Rose leads Bulls over Clippers in 'personal' win

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Rose leads Bulls over Clippers in 'personal' win

Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2011
Posted 11:58 p.m

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

LOS ANGELESVery personal. Thats how Derrick Rose described his approach to Wednesday nights 106-88 Bulls (34-14) winthe teams sixth consecutive victoryover the Clippers (19-29) at the Staples Center. In a battle of two of the games most exciting young players, the Bulls' All-Star point guard out-dueled rookie sensation Blake Griffin, exacting some revenge in the process.

The games two featured attractions lived up to the hype from the outset, with Rose scoring nine of the Bulls first 16 points and Griffin pouring in eight of the Clippers first 14 before the contests first timeout.

Rose (32 points, 11 assists, 4-for-8 on three-pointers) shelled the home teamand former coach, Vinny Del Negrowith his improved jumper, as well as his fearless and acrobatic driving finishes to the rim, thrilling the Staples Center crowd. Rose also got his teammates involved, finding the likes of Keith Bogans, Luol Deng (26 points, six rebounds, five assists, 3-for-6 on three-pointers) and Carlos Boozer (16 points, 10 rebounds) for assists.

They beat us last time. I wanted some revenge. It was because of me that we lost. I missed the free throw and that really hurt me, said Rose. In these types of games, you never want to be in those situations, where a free throw is the reason why we lost the game. We just wanted to come out here and be aggressive, and just try to take control of the game early.

Im the reason why we lost last time. I couldnt take the game into overtime, he continued. Tonight, I just tried to pull the game away and make it a comfortable game.

Added Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau: Thats who he is. Hes never satisfied, he wants the team to do well, hes always driving himself to get better. I thought he had great command in this game.

The way he started off this game set the tone for us. Very aggressive in the pick-and-roll, running the team, aggressive defensively, he went on to say. When hes going like that, it lifts the whole team.

Griffin (32 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists) didnt disappoint either, displaying a mid-range jumper to go with his relentlessness around the rim. A fast-paced affair at the beginning, the games speed waned a bit as the opening quarter went on, but Rose and Griffin both picked up the pace toward the end of the period, which ended with the Bulls holding a 28-23 advantage.

Chicagos second unit sustained the visitors lead, with reserve big man Taj Gibson (nine points, 12 rebounds)in a return to the city where he went to college at USCplaying with energy on the interior and both backup point guard C.J. Watson (nine points, 2-for-3 on three-pointers) and designated sharpshooter Kyle Korver (eight points, four assists, 2-for-5 on three-pointers) providing timely offense. Behind their bench, the Bulls lead surged to double digits before Thibodeau began to filter his regulars back into the contest.

The Clippers, however, were in no mood to lie down and made it a competitive affair, exciting an already-energized crowd. Starting shooting guard Randy Foye (14 points, four assists) sparked the home team, then a show-stopping alley-oop dunk by Griffin nearly brought down the house.

Deng, quietly having a solid night, made his presence felt in a louder fashion, drilling a pair of three-pointers to give the Bulls some breathing room. A flashpoint in the contest came when Griffinwho went on an individual tear late in the halfattempted a monster dunk and was fouled hard by Boozer (veteran Kurt Thomas, saddled with three first-half fouls, also laid some wood on the rookie previously in the quarter), earning a debatable flagrant foul call from the officials. Despite that, the Bulls led, 55-49, at the intermission.

Chicago started the second half on a 6-0 run, which was capped by a Clippers timeout and a technical foul on point guard Baron Davis (10 points, three assists). Rose, aided by Deng, propelled the Bulls during this stretch, and their winning margin grew to a comfortable cushion.

Boozer (benefiting greatly from Roses playmaking) began to assert himself, helping to sustain Chicagos double-figure lead. The home team again battled back, however, and behind journeyman forwards Ryan Gomes (16 points, six rebounds) and Ike Diogu, the Clippers briefly made it a single-digit affair, until a Rose three-pointer late in the quarter made it an 82-71 game after three periods of play.

Watson continued to be effective in relief of Rose, helping the Bulls keep the Clippers at bay until the All-Star point guard returned to the floor, despite Boozer picking up his third, fourth and fifth fouls in rapid succession. Although another Griffin highlight dunk got the home crowds attention, timely individual efforts by Rose and Gibson dampened their enthusiasm.

Afterwards, Thibodeau spoke proudly about how his team limited Griffins second-half scoring.

First half, Griffin just had his way, but I thought offensively we were good, I thought our rebounding was very good, I thought we shared the ball. Second half, I thought our defense was a lot better, he remarked. I didnt like him getting 25 first-half points, but we showed resiliency. We stayed with the plan, we really didnt adjust. It was just doing it better in the second half. We made him work, our help was a little bit better. Griffins a great player.

Gibson shared his coachs sentiments.

After the first half, it was frustrating because we talked about what we wanted to do in the beginning at shootaround. He had 25 points and that was embarrassing, Gibson told CSNChicago.com. Me and Kurt just switched out on him, tried to make his touches hard, force him to do things he didnt want to do. Hes a phenomenal player. We just played real tough tonight.

With the sellout crowds energy fading as the games stretch run approached, the home teams effort followed suit. Thibodeau didnt relax, however (he was assessed with a late technical foul) and neither did his players. A Korver three-pointer took the final gasp of air out of the building and after a Deng steal and subsequent layup on the other end, the game was effectively over, but not until a Rose jumper with under 10 seconds to go put his personal stamp on things.

