After opening their seven-game Western Conference road trip with agonizing losses first to the Golden State Warriors and then to the Los Angeles Clippers, the Bulls seemed almost destined for a season-crippling losing streak. Going into Friday’s game against the Suns, an 0-7 trip appeared to be a very real possibility…and 0-4 at the very least. I mean, back-to-back road games versus good teams following consecutive road losses to bad teams?
And yet the Bulls finished the weekend 2-0.
I’m still a little blown away. When discussing strategies for the Suns game, I firmly stated that Chicago absolutely could not afford to be lured into shooting jumpers all night long. However, that’s exactly what happened…and it worked. It actually worked. The Bulls attempted only 16 of their 85 field goals at the rim, but ended up shooting about 51 percent on jump shots (35-for-69), including 78 percent from 10-15 feet (7-for-9) and 50 percent from 16-23 feet (17-for-34).
“Chicago did the unexpected,” Amare Stoudemire said. “They hit shots.”
The hot shooting was due in large part to Derrick Rose, who went 3-for-3 inside five feet, 4-for-6 from six-to-eight feet and 8-for-12 outside of 15 feet. Rose was hitting from everywhere. When the kid beat the third-quarter buzzer with a leaning three-pointer, you just knew it was his night. Fittingly, he also nailed an off-balance jumper from 20 feet to seal the 115-104 victory with a little over a minute to go.
Rose finished with a game-high 32 points to go along with 5 assists and 3 steals. And while I don’t want to demean what he accomplished, I also don’t want to overlook the contributions of Luol Deng (23 points, 10-for-17, 6 rebounds), Joakim Noah (19 points, 9-for-10 from the line, 8 boards, 2 blocks) and John Salmons (14 points, 6-for-9 from the field, 2-for-4 from downtown).
It’s also very important to highlight the defensive job Kirk Hinrich did on Steve Nash. Captain Kirk hounded Captain Canada all night long, holding the two-time MVP to only 8 points on 4-for-12 shooting. Moreover, Nash barely finished with more assists (7) than turnovers (5). During the game, ESPN showed an interview with Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry in which Gentry said no player in the NBA — including Kobe Bryand and LeBron James — does more for his team than Nash does. I can’t really argue with Gentry’s analysis, and Hinrich’s lockdown defensive performance on Nash might have been even more important than Chicago’s offensive explosion.
Getting back to Rose for a second, I think it’s fair to say that any lingering concerns about his ability to develop a jump shot have been put to rest once and for all. When the Bulls played the Golden State Warriors in Chicago before Christmas, I got to watch Rose practice jumpers for almost a full hour. He was like a machine. It wasn’t so much that his form was always perfect (it wasn’t) or that he nailed every shot (he didn’t). What impressed me was his focus and quiet determination to master this very important aspect of his game.
You just wait. I’d be willing to bet good money he develops a three-point shot next summer.
All that said, I was mildly disappointed he earned only three free throw attempts (two of which he missed). And I was more than “mildly disappointed” that he hoisted a few jumpers while teammates were standing alone under the basket. In fact, he twice missed a wide-open Tyrus Thomas, whose defender left him to help defend against Derrick’s jumper. Ty had a rough night, going 1-for-7 from the field, including 0-for-4 at the rim. When a player is struggling, it’s vital for his point guard to create easy opportunities to get him going. In that respect, Rose failed Tyrus. I’m not trying to poke holes in what really was a great game for Rose, but I feel like these are important things for the Bulls to think about as the season proceeds.
Tyler Lockman of Valley of the Suns: “What was most baffling was the interior stats at the end of the game. The Suns outrebounded Chicago 49-42, outscored them in the paint 46-34 and scored 20 second-chance points to the Bulls six. What’s confusing about that is that, from watching the game, you’d think Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson (who grabbed eight rebounds apiece) had dominated the boards. The key for the Bulls, despite lesser stats, was the way they used their rebounds. Essentially, the Suns got a taste of their own medicine as the Bulls used huge boards and outlet passes to spark fast breaks. The Bulls outscored the Suns in transition, 16-10. That might not seem like a lot, but the simple efficiency with which Chicago used their possessions after rebounds was what doomed the Suns.”
Chicago’s win over the Rockets was even more impressive than their victory over the Suns. The Bulls have been a bad road team all season (6-15), and they’ve been even worse on the second night of back-to-backs (2-7 heading into the game). To make matters even more grim, Noah opted to sit out minutes before tipoff due to a left foot injury.
Enter Brad Miller.
Big Brad stepped up big time. Miller scored a season-high 25 points in only 26 minutes. He went 9-for-14 from the field — including 2-for-2 from downtown — and 5-for-5 from the line. But Miller’s biggest play wasn’t a layup or a jump shot. It was the offensive rebound he grabbed with 48 seconds left and the Bulls leading by only two points (99-97). That board gave Chicago another possession at a critical time, and 18 seconds later Rose drilled an 11-footer that pretty much clinched the game.
The Bulls also got significant add-ins from Rose (20 points, 4 assists, and that deal-sealing jumper), Taj Gibson (16 points, 14 rebounds), Kirk Hinrich (12 points, 7 assists) and (12 points off the bench). But it really was a team effort, as Chicago shot 53 percent from the field (including 7-for-12 from beyond the arc) while holding the Rockets to 40 percent shooting. On the road. On the second night of back-to-backs. Without Noah.
“That’s the NBA,” Miller said. “You’re going to be tested at some point, and you can use it as an excuse. We just went out and competed tonight.”
They sure did.
Rahat Huq of Red94: “Prior to tip-off, the NBAtv crew remarked that the Rockets struggled against teams with low post options and that they were probably feeling fortunate to face the Bulls who didn’t have one. Actually it is probably the other way around. The teams that have played the Rockets the best this year are those with no inside presence. The Rockets win through their quickness advantage and Chuck Hayes can neutralize any post-guy in the league. But if you challenge the Rockets at their own game, and have the personnel to do it, they are very beatable.”