Game 54 Recap: Bull 109, Spurs 99

It wasn’t exactly Babe Ruth calling his shot in Game 3 of the 1932 World Series, but Rose said up front that this was an important game, a measuring stick that would show how good the Bulls really were. Or weren’t.

To me, that was Derrick’s way of saying: “Look out. I’m coming.”

Well, he came, he saw, he kicked some serious you-know-what. Against the league’s best team no less.

Rose scored a career-high 42 points. He shot 18-for-28 from the field (64 percent) and 6-for-6 from the line. He dished out 8 assists while turning the ball over only once. He grabbed 5 rebounds. The only blight on his otherwise sublime performance was going 0-for-4 from beyond the arc.

And you want to talk about being clutch?

How about his 13 fourth quarter points? How about scoring Chicago’s final 10 points over the final 3:20? Or scoring 6 points in the last 1:15. I’m talking about drilling long jumpers with a hand in his face. I’m talking about getting to the basket at will and laying it in.

I’m talking about Derrick freaking Rose.

There are still plenty of people out there who, for whatever reason, don’t believe in Rose. Or maybe it’s that they don’t wantto believe. I found that out while participating in ESPN’s Daily Dime Live chat last night. A lot of NBA fans want to define Rose by what he is not. For example: He is not a pass-first floor leader like Rajon Rondo. He is not a statistical freak of nature like LeBron James. He is not the MVP of the National Basketball Association.

This is pretty standard stuff. It’s been going on since Day 1 of Rose’s career. He doesn’t have a jumper. He can’t hit threes. He doesn’t have enough assists. He can’t play defense. He doesn’t get to the line enough.

For every improvement in Rose’s game, there seems to be an equal and opposite counterargument against his emerging superstardom. A gaping hole in his game. A vital reason why he’s not as good as he seems.

During DDL, I suggested that I would not, at this moment, trade Rose for LeBron straight up. Not because I think Rose is better than LeBron — he’s not — but because he’s younger, has far fewer miles on his NBA odometer, has only begun to reach his seemingly limitless potential, loves the absolute living hell out of Chicago and has (by all accounts) an intense desire to represent both the Bulls and the city. And we learned last summer that LeBron doesn’t want to play for the Bulls, right? It wasn’t about who’s the best. It was about who was a better match for this particular team.

Seemed like sound logic to me, but I was accused of being an irrationally biased Bulls fan. Possibly unbalanced and in need of some serious mood-altering drugs.

Of course, all that talk got really, really, really quiet as Rose was dismantling the Spurs during the fourth quarter. Funny how that happens.

Anyway, there’s more to this story than Rose and his desire to be the best. According to ESPNChicago’s Melissa Isaacson, Rose’s big night didn’t come solely from within. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau gave Rose some serious motivation from without.

Said Rose: “He gave me a speech about being aggressive, a motivational speech. I love a coach where he’s showing emotion, even before the game when it’s just me and him talking. … I wanted to get up and yell with him but I kept quiet and tried to take that out on the court.”

I wanted to get up and yell with him but I kept quiet and tried to take that out on the court.

In many ways, that line speaks to the essence of Rose. He is quiet. His desire is high. His game is loud.

As Isaacson points out, Rose is concluding a stretch in which he has outplayed Deron Williams, Chris Paul and Tony Parker. The Bulls — who have played 18 games without Carlos Boozer and 30 games without Joakim Noah — are 38-16 and now have wins against the Spurs, Celtics, Heat, Mavericks (twice), Lakers and Magic.

For the record, Noah missed the wins over San Antonio, Boston, Miami, Orlando and the second victory over Dallas. Of course, the Celtics were without Kevin Garnett and the Heat were missing LeBron James. So those wins should probably be considered inconclusive at best.

But still.

Said Rose: “We have a lot of confidence right now, knowing that we can beat some of the best teams in the NBA. We just have to keep it going. When we come back [from the All-Star break], we have to keep it focused. We have to work even harder. We’re going to have a few days off and some guys are going to have the opportunity to have their bodies relax, but we’ve still got to go and try to win a championship.”

If you want further testimony, look no further than Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. Pop is a no-nonsense guy and, if I’m being completely honest, my favorite coach in the league. He is not given to bouts of hyperbole, which makes his praise of Rose feel pretty special.

