Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose shot just 4-for-9 in the paint during his team's first home loss of the season on Wednesday to the Indiana Pacers, 95-90. He knows how important it is for the Bulls to take care of business against an Eastern Conference rival, especially at the United Center.
Yet, Rose remained composed afterward and vowed that "if anything, we're going to learn from it."
As it turned out, Rose learned a thing or two from his coach, Tom Thibodeau, before Friday night's game against the Milwaukee Bucks, which the Bulls played without both Luol Deng (wrist) and Rip Hamilton (thigh, groin). Thibodeau's message was clear to the 6-foot-3 point guard, who had hit 8-of-15 shots in the paint in two games since returning from a painful turf toe injury on his left big toe: Exhibit a high level of aggressiveness and attack the basket like the youngest MVP in NBA history normally does.
"My whole mindset was attacking," Rose told reporters after the Bulls' 107-100 victory over the Bucks. "[I] talked to Thibs before the game, actually in shootaround, when he was showing film of me just attacking, and that's what I tried to do when I got out there."
All the time spent with the reigning Coach of the Year certainly paid off for Rose on Friday. The two-time All-Star, set to make it his third straight appearance in February's midseason exhibition, dropped a game- and season-high 34 points on 14-for-24 shooting. From floaters to mid-range jumpers to reverse layups to even a dunk -- he has been conservative with the latter due to his toe -- Rose was feeling it throughout the game and had several athletic, up-and-under finishes that left Bulls fans asking, "What turf toe injury?"
Yes, Rose does seem a bit hobbled up because of his sore toe, and he admittedly will deal with the pain for the rest of the season. Although he continues to dazzle offensively, he appears most effected by the injury on defense. Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings, who is averaging over 20 points this season, scored 19 points and connected on three three-pointers in the first quarter alone. But he had just six points the rest of the way, cooling off as Rose was just starting to heat up.
Taking advantage of the Bucks' depleted, Andrew Bogut-less front line, Rose put up 10 first-quarter points, six of which on the inside. His teammates rallied behind his mentality and controlled the paint for most of the night. The Bulls piled up 56 points in the paint, allowing 42 to the Bucks, blocked nine shots and outrebounded the visitors 50-43, including 20-14 on the offensive boards.
And Rose led the charge, racking up a stellar 20 points in the paint on an even more impressive 10-for-13 shooting. It's safe to say his session with Thibodeau worked out as planned.
"I thought he was very, very aggressive," Thibodeau said of Rose. "I thought that set the tone for us. He's feeling a lot better, in an attack mode and that got us going."
In addition to Rose's play on the court, the fourth-year veteran has been much more vocal and animated in the huddle during pregame introductions. The 23-year-old is continuing to grow as both a player and a leader.
Earlier in the season, Rose admitted he was playing too passive and declared he would be more aggressive. As he has done many times in the past, he followed through on his words. And while he underwent a similar situation between games Wednesday and Friday, this time it was simply about regaining the driving ability that helped him get to the line almost seven times per game last season.
Rose is attempting an average of 5.3 free throws this year, but took 10 against the Bucks, although he nailed six. Still, he made sleek drives to the rim, was forcing the issue and looked to draw contact whenever he could -- which, more often than not, sets the table for his teammates.
The Bulls attempted 33 free throws Friday -- their most since Dec. 30 against the Los Angeles Clippers (34) -- and although they knocked down just 20 (60.6 percent), when a team gets to the line that many times it typically means that the squad is effectively getting to the paint.
"Honestly, we just kind of fed off Pooh, off Derrick, because he was so aggressive to start the game," Bulls forward Carlos Boozer told the assembled media.
The Bulls had 18 assists on the night. But the most important one won't appear on any box score, the one Thibodeau delivered to Rose hours before the game started. It was perfect timing, as well, with the looming Sunday afternoon, highly anticipated tilt in Miami.