Derrick Rose returned, and his presence was felt throughout the course of the game. He scored off the dribble, got to the rack a few times, and looked especially good with the bank-shot. While he finished just 7-for-20, which is still a bit too many shots for him at this stage, Rose helped lessen the defensive attention on Jimmy Butler, and also allowed for Nikola Mirotic to establish himself.
You could argue that the Bulls had trouble finishing off the Blazers in the end, especially by letting C.J. McCollum getting all the way to the cup late in the fourth, but I'm going to spin this around and focus on the positive: With the game in the balance, Butler knocked down four clutch free throws (and later Taj hit a pair) to wrap it up. This was one of those games where you felt disappointment looming in the near distance, but Butler fittingly pushed that for another day.
Over his last five, after scoring just seven points at Philly, Butler is averaging 25.2 points, 5 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 2.2 steals, nine free throw attempts and is canning almost 39% of his three's.
Getting back to Rose for a second, his movement looked a lot better than it did a few weeks ago. He was dancing with the ball in pick-and-roll situations with Pau, stepping back with ease, while creating major separation from his defender. These are promising signs, and welcomed ones as well as the Bulls will soon be entering a home stretch that includes games against the Spurs, Clippers, Grizzlies, and Suns.
Having Butler and Rose on the same page is of vital importance, especially if their combined efforts can help Mirotic locate some stability. Niko's 13/8 in 29 minutes were decent, but he remains less dynamic than how he opened the season. There are still tendencies of hesitance and too many pump-fakes, and now is frankly the time to fix it, so it doesn't become a prolonged issue.
The absolute best moment of last night? Joakim Noah doing Joakim Noah things in staying on McCollum, and getting a hand on his final shot. Perfect footwork, perfect timing, and perfect execution.
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