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.
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.’’
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.”