Said Popovich: “I thought the Bulls played very well. They were very sharp. Sharper than we were. They played a good, physical game, and that point guard, what’s his name? I didn’t know his name before the game. I should have checked. Wow. Wow. He was something. We scored 99 points and shot 49 percent and [made] seven 3s, so you think you should have a pretty good chance to win, but he negated that. So he did a hell of a job.”

Pop continued: “He has taken a monster leap this year. What’s really great about him is that he seems to love the pressure in putting his team on his back. He has the character and demeanor to do that. Superstars have that character and leadership gene.”

Carlos Boozer agrees: “He knew how important this game was, and he just kept going and going. They couldn’t stop him, and we told him not to stop. He just took over, and all we had to do was ride the D-Rose train.”

Now, I don’t want to go too far overboard, assuming I haven’t already. As always, this was a total team win. The Bulls shot nearly 54 percent from the field and outrebounded the Spurs 41-29. They also outscored San Antonio 44-38 in the paint while going 16-for-21 (76 percent) at the rim (Rose was 6-for-7).

Boozer (15 points on 7-for-14 shooting) and Luol Deng (19 points on 6-for-12 shooting) provided scoring assistance. Keith Bogans hit a couple threes, and we all know the Bulls are nearly invincible (16-1) when he scores at least 6 points. Kurt “Big Sexy” Thomas had a co-game-high 9 rebounds.

The bench contributed 25 points, 14 rebounds and 6 assists. For a stretch during the second half, Taj Gibson (2 blocked shots) and Omer Asik (1 block) formed a nearly impenetrable wall in the paint.

This is for real, people.

Tom Ziller of SBNation correctly pointed out that San Antonio was playing the final game of their nine-game Rodeo Road Trip (although he also notes that the Spurs were relatively well-rested). And this was, after all, the last game before the All-Star break, which can result in a slight letdown, especially for the road team.

Again I say: But still.

Record-wise, the Bulls are just a hop step behind Boston (40-14) and Miami (41-15). They’re currently fourth in John Hollinger’s Power Rankings. They lead the league in Defensive Efficiency. And did I mention Noah (fingers crossed!) should return next week?

As ESPNChicago’s Nick Friedell writes: “The single scariest part of Thursday night’s game is that the Bulls beat the best team in the league without having their whole team intact. … Up to this point in the season, the Bulls have yet to play a game when all of their key contributors have been healthy. Carlos Boozer missed the first month of the season because of a broken right hand, but when he finally returned, Noah was playing with just one healthy hand of his own. The 25 year-old center had already torn a ligament in his right thumb late in November, and he wasn’t playing close to 100 percent. Now everything is about to change. After the All-Star break, the Bulls will finally be able to see how good they can truly be. It’s a moment that Rose and his teammates have been waiting for all season long.”

Get ready for an exciting second half of the season.

Quote of the Night:
More Pop on Rose: “Wow! What do you want me to say? Good-looking kid, great demeanor, doesn’t beat his chest. Class act on top of his phenomenal play. All those qualities are going to serve him well.’’

TrueHoop Network:
48 Minutes of Hell: “Over at the Daily Dime (Friday morning edition), I make an argument that tonight’s Bulls game might well have been an NBA Finals preview. And if that’s the case, the Spurs will need to figure a few things out between now and June. … What I’m reacting to, and what makes the Bulls such a formidable opponent is the fact that Tom Thibodeau is not a Johnny-come-lately. The same defensive execution which took Boston to two NBA Finals and one championship has reared its ugly head in Chicago. The Bulls are for real. And it’s not surprising that, along with the Celtics, Chicago may be San Antonio’s most difficult postseason match up.”

Extras:
Recap, Box Score, Advanced Box Score, Play-By-Play, Shot Chart, Photos.

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17 Responses to Game 54 Recap: Bull 109, Spurs 99

  1. doubleaccord@gmail.com'
    Tony C. February 18, 2011 at 3:34 pm #

    Outstanding post. I thought that this was the Bulls best game yet. The Spurs played well, yet it never, ever felt as though they might win.

  2. guilhermegrise@gmail.com'
    that brazilian guy February 18, 2011 at 3:35 pm #

    My two cents: I agree with coach Pop, Derrick Rose is as smooth as… Tim Duncan. Now that’s a role model.

