Saturday, Dec. 11, 2010
Posted 9:44 PM Updated 12:40 AM
By Aggrey Sam
After the Lakers shootaround Friday morning at the United Center, superstar Kobe Bryant told reporters that he wouldnt willingly pass the torch to Derrick Rose, but Rose could certainly try.
Well, in the evenings matchup of the Bryant-led defending champions and the Bulls, Rose did just that, willing Chicago (13-8) to victory over the Lakers (16-7), 88-84, the teams fourth straight win.
When you beat the champions, theres nothing you can say about that. We won this game fair and square. Its our first time and were all happy about it, said Rose afterwards. We can beat anybody in the league. Weve just got to come out, play hard, play the way we know how to play, put our defense first and well be fine.
It means a lot when somebody gives you that type of credit. Kobe, I look up to him. If anything, thats what I take from his game. He knows how to put people away right when they get the lead. Hes the best player in the game right now, continued Rose. Im just balling. I wasnt thinking about taking any torch or anything. As long as we keep winning, that gets people everything in this league.
A four-possession exchange of scores between the two squads started the contest, leaving the early impression that it would be a shootout between Lakers head coach Phil Jacksons current and former teams.
The visiting defending champions soon seized the upper hand in the opening period, with Chicagos defensive lapses leading to easy jaunts to the rim precipitated by players moving well without the ball and two quick timeouts called by Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau.
The Lakers frontcourt duo of Lamar Odom (18 points, eight rebounds) and Pau Gasol (21 points, eight rebounds) likely with revenge on his mind after Joakim Noahs defensive job against him last month in Los Angeles victimized Chicago inside, using their length and mobility to dominate the interior in the early going.
Shooting woes a 3-for-15 start to the game and careless turnovers added to the Bulls early miseries, putting them in a double-digit hole, 22-12, after a quarter of play.
In a battle of the benches besides the presence of Gasol for the Lakers the Bulls mostly broke even with the visitors, which would normally be acceptable, but not with the deficit they faced and the previous ineffectiveness of the starters.
Chicagos lack of playmaking and a scoring presence in reserve was evident against a deep Lakers squad that maintained efficient execution, tough defense and high energy.
I thought the energy by our second group and then I thought Carlos got going in the post, and I thought that gave us better floor balance, getting back in transition, and I thought our defense was better, said Thibodeau. After the first quarter, I thought our team defense was much better, I thought our bigs were communicating a lot better, I thought our guards were reacting a lot quicker and I thought we did a good job for three quarters, but we cant afford to do that. Weve got to become a 48-minute team.
Upon the reentry of Rose (29 points, nine assists, five rebounds) who struggled through a poor shooting first quarter the Bulls received a boost of energy, as the ever-competitive South Sider was chomping at the bit to get his team back into the contest.
Soon joined by fellow starters Noah (nine points, nine rebounds) and Carlos Boozer (10 points, 11 rebounds), Roses mentality of carrying his team in times of adversity immediately came to the forefront, although Bryant (23 points, seven assists, five rebounds) thriving in the role of facilitator on this evening countered by setting up his teammates for easy opportunities.
Propelled by Rose, the long-range shooting of reserve sharpshooter Kyle Korver (13 points) and the timely scoring of Luol Deng (14 points), the Bulls made a quick push to get back into the contest.
After missing badly on his early attempts, Korver settled into a groove, stretching the Lakers defense due to Roses ability to penetrate and Boozers low-post presence, the visitors had to guard him honestly with his deep range, playing a significant part in the Bulls comeback.
We just kept battling. Coach always tells us to play with an edge, so thats what we tried to do, keep going out there playing hard and they let us back into the game, said Rose. "Getting out on the fast break, that changed the whole game. Kyle came in and hit a lot of big shots, Booz and Jo got a lot of layups, just trying to get to the line.
The bench came in and played good for us when we had the lead, just keeping the lead, making sure they were on their heels. When the starters came in, we messed it up a little bit. Then, we got it going.
A trademark acrobatic Rose circus shot with two minutes remaining in the second period gave the home team its first advantage since the games opening minutes.
Now the Lakers were the discombobulated bunch, unable to function cohesively as an offensive unit unforced errors and extremely errant marksmanship (4-for-15 in the second quarter) were their biggest issues and permitting the Bulls to get the shots they wanted on the other end of the floor, as Chicago went on a 21-5 run to go into the half with a 36-32 advantage following a Rose floater just before the buzzer.
