When Rose got benched because of his fourth foul with 5:31 left in the third quarter, the Bulls were leading 60-58. By the time coach Tom Thibodeu subbed him back in to start the fourth, Chicago had fallen behind 71-63 and the Rockets seemed to have all the momentum on their side. Honestly, the Bulls couldn’t have looked any more discombobulated.
Then Rose got ’em “combobulated” again.
On the Bulls first possession of the fourth quarter, he drilled a three-pointer. Two possessions later, he knocked down another three. On the possession after that, Derrick assisted on a triple by Luol Deng. Next possession, he drove in for a layup, drew the foul, and converted the free throw for an old-fashioned three-point play. Two possessions later, he hit an 11-foot bank shot off a crafty drive. On the next possession, he splashed home yet another three-pointer.
I was half-waiting for him to turn toward the scorer’s table and shrug. I mean, Rose catching fire from downtown? We’re talking about a 25 percent career three-point shooter who came into last night’s game 7-for-29 on the season. Well, the 1991-92 Portland Trail Blazers didn’t think MJ could beat them with threes. The 2010-11 Rockets probably thought the same thing about Rose.
They were wrong.
And just like that, the Bulls were up 81-71 and in control of their own destiny. I’m not saying the game was over. It wasn’t. Not by a long shot. The Rockets are a scrappy team and Brad Miller — who scored 9 of his 21 points down the stretch – reminded Bulls fans of why losing him in the offseason was a bit of a bummer. And Ronnie Brewer had a personal meltdown in crunch time, missing two free throws (three, actually, but the Rockets were called for a lane violation), bricking a wide open jumper and committing three turnovers.
Overall, Brewer may have had his best game of the season (11 points, 5-for-7, 3 steals) and the Bulls were +16 when he was on the floor. But man, I thought he’d changed sides in the last few minutes.
Still, Rose — who scored 33 points (13-for-20) to go along with 7 assists and 3 steals — saved the Bulls on a night when Luol Deng (6-for-21), Taj Gibson (1-for-9) and Joakim Noah (a team-worst plus-minus score of -18) just couldn’t seem to get it going. Derrick received some timely help from Brewer, Omer Asik (6 points, 5 rebounds, +16) and especially Kyle Korver (10 points, 3-for-5, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals).
No doubt about it. Chicago’s bench came up huge.
And it’s a good thing too. Particularly considering the Bulls nearly choked this game away with missed foul shots (13 of them), turnovers (20 of them) and points given up off turnovers (29 of them). Chicago was also outscored in the paint 44-39 despite the ongoing absence of Yao Ming.
But sometimes having a superstar and a spark off the bench will get you through.
The Bulls are going to need both — and then some — tonight in San Antonio.