Saturday, Jan. 29, 2011
Posted Jan. 28, 9:51 p.m. Updated 12:27 a.m.
By Aggrey Sam
It wasnt quite Michael Jordans flu game in terms of the stage or significance but a day after revealing he was suffering from stomach ulcers, newly-named All-Star Game starter Derrick Rose helped the Bulls (32-14) overcome a 40-point performance by Magic (30-17) center Dwight Howard.
After two embarrassing losses to Orlando (once in the preseason, once in Carlos Boozers Bulls debut) this season, Chicago utilized a stout defensive effort on everybody but Howard and a huge second half from Luol Deng to conquer their fellow Eastern Conference contenders, 99-90, Friday night at the United Center.
WATCH: Rose describes impact of ulcers
An inauspicious start to the contest seemed like a bad omen for Chicago, but although the Bulls bounced back quickly behind two three-pointers from the unlikeliest of contributors, much-maligned starting shooting guard Keith Bogans Howards interior dominance was problematic, as the All-Stars combination of size, athleticism and physicality overwhelmed an undersized Bulls frontline, aiding Orlando in jumping out to a slim cushion.
Although Rose struggled shooting the ball in the first period he shot 3-for-11 over the course of the quarter he showed no ill effects from missing two days of practice in the wake of his stomach-ulcer diagnosis, displaying the quickness and athleticism that have become his trademarks.
Derricks Derrick. The game starts, hes going. I thought he was terrific. He didnt shoot the ball well, which I sort of expected. Hes had six of the last nine days offI loved the way he played. I thought he played tough, I thought he made the right playswhen you take everything into consideration not practicing, not feeling well and to do everything that he did, you cant say enough about him, praised Thibodeau.
He looked the same. Its amazing. When he plays, he plays so hard and hes taking hits all the time, but the thing that I respect about him, he always gets up. He gets knocked down, no call, gets back up, demeanor the same, attacks the next time. You cant say enough about that type of attitude.
WATCH: Thibodeau thinks Deng having All-Star season
Added Boozer: We take our hat off to him. I told him as soon as the game was over, Way to gut through it for us. He had a great floor game 12 assists, two turnovers great point guards do that. Im proud of him.
As Rose got his legs under him and fresh legs off the bench primarily in the form of Ronnie Brewer (nine points, six rebounds) and Taj Gibson (seven points, five rebounds), both of whom made immediate impacts gave the Bulls a boost, they overtook Orlando late in the opening period, ending the first quarter with a 24-23 lead.
All week, we just worked hard. Coach has been pushing me on my post moves. When I came in, we just played with a lot of energy, said Gibson. Bench guys, we just come in and attack. Were real defensive-oriented.
The game remained close-knit through the midway point of the second frame, as both teams second units effectively canceled each other out. Gibson and Brewer continued to provide energy for Chicago and while Boozer (16 points, 16 rebounds, four assists) eventually found his groove, his Orlando counterpart, Brandon Bass, along with reserves Ryan Anderson and talented Gilbert Arenas, held down the fort for the Magic. For Chicago, Brewer, in particular, stood out with his finishing around the rim and rebounding from the wing.
Going into the game, you look at their roster youve got Gilbert Arenas coming off the bench, J.J. Redick, Ryan Anderson they contribute a lot for them. They really get them going when they make those subs, so we wanted to match their intensity and take it up a notch. Weve got guys who step in and play big for us, night in and night out C.J., Kyle, myself, Taj, Omer so we just try to go out there and play hard, Brewer told CSNChicago.com.
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau opted to guard Howard (40 points, 15 rebounds, three blocked shots) one-on-one, focusing instead on Orlandos legion of sharpshooters. However, a small-ball Chicago lineup featuring Boozer guarding the massive center individually didnt pay off, as the massive Orlando center led the visitors to a 51-46 halftime advantage.
We did a great job of getting them off that three-point line. Theyre a great three-point shooting team. Obviously when theyve got that monster, he gets a lot of attention and he kicks it out most times. We didnt want him to have 40, but we didnt want to double him either, so we played him single coverage, said Boozer. The great thing about it, we did a great job on their three-point shooters, we did a great job rebounding.
At the end of the day, the three is more dangerous than the two. You werent trying to give him 40 points. You dont want to give anyone 40 points. But hes the best center in the NBA. If you play him one-on-one, hes going to get some buckets and tonight, he was also hitting his free throws, he continued. We knew over the course the game, it was going to work out. We believe in Coach Thibs and his system and we followed it to a T and it worked.
A clearly frustrated Howard offered his thoughts on the strategy after the game.
I dont know if it was effective. I got their bigs in foul trouble. I hope they do it again, opined Howard. On offense, we didnt do anything. We didnt move the ball. We came down, one shot. One pass, shot. We cant win that way.
