For probably the first time in Derrick Rose’s NBA career, the Chicago Bulls played much better in Tuesday night’s thrilling 96-86 overtime win over the Miami Heat when he was a spectator rather than on the court. In a gutsy move, coach Tom Thibodeau benched his star for the final 5 minutes, 49 seconds of the game.
Not surprisingly, while he obviously wanted to be playing, Rose did not take issue with Thibodeau’s decision, which the veteran coach knew would be the case given Rose’s team-first attitude.
“I’m fine, man … I’m not worried about my stats or anything,” Rose told reporters after the game. “I’m just trying to get back out there before the playoffs start. Could I make up excuses? Yeah, but you know me: I’m not going to use no excuse. My shots weren’t falling. Shots that I normally hit, I wasn’t hitting. My teammates had my back and I’m happy I had them on my team.”
Added Thibodeau: “Big picture, if this were his first or second year, maybe you would be more concerned with that. But, where Derrick is now as a player, he understands the situation. He’s coming off an injury; he’s a very confident guy. He’ll get up to speed very quickly. The thing that you love about him, he was so happy we won and happy for his teammates – and that’s who Derrick is.”
Rose, who returned from a one-game absence with a sprained right ankle, had a career-low two points on just 1-for-13 shooting. He was held scoreless in the first half for the first time in his four-year career, and he had a plus-minus of minus-27, while his backup, C.J. Watson, dropped 16 points and nine assists and was a whopping plus-38.
Still, Rose didn’t sulk on the sidelines during his benching. He continued to cheer on teammates, who came up huge on a big regular-season stage yet again.
In the minds of Rose and Thibodeau, the inconsistent play was expected, although Rose did put up 29 points when he came back from a 12-game absence Sunday afternoon.
“My mind was thinking something my body couldn’t do,” Rose said. “But I’ve never had a problem of getting my rhythm back for a long time. I should get it back pretty quick.
“I’ve had worse games than this … but these games right here, it’ll just make me a better player, a stronger player.”
It was clear on Thursday from the outset that Rose would try to ease into the game. Interestingly, Heat star LeBron James guarded Rose as early as the first quarter, a defensive matchup that usually doesn’t happen until the fourth quarter of contests, when Mario Chalmers checked out of the game.
But Rose obviously did not have the level of performance he and the fans had hoped for. He also committed three turnovers to go along with eight assists. While Rose himself, as well as teammates and coaches, are confident his struggles were due to an overall lack of rhythm, the 6-foot-3 point guard seemed bothered by an ailment.
It marked the first time in Rose’s career that he was truly benched because of ineffectiveness, but that’s the luxury Thibodeau has with this Bulls team and he used it to his full advantage Thursday.
“We knew that would be the case,” Thibodeau said of Rose’s outing. “He’s done fine in practice. There’s not a lot of contact in practice so you don’t know what the conditioning will be until you get into the game. Again, there are some things I thought he did very well. A little rusty, but that’s to be expected. He didn’t knock down shots that he normally makes. … It’ll only get better.”
Indeed, it’s a safe bet Rose, who has also dealt with a turf toe, lower back spasms and a groin injury, will find his groove as the regular season winds down, with the playoffs right around the corner. The Bulls know they will need him 100 percent healthy, but once again versus the Heat, Chicago’s role players stepped up in a huge way – especially Watson, who played the final five minutes, 49 seconds of the game in Rose’s place, entering for good with 49.3 ticks remaining in regulation.
Watson knocked down the game-tying three-pointer with 2.2 seconds left in the fourth quarter and then made a critical jumper over Chris Bosh from the top of the key in the extra frame. Although Thibodeau went back to Rose with 3 minutes, 30 seconds left in the fourth, he had one objective in mind – getting his backup point guard some rest.
“C.J. needed a break,” Thibodeau told the assembled media. “Otherwise, C.J. would’ve finished it out. At that point, I was also thinking Derrick had been out an extended period of time, so it was a tough call.”
It was a gamble that paid off for Thibodeau and one that even Rose didn’t have an issue with. Rather, the reigning league MVP soaked the game in and let out several first pumps when his teammates hit critical shots while he sat on the bench.