Derrick Rose has made a habit of following through on his words, and the task at hand for the Chicago Bulls point guard and his teammates was clear. They were dismantled and humiliated in a 98-82 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers last month at Wells Fargo Center and Rose said on Friday that the team had some anger bottled up because of that defeat.
Over the course of the past two seasons, Rose has proven that whenever he has added motivation, his opponent that night is in plenty of trouble. The 6-foot-3 point guard made it a point of emphasis to come out aggressively in Sunday night's game against the Sixers at the same arena he was held to 18 points on 8-for-17 shooting in both teams' last matchup -- and it showed from the outset. Rose dropped a season-high-tying 35 points, eight assists and four rebounds as the Bulls earned their revenge with a hard-fought 96-91 victory over the young, athletic Sixers.
"I was just excited to play them again," Rose told reporters after the game. "I remember playing them here a little while ago and they got the best of us. They're a good team and I just couldn't wait to play them again."
The Sixers' Jrue Holliday, Andre Iguodala, Thaddeus Young, Evan Turner and Lou Williams all spent time defending Rose on Sunday, in hopes of containing the reigning league MVP the same way they did about a month ago. However, on this night, Rose sliced, diced and sniped his way to 13 first-quarter points on two of his four three-pointers that set the stage for the rest of the game. Then in the second quarter, he scored just two, but the basket he made, a step-back 22-foot jumper to beat the first-half buzzer, gave his team some momentum heading into halftime.
Earlier in the season, Rose believed he it would be wise if he would begin to ease himself into games rather than attacking right out of the gate. At this point in the season, with the Bulls holding the NBA's best record at 31-8, Rose understands his teammates need him to be the tone-setter on most nights, especially when Chicago is facing good defensive squads like the Sixers, who rank first in the league in opponents' points allowed, surrendering just 87 per game.
Rose continues to do whatever it takes for the Bulls, and if that means that he has to step up as a leader or as a scorer, he's obviously more than capable of putting up a masterful effort.
"I know in the beginning of the game that's definitely what I have to do with this team, lead by example," Rose said.
The three-time All-Star ended the third quarter with another buzzer-beater, but he provided heroics late in the fourth, too. The Bulls had started to unravel, committing two consecutive turnovers while the Sixers turned up the dial defensively. Doug Collins' bunch trapped and blitzed Rose a lot in the second half and brought even more pressure in the fourth frame. Both Luol Deng and C.J. Watson drained critical shots late in the game, but it was Rose who put his head down and drove to the left side of the rim amid the double-team, contorted his body in mid-flight and connected on a clutch, running right-handed floater while fading out of bounds to give the Bulls a 93-89 lead with 20.4 left. Most impressively, he made the uncanny shot jumping off the wrong foot, his right, which made the attempt extremely difficult.
"Anything it takes to win. That's my game," Rose told the assembled media. "I kind of hit crazy shots all the time. That was definitely a crazy shot but it was a floater and I was able to get it off."
Coach Tom Thibodeau has seen Rose carry the Bulls so many times that nothing his star does in crunch time surprises him. Rose's teammates have also watched Rose perform at a very high level when he seemingly has a chip on his shoulder. He was determined and badly wanted to come out on top against the resurgent Sixers. He made it clear that he would not be deterred from exacting revenge.
"He reads it," Thibodeau said of Rose. "There's certain times where he was setting them up with the pass. And then he saw a seem [that] he could crack and he does a great job. He sees [traps] so much now that it's become instinctive to him."
The Bulls know they can trust Rose at any juncture of the game and that they will only go as far as he leads them, especially down the stretch of contests. Rose has undoubtedly accepted the responsibilities that come with that burden. For his part, he has averaged 28.8 points and 7.5 assists in four games since the All-Star break and appears to have left his toe and back injuries in the dust -- a good sign for the Bulls, that the 23-year-old is elevating his game during the second half of this compressed, 66-game season.
When it comes to Rose, the sensational script remains the same.