There have been an awful lot of Derrick Rose-themed debates this season. Early on, there was the “Rose versus Rondo” debate. Many people chose Rondo because he was considered a much better defender, and because he’s more of a pure point guard, while Rose looks to score first and pass second. Or so the theory goes. Personally, I think he’s usually looking to make the best basketball play.
Later came the “Should Rose win the MVP?” debate. Many people said (and still say) no, he should not, either because the Bulls (at one time) weren’t winning enough, or because Rose’s advanced stats weren’t strong enough, or because there were mitigating factors to his team’s success (bench, coaching, defense). Though it all, Rose (in his words) was “just ballin’ out,” and the Bulls kept piling up victories.
Make it 17 wins in their last 19 games.
The Bulls keep making statements. And so does Rose. Last night, Rose (with an assist from his teammates) certainly didn’t have much trouble slowing down Rondo (7 points, 3-for-10 shooting, 6 assists, a plus-minus score of -14). On the other end, Rondo — without the departed Kendrick Perkins to watch his back — was utterly helpless against Rose, who finished with game highs in points (30), assists (8), free throws (10-for-10) and plus-minus (+24). Rose added 5 boards, 2 steals and had an efficient shooting night (9-for-16 from the field and 2-for-5 from downtown).
Rose did what he wanted. Whenever he wanted.
It’s worth pointing out that the Celtics currently rank a close second (to the Bulls) in Defensive Efficiency. And that, last season, Rondo made the All NBA Defensive First Team. That means, one year ago, Rondo was named the best defensive point guard in professional basketball.
He knows people doubt him. He pays attention. He recalls tough losses. He remembers when other teams celebrate after beating his team. He understands what people are saying about his game. Okay, I don’t know this for sure, but what I do know is that, when he gets called out for something, he usually responds. He’s been doing it since day one. Can’t shoot? He learned to shoot. Can’t hit threes? He extended his range. Doesn’t pass enough for a point guard? He cracks the top 10 and sets a career high in assists. Doesn’t get to the free throw line enough. He starts getting there. A lot.
Oh, yes. Rose knows.
I bet he knows about the “Rose versus Rondo” and “MVP” debates, too.
Last night, for at least one long, shuddering breath, he settled both of those debates. I’m sure people will wake up today, shake off the awe of what he did, and start reconstructing their anti-Rose arguments. He’s still only 7th in PER, after all. And, hey, this Celtics team is still wallowing in self pity over the Perkins trade, right? That’s just the nature of the beast.
And it’s a great thing for the Bulls. Rose feeds off that stuff.
The kid’s humble. No question about it. After the game, even as his teammates and the Celtics were falling all over each other to hand him the MVP trophy, Rose cast his MVP ballot for Luol Deng.
I’m not kidding.
Said Rose: “He’s the most consistent player this year on our team. Playing defense, playing when he’s hurt, just playing tough. This year, man, he got my MVP vote.”
Has the NBA ever had a superstar like Derrick Rose. As ESPNChicago’s Jon Greenberg put it: “Rose feels responsible for carrying a first-place team. You’ll never find him pinning the blame on his teammates for a loss or questioning coach Tom Thibodeau’s decisions.”
It’s true. When the Bulls lose — heck, even when they win, most times — Rose personally absorbs the blame for whatever went wrong. Seriously. He takes the rap for everything. I’m surprised he didn’t accept responsibility for Carlos Boozer tripping over that athletic bag or Joakim Noah injuring his thumb.
It’s quite a contrast from what NBA fans are used to. When the Lakers lost recent games to the Jazz and Warriors, Kobe Bryant was jawing at officials and yelling at his teammates. Earlier this season, after another long night in a tough loss, LeBron James questioned his coach’s rotation, explaining that he and Dwyane Wade had logged too many minutes. “I think Coach Spo knows that,” James said.
Can you imagine Rose behaving like Kobe or making statements like LeBron? Of course you can’t, because he hasn’t, and he wouldn’t (as far as we can tell three seasons into his career). Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to single out those two guys to bash them. Superstars have little patience for failure and tend to blast their coaches and teammates from time to time. Michael Jordan did it. He used to complain bitterly about Phil Jackson’s use of the triangle offense. He punched out both Will Perdue and Steve Kerr at practice. He called guys out to the press.
No, my point isn’t to punish LeBron, Kobe or MJ for how they express their competitive urges. I’m just trying to point out that Rose isn’t like anybody we’ve ever seen. People have likened him to Allen Iverson, of all people, a man who refused to play on anybody’s terms but his own. Which is why that comparison is flawed to the point of senseless irresponsibility. While people are constructing statistical arguments that show Rose is a sort of Iverson 2.0, they should probably spend a little time watching him play, and following how he conducts himself.
Rose wants to win. He doesn’t care about statistics. Doesn’t care about how many field goal attempts he gets. Throughout the season, he has repeatedly chucked up desperation threes at the end of quarters, not because he’s seeking glory, but because it’s the right basketball play. This behavior has hurt his shooting percentages and caused some people to gasp in horror because they care more about what’s coming out of a calculator than context.
