With Derrick Rose playing just 10 minutes, 40 seconds because of lower back spasms, C.J. Watson was once again thrust into heavy minutes and had to fill the void at point guard in the Chicago Bulls' 108-87 victory over the New Jersey Nets on Monday night.
The 6-foot-2 backup put together yet another all-around effort, nearly dropping a triple-double, with 14 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds. Most importantly, he played just over 39 minutes, a game-high, and committed only two turnovers in place of Rose, orchestrating the offense as if it hadn't missed a beat.
Over the last four games, Watson is averaging almost 15 points and five assists while shooting 10-for-18 from three-point range in 26.5 minutes per contest. Bulls fans are well aware of the type of damage Watson can do when he's given plenty of minutes; the fifth-year veteran has shown time and time again that he can play at a very high level when he's put in that situation.
Watson didn't mince words when he told me this past summer that he hoped to receive more minutes and trust from Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau during the 2011-12 season. He has played through pain ever since he missed nine games last month due to a dislocated left elbow.
Still, he has stepped up whenever the Bulls have been without a guard or two -- and Thibodeau's confidence in the 27-year-old continues to rise in the process.
"C.J. does a little bit of everything," the reigning Coach of the Year told reporters after Monday's win. "He's a scoring point guard, very good pick-and-roll player, and he also makes you play with pace. The game usually picks up when he's running the point."
The Bulls clearly pushed the tempo of the game Monday night essentially from start to finish. Thibodeau's bunch piled up 23 fast-break points, knocked down nine three-pointers and topped the century mark for the third consecutive game, a feat they hadn't accomplished since Dec. 29-Jan. 1. Watson accounted for 13 of the Bulls' 35 first-quarter points and set the table for his teammates all night.
The Bulls dropped 29 assists on 40 baskets and are now 12-0 when they have 23 or more assists in a game. From a banged-up Rose to Brian Scalabrine, a former Net who played the final two minutes, six seconds of Monday's game, the team's ball movement has been contagious over the last two games.
"We're playing really unselfish basketball and that's the main thing," Bulls swingman Kyle Korver told the assembled media. "No one's taking tough shots. The ball's moving ... and we're not turning the ball over a lot lately. And when we're doing that, and then have the guys that we do that are able to take on the defense when they need to, it makes [us] really hard to guard."
It took Watson some time last season to grasp Thibodeau's system, and even after he did, a group of Bulls fans believed he wasn't playing up to his capabilities. To his credit, Watson admitted he could have been more aggressive at times in 2010-11, and he vowed to bring that mindset to the table night in and night out this season.
Obviously, it's paying off for Watson. He has played alongside Rose a lot lately, largely due to the fact that Rip Hamilton remains out indefinitely, spacing the floor for the reigning NBA MVP, which, as Thibodeau has repeatedly said, is very critical to the Bulls' success.
"C.J. was terrific," Thibodeau said. "Running the team, playing very good defense. He did a lot of great things for us. It's a great luxury to have. Because it's not only his ability to play extended minutes -- and he's got confidence to start, he's got confidence to play extended minutes -- but also his versatility, his ability to play with Derrick. [Against] teams that play multiple point guards, you always have that option to go to, and he and Derrick play extremely well together."