  3. prosper.guard@gmail.com'
    MadKing February 18, 2011 at 4:04 pm #

    It was an incredible win for the Bulls; one of those games where your eyes are glued to the tube. I think what has been so impressive about the Bulls this season is their ability to avoid the letdown game, which has been mentioned a lot on the Blog. Last season I remember them having so many of those games, but this season they haven’t even lost three straight! That focus is so important. We all know how bad it can be when a team loses it (Lakers vs. Cavs Round Two). The Bulls could have checked out for the break feeling good about how the season had gone, but instead they grinded it out and took down the Spurs. Throughout the season the Bulls have been so good at avoiding the hype and staying grounded and focused – it’s truly going to pay dividends during the playoff push. However, I’m going to savor this win and look forward to the All-Star game, where I hope Derrick puts on a show where he can garner more MVP love.

  4. bullsbythehorns@gmail.com'
    Matt McHale February 18, 2011 at 4:42 pm #

    “The Spurs played well, yet it never, ever felt as though they might win.”

    Exactly. The Bulls really controlled the game. The laugher of it is, I read several articles and blog posts saying that this game proves the Spurs are overrated. Nobody wants to believe the Bulls are actually an elite team. The suggestion almost seems to provoke hostility. It did on DDL, where I was repeatedly told that Rondo could do what Rose does if he got enough shots, or that Carlos Boozer is going to doom the Bulls in the playoffs, etc.

    “My two cents: I agree with coach Pop, Derrick Rose is as smooth as… Tim Duncan. Now that’s a role model.”

    Agreed.

    “It was an incredible win for the Bulls; one of those games where your eyes are glued to the tube. I think what has been so impressive about the Bulls this season is their ability to avoid the letdown game, which has been mentioned a lot on the Blog.”

    I mostly agree. Those back-to-back losses to New Jersey and Philadelphia felt a little letdown-y to me, as did (more recently) the back-to-back losses against the Warriors and Trail Blazers. Those were all road games, sure, but the Bulls also struggled in a home loss to the Bobcats on January 18.

    That said, I can only isolate a small handful of games where I thought the Bulls didn’t bring the intensity or played with a carelessness that upset me. Under VDN, that seemed to happen every other game. That’s an exaggeration, but it felt that way. Now those games are aberrations.

  5. jimmyzuercher@gmail.com'
    J February 18, 2011 at 5:24 pm #

    D Rose stepping up for a career high 42 against the number one team in the league on a nationally televised game? Guy knows how to get up for big games. . .

  6. Inception February 18, 2011 at 5:32 pm #

    rose was giving me flashbacks of the MJ days…clutch fall-away jumpers hitting the bottom of the net for a national audience….stoic reaction after each clutch shot, just like MJ did (unless he was mad ;-) ) ….just like Kobe said, “the sky’s the limit” for Rose.

  7. Luke February 18, 2011 at 5:48 pm #

    Last night was awesome. By far the best game I’ve been to since game 4 against the Celtics…. the crowd was the loudest ive heard in a regular season game, and the MVP chants were giving me chills.

    I just hope the Bulls continue to fly under the radar… let people continue to think this game said more about the Spurs than it did the bulls, or that Rondo can do what Rose does. Chicago sports have always been like that… look at the Bears- they feed off of the underdog tag.

    A healthy Bulls team, at home in the playoffs, is about as close as you can come to being unbeatable.

  8. Ryan February 18, 2011 at 6:17 pm #

    I know Thibs takes one game at a time, but as a fan looking at the schedule, we have it pretty nice after the break. The third week of March will begin an easy road to an excellent record if everyone stays healthy. If Bulls can keep playing at a high level, we can be at the top of the East come Playoff time.

    It seems like the Bulls are starting to play better defense (according to Thibs standards), and with a healthy lineup, will start ‘peaking.’ I just hope the Celtics will level out and the Heat keep playing an Iso game instead of using a team effort.

  9. losbullz@yahoo.com'
    losbullz February 18, 2011 at 6:24 pm #

    nice article. rose is earning his mvp. interesting take at chasing 23 about this: http://chasing23.com/2011/01/should-derrick-rose-be-mvp/

  10. Inception February 18, 2011 at 7:09 pm #

    a #1 seed for this team scares me….all the pressure will shift from miami/bos and onto chi…on the surface, it might appear this team can handle it, but let’s get real…this is going to be the team’s first 50+ win season (possibly 60), since the MJ era….consistency needs to be established first before taking the #1 crown in the EC.