Very personal, in fact.

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.

Fast Break Morning Update: Celtics even up series with Bulls

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Isaiah Thomas carries Celtics at critical times to save series against Bulls

Isaiah Thomas carries Celtics at critical times to save series against Bulls

Isaiah Thomas carries Celtics at critical times to save series against Bulls

The Celtics season was unraveling, and their face of the franchise was stumbling down the stretch. The opposing Bulls had used a 40-18 run spanning the second and third quarters to take their first lead. Jimmy Butler was hearing “M-V-P” chants from the crowd of nearly 22,000 and the Celtics looked lost, just as they had at times in Game 1 and 2 losses.

And Isaiah Thomas, the MVP candidate who had carried the Celtics all season, was at the front of the miscues. In just 4 third-quarter minutes he missed two shots, turned the ball over three times and committed his third and fourth personal fouls, the latter occurring on a charge during a 3-on-1 fast break. Knowing he’d need his All-Star point guard down the stretch of what was quickly becoming a tight contest, Brad Stevens subbed out Thomas with the hope that the Celtics could keep close their eight-point lead at the time.

Instead, the Bulls kept their foot on the gas, eyeing a 3-1 series lead behind the driving force of Jimmy Butler. The Bulls’ own All-Star helped manufacture a 12-0 run that put the Bulls, down by as many as 20 late in the second quarter, ahead for the first time, 65-63.

Thomas reentered with the score tied at 63, missing his first shot that set up the Bulls’ go-ahead basket from Robin Lopez. Following that basket, Thomas strung together the most important stretch of basketball this season in a 4-minute span that saved the game, and potentially the season.

The Bulls’ lead was brief, as Thomas twice drove to the basket and connected on layups to put the Celtics ahead. Next he found Al Hoford on a pick-and-roll set that the duo had run to perfection in Game 3. Thomas then took two trips to the free-throw line, burying all four attempts, and capped the quarter with a pair of assists to Kelly Olynyk that pushed the lead to 10. All told, Thomas had a hand in all 16 of the Celtics points scored after the Bulls took their lead.

The Celtics managed to hide Thomas defensively – he finished with just the four fouls – and the Bulls only managed to get within five in the fourth quarter (with Thomas on the bench) before the All Star point guard closed the door to even the series heading back to Boston for Game 5 on Wednesday.

“The game was not going our direction and the worst that could happen is somebody fouls out of a game,” Stevens said. “Isaiah’s a big part of our offense and we needed to feel better about ourselves and we tweaked the defense a little bit there to try to protect him, but we didn’t feel like he could sit right there. Things were not going our way.”

Much of the night belonged to the Celtics, even if the Bulls did manage to erase the 20-point deficit. The Bulls’ defensive strategy in Game 3 to limit Thomas, who was second in the league in scoring, to just 18 points, his second lowest point total of the year. Thomas’ nine assists were crucial in Friday’s win, but the Celtics wanted him attacking the basket.

They set higher pick-and-rolls to allow Thomas room to take Robin Lopez off the dribble, and the Boston again playing a small-ball lineup the floor was spaced enough to allow Thomas to attack the rim; just two of Thomas’ 10 makes came outside the restricted area, and his 13 free-throw attempts were a stark contrast after he tallied zero in Game 3. Thomas was a team-high +17 in the nine-point win. His 33  points were the most he had scored in the series.

“It helps us feel a lot more confident when he’s on the floor because he’s able to make plays, not only for himself but other guys on the team,” Avery Bradley said. “Sometimes we need him getting in the paint, kicking it out, and hitting the next guy because it’s contagious.”

Thomas’ third-quarter stretch was his best, but not the only time he contributed. The 5-foot-9 Thomas scored 10 points in the first quarter as the Celtics pushed their lead to as many as 14 points. He hadded six more in the second quarter as the Bulls deployed three different point guards – Jerian Grant, Michael Carter-Williams and Isaiah Canaan – at him, as well as Jimmy Butler.

Thomas remained focused as the Bulls’ carousel of point guards with Rajon Rondo out continued to to turn.

“I just try to play the same way no matter who’s out there on the floor. I got a job to do and that’s score the basketball, make plays for others on this team and be a leader,” Thomas said, speaking to the media for the first time this postseason. “So it doesn’t really matter what the other team’s doing because I’ve got to do my job and I’ve got to do it at a high level for us to win.”

Thomas went for the kill shot in the fourth quarter and delivered. Two baskets from Game 1 hero Bobby Portis cut the Bulls’ deficit to five, prompting Stevens to sub in Thomas, Bradley and Jae Crowder earlier than he would have liked. No matter. Thomas drove twice to the basket on successive possessions and scored both times, including a three-point play. That pushed the Celtics’ lead back to 10 in just 90 seconds, and the Bulls didn’t get close than eight the rest of the way.

Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg vented frustration with the officials following the game, noting that Thomas becomes an “impossible guard” when he’s allowed to carry the basketball during his dribble. Thomas said he couldn’t remember a time this season when he was called for carrying – in reality he’s been called for it three times, though not since January.

It was a strategic tactic for Hoiberg to deploy, hoping for any chance to slow down Thomas. The Celtics point guard is heating up at the perfect time, and he’s doing so while still trying to find his three-point shot. Once that starts working the Bulls will need to once again adjust on the fly. As for Hoiberg’s comment, Thomas echoed during his postgame availability what he showed earlier on Sunday night.

“That,” he said with a smile, “is not the reason why I’m an impossible cover.”