Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011
Posted 9:46 p.m. Updated 11:37 p.m.
By Aggrey Sam
When it comes to the leagues contenders, the Bulls (38-16) have either dispensed with them in businesslike fashion or avenged a previous defeat.
The visiting Spurs (46-10) were treated no differently, as the NBAs top team fell to Chicago, 109-99, Thursday night at the United Center, behind a career-high scoring effort from All-Star point guard Derrick Rose (42 points, eight assists, five rebounds, one turnover) in the Bulls final game before All-Star weekend.
WATCH: Rose all smiles after win
Both coaches marveled at Roses outing afterwards.
Hes something, huh? That was some performance, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. It was great leadership. He got us off to a great start.
Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich was even more effusive in his praise.
That point guard whats his name? I didnt know his name before the game; maybe I should have checked wow. Wow. He was something. We scored 99 points, shot 49 percent, made seven threes and youd think wed have a pretty good chance to win, but he negated that. He did a hell of a job, quipped the dry-humored coach.
What do you want me to say? Good-looking kid, great demeanor, doesnt beat his chest, class act, on top of his phenomenal play. All those qualities are going to serve him well.
When informed of Popovichs complimentary statement, Rose took his typical humble route.
I really dont know how to take that, but for a coach to say that, especially him, it means a lot, said the Chicago native, who was still smarting over his alma mater, Simeon Career Academy, losing in the city playoffs the previous night. I was just trying to win the game, doing whatever it takes to win and tonight, I guess it was scoring the ball.
San Antonio used the formula that earned them the leagues best record through the All-Star break heavy doses of backcourt stars Tony Parker (26 points, four assists) and All-Star Manu Ginobili (16 points, three assists) at the games outset, with Ginobilis herky-jerky game and Parkers uncanny finishing ability setting the pace.
Unfortunately, that didnt leave much room for other Spurs including future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan (14 points, nine rebounds, three assists) to get involved, resulting in the home team running out to the lead.
A comparatively more balanced Bulls attack paved the way to an early advantage, as the team seemingly made a concerted effort to pound the ball inside, with Carlos Boozer (15 points, six rebounds) being the main beneficiary in the opening period, connecting in all four of his field-goal attempts.
Rose to compete in All-Star Skills Challenge
Rose, however, was the protagonist, as usual, slashing and dashing flawless playmaking acrobatic finishes, the norm with Rose, highlighted his efforts his way to the bucket in his point-guard duel with Parker and with Luol Deng (19 points, seven rebounds, five assists, two blocked shots) getting more involved offensively, Chicago held a 30-25 winning margin after a quarter of play.
Twenty-six-year old rookie sharpshooter Gary Neal (16 points, 4-for-5 three-point shooting) sparked San Antonios second unit early in the second quarter, enabling the Spurs to narrow the gap, despite the cohesiveness and defensive play the length of Taj Gibson (six points, six rebounds, two blocks) and Omer Asik posed problems for the visitors, while swingman Ronnie Brewers (nine points, three rebounds, two assists) high activity level provided an offensive boost off the Bulls bench.
While Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeaus reinsertion of Boozer gave the team a lift on offense, Duncan became more involved and the return of Parker allowed the Spurs to overtake the home team midway through the period. Soon afterwards, Thibodeau brought back Rose and Deng both of whom made immediate impacts, regaining the lead for Chicago and the Bulls built a slim cushion late in the quarter, going into the intermission with a 58-51 advantage.
Rose picked up where he left off when play resumed, melding his oft-overlooked passing abilities with his supreme scoring skills and Deng also maintained his high level of play from the end of the previous half, prompting Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich to call a timeout. Regardless of Roses simple pleas that he was just doing what was needed to secure a Bulls win, he revealed that some pregame motivation also factored in.
Derrick Rose went 18-for-24 on field goals inside the three-point line and said a pregame talk from head coach Tom Thibodeau got him more pumped up than normal. (AP)
Coach told me to come in his office, gave me a speech about being aggressive. A motivational speech. I love a coach like that, where hes showing emotion even before the game. Its just me and him talking and hes showing emotion. I wanted to get up and yell with him, but I kept quiet and tried to take that out on the court, he recounted.