  11. edsohn80@yahoo.com'
    Ed February 18, 2011 at 9:53 pm #

    Hey, well-written piece. I liked this a lot:

    A team like the Bulls needs to have more than just its superstar playing at the top of his ability, and it does. Everyone, except maybe Kyle Korver, is playing above their ceilings, even if it doesn’t show up in the box score. Rose-Boozer-Deng offers the exact perfect balance for how the team works, with Boozer playing with polished power inside, Deng the ideal #3 option, and Rose not feeling like he has to do it all by himself. When Rose has that type of team, he’s MORE comfortable taking over because he knows he isn’t forced to.

    Defense is a tough way to win games but this is a team with the capacity to put up points. Pressure from a balanced attack bodes well in a 7 game series.

  12. gorditadog@aol.com'
    Gorditadogg February 18, 2011 at 10:23 pm #

    Rose was completely Dominant last night. And as Pop says, he’s such “a good-looking kid” too.

    What I really liked last night though, is that we played as a team. I thought all of our players played with confidence. Watson had a strong 10 minutes, Korver played tough even though his shot wasn’t falling, Brewer made a dunk (how ’bout that!) It seemed to me that all 10 players contributed last night, it was a solid, solid game.

  13. Dwudtke29@gmail.com'
    Chuck wood February 19, 2011 at 3:38 am #

    I think the thing that excites me the most about this bulls team, outside of the beast that is Derrick Rose, is our depth at center. I mean when Noah comes back he will more than likely want to jump right back in, but he won’t have to. Between Big Sexy, the Big Shik, and even Taj, this team will be able to ease Noah back in. Plus come playoff time, depth at the center will be a must when we face a team like Boston, or Orlando. Basically, this team has greatly surpassed my expectations for the season thus far, and I’m extremely excited for the second half! Go Bulls! Keep up the excellent blog Matt!

  14. inkybreath@gmail.com'
    inkybreath February 19, 2011 at 4:07 am #

    (Great post. Now, I am even more geeked up!)

    this game was Mesmerizing.

    I watch most games on NBA League Pass online, which is nice enough (live in NY). Last night, I went to a friend’s house with all the requisites:

    HD, 46+ inch screen, big sound, etc…

    It is so much fun when a game goes cinematic and just draws you all the way in. The Spurs are a boogeyman team; always lurking. I still can’t believe we held them down so well throughout the game.

    Did the Spurs have a 4 point lead at one point? I will have to look as the Bulls had a timely answer for each push…

    Just a phenomenal way to hit the break.

    (By the way, I know we all held our breath when Deng gimped for a second. I sat their thinking someone was going to hear it for the jinx.)

  15. yomomma@hotmail.com'
    Scottie Pimpin' February 19, 2011 at 4:10 am #

    “that boy is good neil” – S King

  16. thebballkid@gmail.com'
    Ivo February 19, 2011 at 9:57 am #

    Amazing writing, that was a joy to read.

    Just like it was a joy to watch the Bulls devour the best team in the league. It felt like the post-Jordan Bulls had finally graduated.

    I have criticized Deng before – heck, people even called me a Deng hater – but against the Spurs he was just what the Bulls needed. They don’t need him do score 30 with 10 assists – all he needs to do is hit 6 jumpers, a couple layups, and some free throws. 20 and 5 – that should be his stat. Help defense will lead to some steals, boxing out will help Booze and Noah grab the rebounds. But most importantly, he should accept this role of his and be consistent.

    D Rose took the biggest stage so far in his career (just like did in his first career playoff game against Boston 2 years ago) and just shone in it. Class player, he inspires me with how humble he is. He is also, hands down unstoppable.

    Now excuse me as I go off to purchase his jersey, which is of course, 3 years too late. Still, better late than never.

  17. Luvabull February 24, 2011 at 12:11 am #

    Nice post Matt. Great game. Especially love the stat about Bogans: 16-1 when he scores more than 6. ;) LOL

    Hey what would you say if I told do you I have proof positive that Sam Smith reads your blog. Yep. He used a phrase coined right here on bythehorns, in one of his columns!

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