Back on December 18, the Clippers beat the Bulls in the United Center when Derrick Rose missed a potential game tying free throw with 0.8 seconds left.
Rose never forgot it.
In the 22 games since, Rose had gone 140-for-160 from the line. That’s a conversion rate of 87.5 percent. Quite a difference from his career mark of 79.2 percent or even his in-season average of 82.4 percent.
That’s something people need to understand about Rose: He’s always getting better.
Think about it. He came into the league without a jump shot. Now he has one. Critics said he couldn’t hit the three-pointer. Now he’s connecting 38 percent of his treys. His court vision was questioned. Now he’s 10th in APG (8.2) and 8th in Assist Percentage (40.6). His defense was called out. Now his defense has improved by a wide margin and he currently ranks 10th in Defensive Win Shares. Earlier this season, ESPN’s John Hollinger wrote that his lack of free throw attempts was preventing him from being an elite point guard. Rose went on to average eight foul shots per game in January.
The game matters to him. Being the best matters to him.
So it should come as no surprise that Derrick wanted payback for that earlier loss to The Other L.A. Team.
Said Rose: “They beat us last time. I wanted some revenge. It was because of me that we lost [in December] where I missed the free throw. And that really hurt me. If anything, it made me stronger as a player.”
It sure did.
The game began with a thrilling first quarter duel between Rose and Blake Griffin, who, by the way, is every bit as good as billed. The Clippers are just as lucky to have Griffin as the Bulls are to have Rose.
Fortunately for Chicago, Vinny Del Negro was coaching from the other bench.
Rose cooled off in the second quarter but returned with a (you guessed it) vengeance in the third quarter, scoring 12 points and dishing out three assists as the Bulls outscored the Clippers 27-22 to take an 11-point lead into the fourth quarter. That’s when the Chicago defense kicked in, limiting L.A. to 17 points over the final 12 minutes, effectively putting the game out of reach.
It says something that Griffin could have a superhero-like game (32 points, 13 rebounds, 7 assists) and the Bulls could soundly beat a Clippers team that had been red-hot at home. It also says something that Rose was getting “M-V-P!” chants on the road in L.A. (Although that probably says more about the historically morbid quality of the Clippers franchise than Rose’s MVP candidacy.)
The Bulls have now won six in a row and are tied (with Miami) for the third-best record in the NBA (behind Boston and San Antonio). And I feel the need to point this out again: Joakim Noah hasn’t played in a month and a half. The Bulls are now 18-6 in his absence. Thanks to the Double Ds: Defense and D-Rose.
Rose finished with a co-game-high 32 points along with a game-best 11 assists. He shot the ball efficiently from three-point range (4-for-8) and overall (11-for-18). He did miss two of his eight free throw attempts, the second of which really upset him despite the fact that the Bulls were up 103-85 with 1:08 left in the game.
I’m okay with Rose expecting perfection, though.
Said Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau: “I think that’s who he is. I think he’s never satisfied. He wants the team to do well. He’s always driving himself to get better. I thought he had great command in this game. I thought the way he started off the game set the tone for us. Very aggressive. Pick and roll, running the team. I thought [he was] aggressive defensively. I thought he did a lot of good things and when he’s going like that, he lifts the whole team.”
Other notables: Carlos Boozer had another double-double (16 points, 10 boards). Taj Gibson (9 points, 12 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocked shots) and C.J. Watson (9 points, 3-for-4, 2-for-3 on threes, 2 rebounds, 2 assists) provided a lift off the bench.
And how about Luol Deng?
Look, we all know Lu will probably never be an All-Star. But night in, night out, he morphs into whatever the Bulls need him to be. And last night, he had an All-Star level game that, because of the Blake and Derrick Show, went almost unnoticed: 26 points, 9-for-17 from the field, 3-for-6 from beyond the arc, 5-for-5 from the line, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals and a game-best plus-minus score of +18 in a team-high 39 minutes and 23 seconds of action.
Everything the Bulls do revolves around Rose. Boozer’s inside game keeps the Bulls from being a jumpshot-only team. But although the NBA doesn’t give out an award for it, Deng has been one of the best “Third Guys” in the league this season.
At any rate, it was a nice way to start this current five-game road trip. You know, Rose says he wants to win all five games.
Do you doubt him?
From the AP game notes: “The Bulls have held opponents to fewer than 100 points in 13 straight games and 19 of 20. They are 31-6 this season when giving up fewer than 100 and 0-8 when allowing 100 or more in a regulation game.”