You know what I took from this game against the Hawks?
People better start listening to what Derrick Rose has to say.
Rose is a both humble and quite, which borders on amazing when you stop and consider his current stature among the NBA greats. His “aw schucks” attitude and respectful demeanor aren’t acts. In a sports world where the personalities and (especially) egos are larger than life, Rose seems like a creature from another reality. His personality is understated. His ego, if anything, is smaller than life.
Consider a world where Dwight Howard has 16 technical fouls on the season. Amar’e Stoudemire has 15. Carmelo Anthony has 13. Kobe Bryant has 12. Kevin Garnett has 11. Dwyane Wade has nine. “Good guy” Blake Griffin has eight. Paul Pierce, Deron Williams, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook have seven a piece. The usually calm Steve Nash has six. Dirk Nowitzki and LeBron James have four each.
Derrick Rose has one technical foul. One technical foul during a season in which NBA officials have more leeway than ever to T up players for overreacting to calls and non-calls.
And it’s the only technical foul Rose has ever had on any level.
When Derrick earned his one and only tech back in December, he said: “Next time I’ve just got to hold it in and hopefully I won’t get any more techs, because I need that (fine) money. There’s a recession out here.”
Rose was joking around, but he was serious too. And you know what? He hasn’t been called for a technical foul since. For all we know, he may never get one again.
One of the great misconceptions about Rose — and most of these opinions are expressed by bloggers and scribes outside of Chicago — is that he has no personality. That, by NBA standards, he is quite nearly tabula rasa. It’s as if people haven’t encountered quiet humility and stoic dignity before. Well, in this league, most probably people haven’t. Not in a superstar-level player. The closest comparison I can make is former Boston Celtics great Robert Parish. But, although the Chief was great, he was never considered a franchise player like Rose. Which makes Rose almost an alien being among his peers.
That said, one thing people may have noticed is that, when Rose says something, he means it. He really means it.
Last Sunday, anticipating a rematch of sorts with a Kings team that humilated the Bulls last season by coming back from a 35-point deficit to win in the United Center, said: “It’s a heartbreaker. But you learn from it. If we’re up 30, we’re going to try to push it to 40, 50 points.”
The Bulls won by 40.
After crushing Sacramento, Rose was looking ahead to his team’s matchup with the Hawks. The last time the Bulls visited Atlanta, they had choked away a 19-point lead and lost by three. Regarding that, Rose said: “You can’t forget that game. I think none of us on the team have [forgotten] that game. You’ve got to remember it. I think that if we get a lead like that down there again, I think that we won’t let them come back the way they did.”
Well, the Bulls got a lead like that again. In fact, they led by as many as 47 and eventually won by 33.
Rose was front and center, making sure the Bulls didn’t let up, trying to crush the the Hawks into a fine paste. He capped off a 20-point first half by drilling a three-pointer at the halftime buzzer. He finished with 30 points on 20 shots, knocked down a career-best six three-pointers on eight attempts, and dished out 10 assists versus only one turnover. That’s a lot of production considering he played only 29 minutes and sat out the entire fourth quarter.
“The way I look at it, why can’t I be the MVP in the league? Why can’t I be the best player in the league? I don’t see why not. I work hard, I dedicate myself to the game and sacrifice a lot of things at a young age, and I know, if I continue to do good what I can get out of it. If that’s me going out and doing whatever, I’m willing to do it because in the long run I know it’s gonna help me. This is the hardest I’ve ever worked out, this past summer. I’ve put a lot of work in, staying in the gym every day, making sure I’m getting prepared for a big season because I believe we can make it far.”
This statement was met with a slight chuckle and mild amusement by many fans and experts. Rose winning the MVP award in a world with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant, et al.? On the one hand, people seemed relieved that Rose had finally said something of interest. On the other, they might have preferred something that sounded a little less, well, crazy.
And yet…here we are.
I’m still staying out of the “Rose for MVP” debate. I prefer to see how things shake out by the final day of the regular season. Win-Loss records and all that. That said, LeBron James and Dwight Howard seem to be Rose’s primary competition for the award, and their teams have the sixth and eighth-best records in the league. Historically speaking, that’s not good enough to win the MVP.
So even I have to wonder: Why can’t Rose be the MVP?
The love fest for Rose aside, the Bulls looked fantastic last night. Playing on the second night of back-to-back games on the road against the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, with the first seed on the line, the Bulls ravaged the Hawks like some sort of wild animal. In the first half, they shot 73.8 percent from the field (not to mention a blistering 78 percent from beyond the arc) and outscored the Hawks 72-43. On this night, their offense was every bit as good as their league-leading defense.
The Bulls finished with an Effective Field Goal Percentage of 60.8 and an Offensive Rating of 135.4. They had 30 assists on 43 field goals. They outrebounded the Hawks 40-26 (including an astounding Offensive Rebounding Rate of 32.3) and outscored them 48-18 in the paint. And those numbers include an entire fourth quarter worth of garbage time.
To me, the defining moment of this game came with 2:08 left in the third. With his team leading 91-55, Rose committed his only turnover of the game and, after Joakim Noah fouled Josh Smith to prevent a breakaway, Rose was cursing himself out. Despite being ahead by 36 points. That’s how Derrick works. That’s how this team works.
Rose obviously had a big game and Luol Deng scored 27 points on 10-for-15 shooting. But, and I know I keep saying this, the win was a total team effort. Guys were locking down on defense. Setting pick. Crashing the boards. Setting each other up. And it’s worth reminding the world at large that we are only now seeing how good the Bulls could be. Finally, all the pieces are on the board. Carlos Boozer is back. Joakim Noah is playing. Everyone is in place for the stretch run.
Especially the defense.
That’s right. Defense. Even though the Bulls have had back-to-back red-hot shooting games, everything this team does begins on the other end of the court.
Said Deng: “I think it starts with our defense. When our mindset is right on defense, we seem to work harder on offense. When we’re not as focused on defense, it kind of leads to our offense. We’re kind of just going through the motions. It always starts with defense.”
Added Rose: “It’s still defensively. Sometimes it gets hard, but to win games, to win a championship, it takes defense. And we’re just trying to stay together on defense, knowing that we can’t take any steps back right now. We’re trying to keep going. We’re trying to push each other every day. Trying to get better. And I think that we’re moving in the right direction.”
That’s another amazing thing about this team. After every loss, after every win, the talk is always about getting better. And it’s not lip service, either. The players have taken that concept to heart. Because of coach Tom Thibodeau.
After back-to-back games on back-to-back nights in which his team led by 40-plus points at various times, Thibs still insisted there’s still plenty of work to do.
Said Thibodeau: “They shot too high of a percentage. Defensively, there’s a lot of things we can clean up. But I like the fact that we got the big lead. And I thought we played tough with the lead. And we want to be a 48 minute team. They outscored us in the fourth 21-16, so there’s things we can correct and improve, but we got to keep the big picture in mind. I think the good teams in this league continue to get better as they go along.”
Considering the Bulls are leading John Hollinger’s Power Rankings by more than two full points and currently have the best point differential (+7.4) in the league, the idea that they can still get better is kind of scary…
…but I like it.
Bret LaGree of Hoopinion: “The Hawks didn’t make a basket in the paint over the final 27:34 of the game, though Marvin Williams (in the third quarter) and Jeff Teague (in the fourth quarter) each made a jumper inside of 15 feet during that portion of the game. The Hawks didn’t make a basket in the paint over the final 27:34 of the game despite trailing by at least 20 points for the entire time. Defense is about talent more than it’s about effort but a culture of accountability has its place as well.”