The second half started like the first; both teams executed at a high level, yielding good opportunities for both teams, but particularly the Lakers, who capitalized on Chicagos missed open shots.
Still, the game evolved into a back-and-forth affair, with Rose continuing to be the Bulls protagonist, Noah elevating his activity level and Deng and Boozer chipping in as secondary scorers.
Despite consistent solid play from the Lakers aforementioned inside tandem, Noahs energetic efforts in the paint and rebounding, Boozers ability to draw the defense and make smart passes, the fresh legs of reserve swingman Ronnie Brewer (10 points, four rebounds) off the bench and Roses burgeoning outside shooting the All-Star point guard knocked down a pair of triples in the period all combined to give the Bulls a slight cushion over the visitors. Through three quarters, Chicago held a 66-58 advantage.
Regardless of the helter-skelter beginning to the final stanza, Chicagos reserves with the addition of Noah did a solid job holding serve. While their offense couldnt be described as efficient, the second unit manufactured transition opportunities and defended well enough to initially keep the Lakers at bay until both squads regulars started trickling back into the contest.
For the visitors, that meant Bryants return to the game and while he made an immediate impact, it was countered by the reappearance of Rose a fallaway shot from the corner (initially ruled a 3-pointer, it was later changed to two points after being reviewed by officials) to beat the shot clock best illustrated this point, although his playmaking was equally valuable who made a similarly instant contribution to the home teams cause, keeping the Bulls winning margin intact.
As the games stretch run approached, it appeared that each team would rightfully live or die based on the play and decision-making of their respective superstars.
I dont mean to put former Bulls guard and Roses agent B.J. Armstrong in it, but he says thats when a good players supposed to take over the game and thats all I was trying to do and the shots, thank God, went in, explained Rose of his mindset. I was surprised I hit it. You just get more comfortable in those types of situations and once again, Thibs called my play and it went in.
If it wasnt for my teammates, theres no way that Id be able to take those shots like that or drive like that. They have a lot of confidence in me and if anybody, theyre the ones that helped, he continued. Thank God we were up that many points, thats what we were thinking about. Theyre a team that can cut a lead down very quickly, especially with the players that they have and we were just balling.
The veteran Bryant, however, armed with a superior supporting cast, had the luxury of functioning primarily as a facilitator first and scorer second, as his teammates proved more capable of making things happen and simply making shots than the role-playing Bulls, whose lead seemingly became increasingly tenuous as the games waning moments grew closer.
The thing about Kobe is youre never really going to stop him. Youve got to make him work as much as possible. I thought Gasol got going early on us and that was a big concern. I thought that was what gave them the big advantage to start the game, but when Kobes out there, he can score so quickly on you, you never feel the lead is safe, said Thibodeau.
You have to play tough and he does it so many different ways. He can catch you in transition, he finds the corners very quickly if you over-help, hes great moving without the ball you turn your head on him, hes going to cut theres just so many things that he does that puts so much pressure on you and I think it makes the game so much easier for all the others. Hes so unselfish.
A corner 3-pointer by Lakers point guard Derek Fisher cut the Bulls lead to three with 48.4 seconds left, but Rose worked his magic once again, draining a fadeaway jumper from just past the left elbow to put Chicago up, 85-80, with 25.2 seconds to play, effectively ending the entertaining affair.
While no torch was officially passed the prideful Bryant still has a lot left in the tank the United Center crowds serenade of M-V-P was only fitting for the ever-blossoming young superstar, who just added another notch to his belt.
His will is special. The corner wasnt a three, but that shot at the end of the shot clock plays like that, praised Thibodeau. He made a lot of big plays throughout the game and I thought he really worked at playing defense. His all-around game was terrific.
Afterwards, the always-gracious Rose spoke about the adulation of Bulls fans and the teams potential.
It feels good, but I cant let it go to my head. Weve still got a lot more games to gowere just trying to bring excitement back to the city, said Rose. I love when the crowds in it. They deserve it. The team is bringing excitement back to the city, along with the other sports thats here and giving people something to brag about.
You know whos going to be at big games. Hopefully we just stay rolling, stay playing good together and we need to jell a little bit more, he added. Were moving in the right direction.
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.