MILWAUKEE - Cold-blooded. Thats the only way to describe Derrick Roses performance Wednesday night, particularly his game-winning shot at the buzzer.
Love it. As a kid, those are the things that you dream about and it felt good, man, said a happy, yet calm Rose afterwards. Youre on the road, playing against a team thats giving you their all and you hit a nice shot like that.
Facing an opponent that was tired of getting bullied, the Bulls (33-8) needed every bit of Roses marvelous all-around performance to hold off the Bucks (15-24), 106-104, at the Bradley Center.
What can you say? Another big shot, played hard all game, big play after big play. Jo had a great game, big tip-in late and our defense wasnt very good, but I thought Taj gave us a good lift, Carlos got some scores for us, Ronnie was real solid, bench came in, did a good job, but weve got to get our defense going, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. It was a great play by him. He took the clock down, he didnt leave any time because you felt like, whoever had the ball, they were going to score next and thats not usually our style, but I give them a lot of credit.
Despite Roses brilliant showing, a pesky Milwaukee team, buoyed by a career-high night from unheralded forward Ersan Ilyasova (32 points, 10 rebounds), hung around for the entire contest and it wasnt until the contests final moment that the visitors were ensured of their eighth consecutive victory.
At the outset of the contest, it was a spirited, fast-paced, back-and-forth affair, mostly devoid of defense in front of a crowd that was least half filled with fans who had made the relatively short trip from Chicago. Perhaps former Bulls big man Drew Gooden (27 points, six rebounds) was inspired by their presence, as he dominated in the early going, carrying the home teams offensive load with 16 first-quarter points.
The visitors, as usual, were led by the scoring and playmaking stylings of Rose (30 points, 14-for-14 free-throw shooting, 11 assists, eight rebounds), as the reigning league MVP sliced his way into the lane at will to either finish strong at the rim or dish off to his teammatessuch as Joakim Noah (20 points, 10 rebounds), who converted chances around the basket, Carlos Boozer (15 points, six rebounds), whose mid-range jumper was accurate in the early going, and Ronnie Brewer (seven points, five rebounds, five assists), once again starting in place of the injured Rip Hamiltonto propel his team.
Milwaukee countered with swingman Carlos Delfino to aid Gooden, but at the conclusion of the opening period, the Bulls held a 33-30 edge.
Led by the energetic and determined play of Taj Gibson (10 points, seven rebounds)including a half-court alley-oop finishthe Bench Mob made a push at the beginning of the second quarter to give the Bulls some breathing room with an 8-2 run. The hosts, however, fought back behind the reserve perimeter trio of Beno Udrih (11 points, seven assists), Mike Dunleavy (eight points, eight rebounds, five assists) and Shaun Livingston, to once again make it a close-knit affair and eventually, take the lead.
Thibodeau reinserted his regulars and his squad responded by not only regaining the lead, but creating some separation, mostly as a result of Roses penetration, the burgeoning post-up game of Noah, who logged his first career triple-double when the Bulls faced the Bucks in Chicago on Feb. 22, and improved defensive focus. At the intermission, the Bulls took a 55-50 advantage into the tunnel.
Chicagos defensive intensity waned after the break, but with continued offensive efficiency, the visitors maintained their slim cushion over the Bucks, who ran their offense through big men Gooden and Ilyasova.
Those guys, they scored a lot. Their frontcourt scored a lot of points. Its kind of unacceptable, said Noah. Ilyasova is just playing great. Hes rebounding the ball, hes very active, he shoots the ball well, hes a good defender, he can switch and he can do a lot of things out there.
Boozer, Noah and Rose remained the Bulls offensive focal points, as mid-range shooting, strong interior play and effective floor generalship, respectively, were the individual bread and butter for the triumvirate.
But Milwaukee kept coming and with the Bulls having ball-security issues, Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings (11 points, six assists) coming alive, Ilyasova finding his groove and second-year reserve big man Larry Sanders providing a jolt of energy off the bench, the contest was too close for comfort.
Through three periods, the game was tied at 73 apiece and the visitors were in for a battle heading into the games final stanza.
Milwaukee plays tough. Every night they play tough, said Thibodeau. Gooden and Ilyasova played great for them. Jennings didnt shoot a high percentage, but he was in the paint. Udrih was in the paint. We turned the ball over, which I thought really hurt us. It put them in the open floor and that gave them too many easy baskets17 turnovers, 25 pointsso we made it hard on ourselves, too.
Added Luol Deng: Theyre playing well. They just beat Philly. Its hard to beat a team four times in such a short time, so weve been seeing them a lot. I know theyre sick and tired of us coming in here, winning and beating them at home, and they really came out tonight and fought hard. Plus, theyre trying to get to the playoffs. We played hard, but I really thought throughout the game, in spurts, they played a lot harder than us. We just hit big shots to win the game.
Chicagos reserves held down the fort early in the fourth quarter, but even after Thibodeau got his starters back into the contest, the Bulls couldnt pull away from their pesky hosts. Meanwhile, Ilyasova continued to dominate for the Bucks, hitting an array of bucketsjumpers and layups alikeand put the home team up with just over four minutes to go by hitting a three-pointer that made it 93-91, suddenly making it a reality that the divisional rivals could pull of the upset.
But going into the games stretch run, Rose went into takeover mode, spurring MVP chants from the crowd, Noah cleaned up on the glass and Deng (12 points), battling an injured left wrist that clearly affected his ballhandling, knocked down big shots in clutch situations to create a gap between the Bulls and their scrappy opponents.
However, the never-say-die attitude of the Bucks, coached by former Bulls head coach Scott Skiles, paid off and after a call awarding possession to Chicago was reversed, Udrih hit a layup to even the contest at 102 all with 42.9 seconds left.
Rose was sent to the line with 32.5 seconds to go and drained a pair, but on the subsequent possession, Ilyasova rebounded a Jennings miss to tie the game at 104.
Following a timeout with 18.1 seconds remaining, the Bulls got the ball into Roses hands, he let time drain off the clock and knocked down a step-back jumper over Jennings at the buzzer, sending the Chicago portion of the crowd into hysterics, while silencing the Milwaukee loyalists, all while wearing his trademark deadpan expression on his face as his teammates mobbed him upon the ball going through the net.
Its great, man. Its a great feeling. If anything, were just happy that we got the win and trying to keep this thing going. Were playing pretty good, got to polish some things up still on the defensive end and play together, said Rose. It gives me a lot of confidence, man. I remember a few years back, I was missing those shots. I think its a thing where you just learned from it, knowing what they give you. My last couple end-of-game shots have been floaters. Seemed like he was backing up a little bit and I just pulled up.
Beyond Roses shotthe Chicago natives first true buzzer-beater to win a game with all zeroes on the scoreboardDeng saw the win as another step in the teams development.
I always say weve just got to find a way. Were getting better at it this year compared to last year and as the years going on, were really getting better at finding ways to win," Deng explained. "The way the game was going, we had turnovers and it shows a lot of maturity, each individual and also as a team. Were really getting better and its going to help us later on in the playoffs. I thought last year, just losing to Miami, there were certain times as a team, where we didnt step up to what was going on at the end of the game and I think were better at it this year."