The Bulls are an improved team. Theyre very good, but it was just too easy for them, he continued. We cant be a championship-contender team playing defense like we did tonight.
After intermission, Deng (26 points, eight rebounds) joined the party for the Bulls, reeling off 11 points in the third quarters first three minutes and change, and playing with a much greater sense of urgency on both ends of the floor after contributing just two points in the first half.
I had two shots in the first half and one of them was a three that I didnt really think was a great shot I just tried to get myself going but I didnt really feel that I was missing shots, explained Deng. When I came out in the third quarter, I took my regular shots. We rested the last two days and I had good legs, so I used that energy.
Having those days off, we could come out and not be in a rhythm, but I thought Coach did a good job of keeping us active in practice, getting up a lot of shots and coming out tonight, playing the way we did, he continued.
Added Boozer: Luol got us going. That whole third quarter, he was on fire. We just kept finding the hot hand.
The opposing coaches had differing viewpoints on Dengs performance.
You cant say enough about Luol, lauded Thibodeau. In my opinion, hes had an All-Star season in the first half. Hes done everything for our team."
Countered Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy: He Deng dominated the second half. We didnt guard him at all.
Additionally, Boozers blend of mid-range jumpers and low-post scoring was clicking, but perhaps more importantly, Thibodeau employed rookie backup center Omer Asik to guard Howard, which was somewhat successful. Asik didnt shut down Howard, but his length and size at least allowed the Bulls to respectably guard the All-Star one-on-one.
He turns every time to his right-hand hook shot. The coaches told me before the game, when he gets the ball, just close out to his left shoulder, Asik explained to CSNChicago.com. I tried to do that. I did it good sometimes; I did it bad sometimes.
The Bulls, in general, ramped up their intensity after the break, using stout defensive play to turn the tables on Orlando and build a double-digit cushion over the visitors, sending the United Center crowd into a mild state of ecstasy during an extended 20-5 run, prompting Van Gundy to halt the bleeding with a timeout.
Rose, while clearly not 100 percent he occasionally squatted or clutched his stomach during dead balls and an accidental blow to the face from former Bulls point guard Chris Duhon didnt help but his scoring presence and playmaking ability at less than full strength were more than enough to help the Bulls take a 80-68 lead into the fourth quarter.
This is the NBA: No Boys Allowed, said Rose afterwards. Mind over matter. I think about some of the old players. When they played, they had injuries that were worse than mine and they still fought through. I look at myself as an old-school type player and when I think back to those days, that really gets me through hard practices or hard games.
It feels like youve got a sword on your knee or something and every single time you get in the shower or water touches it, that burning sensation, because its open. So, every time I swallow, every time I eat something, you can feel it. Its sore, he continued. Going to the hole, I was hoping not to get hit in my stomach. There were a couple times I got hit, but if anything, I was trying not to lose my breath.
As the games stretch run approached, the Magic couldnt put more than a mild scare into the Bulls, as Arenas with starting point guard Jameer Nelson taking an early exit with a sore right knee, the enigmatic midseason acquisition became the teams primary ballhandler struggled with the dual responsibilities of defending Rose and running Orlandos offense effectively.
Howard continued to be a force, but the Magic couldnt quite get over the hump an Arenas transition layup with 1:28 to make it 93-90 was as close as theyd get as Deng made plays on both ends and Rose hit clutch free throws to seal the deal, fittingly serenaded by chants of M-V-P.
I hope my play says that, the way that I play. Of course, everybody wants to say that, but I hope you see the way that Im playing that Im one of the elite players in the NBA, said Rose. Its a lot of hard work, but if it wasnt for my teammates, I wouldnt be in this position.
Deng spoke of the significance of beating one of their conference rivals.
Big win. Its one of the teams in the Eastern Conference that everyone kind of looks up to and they beat us up pretty good the last time we played them, so we did a good job tonight, he said. The Bostons, Orlandos, Miamis, when we go out and beat those teams, I think we send a message out there that weve got a good team.
Concurred Gibson: This game was kind of a statement game because we know were going to see them in the future and the way they beat us last game, we didnt like that.
We had a lot of motivation. When we watched the film, we didnt look like our normal Chicago team, he went on to say. We rebound the ball well and play defense, and we didnt do any of those things the last game, so we just wanted to make a statement and play hard.
Boozer, with the experience of several playoff runs in Utah, took a different tact.
Its still January. Its not April, he remarked. Were not heading into the playoffs. Were not even at the All-Star break yet.
Perhaps, but it was the type of feel-good victory especially given the circumstances of the teams last meeting that at least provides inspiration down the line. Still, at the games conclusion, thoughts didnt waver far from Roses situation.
If tonight, I cant breathe or cant eat right or Im having stomach problems, Ill definitely let them the Bulls medical staff know, said Rose of his status for Saturdays back-to-back home game against the Indiana Pacers. But other than that, Im playing.
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.