Last night, the Bulls beat the Heat without Derrick Rose for the second time this season.
Oh sure, there was a warm body out there. It looked like Rose, and it was wearing Rose’s jersey. But it wasn’t Rose. Was it? I’ve watched every single game Derrick has played in the pros and I’ve never seen him look so…so…ordinary.
It wasn’t just the career-low 2 points on miserable 1-for-13 shooting. It wasn’t even his game-worst plus-minus score of -27, which is an astounding number considering the Bulls won. It was Rose’s seeming helplessness that was disturbing.
Despite the eight assists — one shy of tying C.J. Watson for a game-high — Rose had nothing to offer. He couldn’t shoot. Couldn’t drive (0-for-4 at the rim). Had no positive effect on the game that I could see. At times, the rust carried over to his defense, as there were times he failed to fight through screens and wandered aimlessly away from the player he was guarding.
The result? Rose was benched during critical stretches of the fourth quarter and all of overtime in favor of C.J. Watson. Vinny Del Negro did the same thing during Rose’s rookie season and there was very nearly an uprising and John Paxson even gave Del Negro a talking to.
That won’t happen this time. Tom Thibodeau made the right decision. Everybody knows it. Including Rose.
Said Rose: “I’m fine, man. Anything to win. Where he felt that lineup was going to win the game, it won the game, and I can’t complain about anything.”
And how about Watson? It was, without question, the best game he’s played for the Bulls: 27 minutes, 16 points, 6-for-10 from the field, 9 assists, 3 rebounds, 3 steals and an amazing plus-minus of +38. He also forced overtime with two seconds left in the fourth quarter by hitting a three-pointer off a broken play — it was designed for Kyle Korver — and he quarterbacked an OT session in which the Bulls outscored the Heat 12-2.
During overtime, Watson had three assists and canned a 20-footer.
Speaking of canning long jumpers, Korver scored 17 points on 6-for-8 shooting, including 5-for-6 on three-pointers. His final triple was a forced “time is running out” 27-footer with 1:01 left in overtime. That shot put the Bulls up 96-86 and effectively slayed the Heat.
Said Korver: “I was calling on my inner John Lucas [III] to hit the shot. The shot clock was down. It didn’t really feel that good when I shot it. It was one of those nights, so we’ll take it.”
We’ll take it all right. And, with all due respect to Carlos Boozer, who finally had a strong performance against a quality team (19 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists), this game was all about the Bench Mob. Chicago’s reserves changed the game. Big time. They outscored Miami’s reserves 47-7. Wow. And check out the plus minus scores of the starters versus the bench:
Derrick Rose (-27)
Joakim Noah (-20)
Carlos Boozer (-15)
Richard Hamilton (-1)
Luol Deng (0)
C.J. Watson (+38)
Taj Gibson (+27)
Omer Asik (+25)
Kyle Korver (+24)
Ronnie Brewer (0)
Jimmy Butler (-1)
The bench also played some killer defense, which is a big reason why the Heat shot only 43.9 percent, finished with only 9 fast break points, and committed 19 turnovers.
Chicago’s defense also forced Miami’s big three into becoming jump shooters. At times, that seemed to work in the Heat’s favor. Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James combined to shoot 8-for-11 from 10-15 feet and LeBron was 3-for-6 on threes.
But…James went 3-for-10 from 16-23 feet and Wade was 1-for-7.
As usual, Miami’s stars were forced to do pretty much everything, scoring 71 of their team’s 86 points. By overtime, they looked gassed and the Bulls ran away with it. In fact, here’s a summary of the Heat’s OT offense:
Wade missed jumper (blocked by Asik)
James missed layup
Wade turnover (stolen by Watson)
Bosh missed 5-footer
Wade 1-for-2 at the line
Bosh missed layup
Shane Battier turnover
Bosh 1-for-2 from the line
LeBron missed three-pointer
Mike Miller turnover
To be sure, you can credit Chicago’s defense, and the energy of the Bulls players. But the Heat looked spent.
Miami also might have lost the battle for home court advantage in the playoffs. Assuming they end up facing the Bulls at some point. Chicago (45-14) and Miami (40-17) are tops in the East, but the Bulls have three fewer losses with seven games to go. Unless something catastrophic happens, the Heat won’t be able to make up that deficit.
Of course, the same was true last season, and the Bulls still fell to the Heat four games to one in the Eastern Conference Finals. Which means that, for these final seven games, the focus can shift from fighting for home court to knocking the rust off Rose’s game and getting the starting five acquainted with each other.
It’s both a good position to be in…and a worrisome one. Especially based on how Rose played last night. But Derrick doesn’t sound too concerned.
Said Rose: “I’m not worried about my stats or anything. Can I make up excuses? Yeah. But you know me, I’m not going to use no excuse. My shots weren’t falling. Shots I normally hit, I wasn’t hitting. My teammates had my back. I’m happy I have them on my team.”
Added Korver: “He’s going to be a little rusty. I don’t care who you are, you’re going to be a little rusty.”
One other concern — beyond Rose’s iffy health and shoddy play last night — is foul shooting. The Bulls bricked eight of their 19 free throw attempts last night. And that wasn’t a one-game aberration. Chicago currently ranks 27th in free throw percentage (.722).
Rose missed key free throws in the team’s loss to the Heat earlier this season. Both Rose and Deng missed critical free throws in last Sunday’s one-point overtime loss to the Knicks. And those eight misses last night might have been fatal if not for Watson’s hero shot.
Oh well. I’ll leave that worry for another day and just savor this victory.