical basketball. We came out and did that early. We got away from it a little bit in the second half, but we rebounded and got the win.”

The Hawks because they are small with maybe 6-9 Horford at center and 6-5 Millsap at power forward like to move and shoot. Lots of pick and roll and pick and pop, swinging the ball to shooters as they had 26 assists on 36 field goals. The Bulls had just 10 assists from other than Rose. They’re a fun team to watch. The Bulls do not play the pick and roll as well without Noah. Though Gasol is highly skilled, he’s not as active a defender playing the pick and roll. So the Hawks shoot a lot of jumpers and short pullups. It’s OK; that’s not going to beat the Bulls. Gasol’s offensive abilities, shot blocking and rim protection more than compensate for any weakness not blitzing the pick and roll like Noah can.

When you play against a team with a small front line like the Hawks, you have to pound it inside with your size. With Gasol and Gibson’s physical presence, the Bulls should have had a sizeable advantage on the interior. But they were unable to get Gasol going as he was just two of five in the first half as the Bulls fell behind 50-44.

Credit the Hawks for being physical with Gasol and denying him position. But the Bulls didn’t seem to do enough to exploit what seemed an obvious mismatch. Yet, that becomes a footnote. You won’t hear Rose complain because the great ones welcome the scrutiny. It becomes a challenge, and now that Rose is playing again and coming through games strong physically, the rest really is a footnote as well.

Of course, the games keep coming. You play them, and it’s nice to win most. But Rose building is really all that truly matters.

It really wasn’t a great game all around for the Bulls as Atlanta shooting 52.2 percent in the first quarter took a 28-22 lead.

“We missed shots we normally make, a lot of guys,” said Butler, who now is among the league leaders and No. 1 among guards scoring inside like Tony Parker has been. “We got great looks; we get great looks we’ve got to take them. It all starts on the defensive end; have to guard and rebound. Don’t think we’ve done that to the best of our abilities.”

Butler also had nine rebounds, his near amazing late steal and the undying gratitude of his coach.

“Great. He was awesome,” said Thibodeau. “You can’t say enough about him. He’s old school. Last night before the (Miami) game, he wasn’t feeling well and he said, ‘Hey, don’t cut my minutes. I’m going to run that (flu) out of me.’ He said, ‘Keep me in there.’ I respect that. The guy wants to win, plays hard on every play, goes after people, makes tough plays, almost came up with that huge steal at the end. That’s Jimmy. Guy’s having an All-Star season.

The Bulls began slipping to open the second quarter as the reserves have stumbled of late with Gibson joining the starters. So Thibodeau brought Rose back earlier than usual and Rose responded with a left handed drive for a score, a step in floater and after a Gibson score as he and Gasol ran the occasional high/low, Rose produced a three-point play with a hard drive and bank shot while taking the hit.

“I want him attacking,” said Thibodeau. “When he attacks, he’s special. When he tries to pace himself, that’s not going to work. He has to be aggressive. It’s not perfect. Over the course of a game, he’s going to make a lot more good plays than he is bad. And that’s all good for us. He can’t be afraid to take a chance. He has great ability. I want him to go. It didn’t work out this time but it will work out next time.”

Of course, it’s easy to say. But the Hawks know as well and they basically challenged the Bulls to make shots. The Bulls didn’t, six of 29 on threes. Even taking out Rose, it still was six of 22. Nobody can continue to drive into three and four huge bodies parked in the lane and hope to have a long season. Sure, attack the basket. But teams are ready with the Bulls, ready for Rose. It’s not that simple and it’s not that easy. And when you force the action for no great reason in December you run the risk of bad things happening.

That Rose sequence brought the Bulls within 40-38 with 4:42 left in the first half. Rose and Butler combined on a nice two-man play, and then Rose and Butler closed out the scoring for the Bulls, though the Bulls were unable to curtail people named Bazemore and Brand and, hello, anyone got Kyle Korver, who closed the half with a three for a 50-44 Atlanta lead.

Horford and Millsap controlled the early part of the third quarter. But Rose came back with a pullup and found Butler for a slashing three-point play as multiple defenders dropped onto Rose. That again brought the Bulls within two. But every time they were in position to get a lead, the Hawks to their credit made a play and then six straight Brand points late in the third gave Atlanta a 73-64 lead going into the fourth.

“An incredible professional,” said Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer of Brand. “He takes care of himself. He’s just one of the best workers and he sets a great example for our entire group.”

Nikola Mirotic and Brooks then began a 7-0 run to open the fourth. And once again the Bulls were in position to lead. But Dunleavy’s three spun out and the Hawks strung a few baskets together. Rose answered with an elbow jumper and picking up a loose ball for a floater. And though Rose had his miscues, he made several brilliant defensive plays, rushing back to take a brutal charge after a turnover, blocking Jeff Teague on the next possession and then stripping Teague two possessions later, three great plays in four defensive possessions late in the first half to keep the Hawks from running away.

But in the end the Bulls had one last chance when Butler somehow grabbed a Korver pass trailing 86-83 with 23.7 seconds left in the game.

“My goodness. That was stupid,” said Korver. “Jimmy Butler jumps 15 feet in the air and gets it. Then I just tried to push my way in there and tip it somewhere. I don’t know what happened but we got the ball.”

Butler won the tip after he and Korver were tied up, but Millsap stepped in to steal it and the game. It was that close.

“It’s all a read,” said Rose of his approach. “If someone is going, I’m not going to try to affect the game with just shooting up crazy shots or shooting up a shot I have no business shooting just because I haven’t shot a shot. I’m going to feel the game, see how the game is going to go and involve myself in the game at some point.”

Frankly, he does give a damn.

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