When you have Coach being emotional like that, its going to make you want to play hard, especially me. You cant be too nice as a coach. Youve got to have some meanness in you and hes definitely that coach, where hes hard on players at certain times and its working.
When asked about whether he could ascertain Thibodeaus motivation, Rose didnt profess to have an answer, but simply told reporters, It worked.
His teammates also noticed Rose, always a fierce competitor, appeared to be even more keyed up for the contest.
Me and Derrick spoke before the game, and we just spoke about how big this game was. I knew right away he would be ready. Ive been playing with him for a while now, said Deng. When he had it going in the second half, I just told him, Keep shooting, especially when they went under on the screen because his shot has improved so much.
Added Boozer: D-Rose just took the game over. All we had to do was get him the ball and play defense. We recognized it early. They really couldnt stop him. I just said to him, Keep attacking until they stop you. Hes playing phenomenally and he played great again tonight.
But steady San Antonio regrouped, led by Duncan asserting himself offensively and Parker continuing to affecting the game with his ability to penetrate the Bulls defense, finish shots in the lane and make plays in transition.
Neither side gave an inch and mistakes were magnified in this affair, as a premium was placed on both offensive execution and defensive matchups, and while the veteran Spurs were able to slice into the deficit, Rose displayed his takeover mentality down the stretch run of the period. Through three quarters, the Bulls maintained their lead, 83-75.
Stout defense by the home team marked the beginning of the final stanza, as Chicagos second unit played with energy and sustained the Bulls lead, with blocked shots and dunks Gibson, who will represent the team this weekend in Los Angeles in both the Rookie Challenge and Shooting Stars competition, made one of each thrilling the United Center audience.
A Deng three-pointer eventually gave the Bulls a double-digit advantage and while it appeared that they were clicking on all cylinders on offense (Rose specifically), the Spurs (Neal specifically) remained lying in the weeds.
Parker continued to stay active in his tete-a-tete with Rose, but the Eastern Conference All-Star starter left nothing to chance, with a fading jumper to beat the shot-clock buzzer with under three minutes remaining perhaps sounding San Antonios death knell.
Chicago cruised down the stretch, heading to victory behind Rose, who, perhaps spurred by the ever-present M-V-P chants from the crowd, kept pouring in the points until Bulls could safely claim the win.
I really couldnt tell, Rose said of notching his career-high point total. We were just trying to hold them off. We just tried to keep the lead, as if they were ahead.
Thibodeau downplayed the significance of beating the Spurs, while simultaneously praising the Bulls opponent.
The statement is they did a good job getting ready to play, said the coach. To me, the bigger challenge is looking at your improvement. I think weve gotten better as weve gone along. But we cant be satisfied and theres a lot of work to be done. The really good teams continue to get better. And you can use San Antonio as an example. Theyre the model franchise over the last 10 years. Theyve been so consistent and play so smart and find different ways to win. Each year, theyre in the thick of it.
Unlike their coach, his players admitted to being excited about not only the win which avenged their November loss in San Antonio, giving them at least one win over all the teams regarded as the NBAs elite but the squads momentum heading into the extended weekend vacation.
So far this season theyve been the best team in the NBA. Its good for our team, to go into the break with that kind of mindset, beating such a good team, said Deng. Last time when they got us, we didnt have Carlos and at one point, we were up 17.
Concurred Rose: I think that we get up when we play those teams, where everybodys on the same page. We fought our way back in some of those games. Its exciting. It gives us a challenge. Its our measuring stick. Coach says every game is that, but this is the game that says how good we are, especially because we lost to them back in the beginning of the season.
Weve got a lot of confidence right now, knowing that we can beat some of the best teams in the NBA, he continued. When we come back, weve just got to stay focused and weve got to work even harder... weve still got a goal and thats to win a championship.
Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.