Rose is not Iverson. I guarantee you that if Tom Thibodeau called Rose into his office and instructed him to model his game after Rondo, to stop shooting as much and instead pass on every possession, Rose would do it without question or complaint. That’s who he is. He’s not a guy who would rather play overseas than be a sixth man. He doesn’t require 20 shots. He really doesn’t.
After last night’s game, Joakim Noah, who knows a little something about winning, said: “He’s playing at a high level, man. Everybody knows it. If this game doesn’t put the stamp on the MVP, I don’t know what else you can say. The guy is special and he does it with the right mindset. Humble. You say the same thing every day and it’s the same praise, but he comes in with the same mentality every day. A hard working dude, tough as hell. And it’s great to have somebody like that on your team.”
That’s not lip service. Jo means it. As somebody who has watched every single game Rose has ever played in the NBA, I understand his perspective. I’m a fan. I’m also reasonable enough to concede that there are solid arguments that can be made for other MVP candidates, be it LeBron, Dwight Howard or Chris Paul. If any of those men won the award over Rose, I wouldn’t stomp the ground or curse the heavens. They all have magnificent resumes.
But there’s only one position available. And Rose just nailed the interview.
My Rose man-crush aside, I want to point out that the entire team, and not just Rose, stepped up to this particular challenge. Before the game, Kevin Garnett emphasized the importance of this game and stated that the Celtics still hoped and intended to overtake the Bulls for the East’s top seed.
The Bulls begged to differ.
Boston leads the league in field goal percentage, but the Bulls held the Celtics to 38.4 percent shooting and limited them to only two three-pointers in 10 attempts. Chicago won the rebounding battle 44-35 and outscored Boston 44-22 in the paint. Only two Celtics starters scored in double figures — Paul Pierce (15) and KG (10) — while Rondo and Ray Allen combined to shoot 6-for-21. The Bulls forced only 12 turnovers, but they scored 18 points off those miscues.
Supposedly, the Celtics have the edge in experience and veteran savvy. But fortune favors the brave and basketball rewards the aggressors. The Bulls were the aggressors last night, and they bolted out of their corner throwing haymakers as soon as the bell rung. Boston was throwing jabs. Fighting smart. Chicago went for the knockout.
And they got it.
Said Garnett: “We got to be better than this. There’s no way we come out with an effort like that in a game this big. We’ve got to play with more grit than what we’ve been playing with. We need to finish this season out strong. The Bulls were cohesive, they knew what they were doing. We got our ass kicked tonight. I haven’t recalled that in a while.”
Added Doc Rivers: “They were far more physical and better prepared than we were. I take blame for some of that. Overall, they competed far better than we did. Everything they did offensively was harder than what we did. Everything they did defensively was harder than what we did offensively. They got every loose ball and we were the retaliator, not the instigator, all night.”
The Bulls have been doing that most of the season. They now have 58 wins — and are only one loss behind the Spurs for the league’s best record — despite missing Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah for almost 60 games this season. But, with Rose leading them, the Bulls have really embodied to team concept…the idea that the whole really is greater than the sum of the parts.
Said Rose: “I always said that we could compete with some of the best teams in the NBA. At training camp and in the beginning of the year, I thought my team’s ready to fight. I just saw what we were going through in training camp. Guys were keyed in and focused, making sure that they came in very, very hungry, wanting to win.”
It’s true. Luol Deng (23 points, 9-for-18, 6 rebounds, 2 blocks) and Carlos Boozer (14 points, 12 rebounds, 2 assists) refused to back down. Keith Bogans (6 points on 2-for-3 shooting plus 4 rebounds) was better than Ray Allen. Chicago’s Bench Mob (22 points, 10-for-22, 11 rebounds, 8 assists, 5 steals) gave their typical strong performance. The only concern, really, is that Noah’s ankle is obviously still giving him troubles. Hopefully, over the final four games, Jo will get enough minutes to stay in shape and enough rest to be fully healed for the playoffs.
During which, barring an epic collapse, the Bulls will have homecourt advantage in every series unless they face the Spurs in the NBA Finals. Who would’ve thought?
Other than Rose, of course.
Ryan DeGama of CelticsHub: “The image we had of the Celtics — from opening night 2007 to trade deadline 2011 — was of bad, bad men. They were one of the most disliked teams in the league for their rough and tumble style. Which is interesting because the Celtics are a finesse team on offense. They take a ton of mid-range jumpers. They don’t finish with power over contests at the rim. Their point guard studiously avoids contact on his drives. They have little inside offense (especially without Shaq) and tend towards fade away jumpers when they do go to the block. The current version of this Celtics team can, it seems to me, be intimidated by a physical defense firing hard on all cylinders, as Chicago’s was during the final 1.5 quarters last night.”