Last night, the Cleveland Cavaliers Cadavers lost their 26th game in a row, which ties the all-time record for the longest losing streak in the four major professional sports.
I bring this up because Chicago’s two-game losing streak — which ended last night in Utah — seemed to last forever. It’s probably a sign that a team is pretty good when dropping back-to-back games makes it feel like the sky is falling.
Meanwhile, it’s raining frogs and brimstone in Cleveland. But that’s another story.
As for the Bulls, looking at the box score, you have to wonder how they won this one. The Jazz shot better, won the rebounding battle, had more assists and blocked more shots.
The Bulls, on the other hand, converted only 39 percent of their field goal attempts and, once again, got exploited by opposing big men. Al Jefferson scored 26 points on 12-for-19 shooting to go with 8 rebounds and 2 blocked shots. Paul Milsap had 20 points, 14 boards, 3 assists, 2 steals and a blocked shot.
But beyond that, Chicago’s defense kind of came through, holding a Jazz team that ranked 12th in PPG (99.6) 13.6 points below their average. On the season, Utah ranks 9th in the league in Offensive Rating at 108.8. Last night, the Bulls held them to an Offensive Rating of 96.8. For some perspective on that number, the poor Cavaliers Cadavers rank dead last (get it?) in the NBA with an Offensive Rating of 100.6.
It helped that the Bulls held the Jazz to 1-for-8 from beyond the arc. The Jazz helped the Bulls by missing 10 of their 21 free throw attempts.
It didn’t hurt that Derrick Rose (29 points, 7 assists, 3 rebounds and a steal) didn’t get embarrassed the way he was by Andre Miller in Portland. By now, everybody’s heard Nicolas Batum’s already infamous “He can’t play defense” line. And as one-game samples go, Miller’s obliteration of Rose’s D was pretty damning. But, then again, LaBradford Smith once dropped 37 points on Michael Jordan, in Chicago no less, and we all know how that turned out.
So, really, it came as no surprise to me that, after having his defensive efforts shredded and criticized in such a public fashion, that Rose held (with help) fellow All-Star Deron Williams to a notably sub-par performance.
D-Will dished out a game-best 12 assists, but he scored only 11 points (10 below his average), shot 5-for-13 (eight percentage points below his shooting average), missed all three attempts from beyond the arc (35 percentage points below his average), made only one trip to the foul line (despite averaging nearly seven free throw attempts per game) and committed a game-high 5 turnovers.
Now check out Williams’ splits. This is a guy that averages 23.3 PPG on nearly 50 percent shooting at home. I’m not saying Derrick completely shut him down, or Chicago’s help defense doesn’t deserve a big assist on this one, but Rose was hardly exploited on the defensive end in this one. Quite the opposite.
And, in the end, Rose stole the show. Literally.
Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago writes: “In the Bulls’ minds, the steal Rose made on Williams was the play of the game. Williams got the ball and was headed up the floor with just over a minute left and the Bulls clinging to a one-point lead. Seemingly out of nowhere, Rose came racing up the floor from behind and popped the ball away from his counterpart. The entire sequence exemplified the type of all-around night that Rose delivered.”
Said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: “Huge. That was a great hustle play. That’s what we needed. That basically wins the game and then Ronnie [Brewer] made a big steal too. Offensively we struggled all night … I thought our defense was a lot better tonight.”
That defense forced Williams into three straight turnovers down the stretch. Then Rose and Brewer drilled clutch free throws to ice the game.
That’s the thing. It was a total team effort. Sure, Rose scored 11 points in the fourth, but Boozer also hit a couple big shots, and he pulled down a huge offensive rebound and dished to Kurt Thomas for a short jumper with 3:18 left that extended Chicago’s lead to 82-79. Boozington also stole a pass by Williams with 33 ticks on the clock (one Jazz possession after Rose’s big steal). And let’s not forget Kyle Korver’s three-bomb with 2:16 remaining. Or Ronnie Brewer’s steal on Williams with seven seconds left that really and truly ended things.
It’s funny. Utah had all five starters score in double figures. Chicago had only two players (Rose and Boozer) reach double figures in scoring. But the Bulls played better team ball…as evidenced by their 25-5 edge in bench points.
In the end, the Bulls just wanted it more.
Said Thibs: “The thing that I did like was that I thought the mental toughness at the end [was there]. To do what we had to do to come up with the win. To come up with some loose balls, to hustle, when you do that you give yourself a chance.”