Like all the NBA's greatest, Derrick Rose is not a perfect player, but he has repeatedly exhibited one of the many attributes that separates him from his fellow peers around the league:
A killer instinct. Rose seemingly has an assassin’s mentality that enables him at times to seek out a singular moment during a game and use it against his opponent – whether or not Chicago Bulls coaches, teammates and fans agree with the star point guard.
That sequence happened with 4 minutes, 31 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter of the Bulls’ 100-94 overtime win over the Detroit Pistons on Sunday night. After receiving an outlet pass from Carlos Boozer, Rose drove to the basket and was raked across the face by Pistons forward Charlie Villanueva, who appeared in just his seventh game of the season. Rose was visibly frustrated with the play, jawing at Villanueva, and his two closest friends on the team, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng, also expressed their displeasure because of the hard foul, which was called a flagrant-one.
“I was mad, man,” Rose told reporters after the game. “Sick and tired of people trying to take cheap shots at me. You got to say something … where he didn’t even aim for the ball. At least go for the ball. I felt like he didn’t and that’s the reason I got mad a little bit.
“That’s basketball. He hit me in the face; I think he didn’t even go for the ball. Whatever they called it, they called it for a reason.”
It didn’t mark the first time Rose has publicly stated that case this season. He was also “sick and tired” of similar treatment in a 98-88 win over the Washington Wizards on January 30, when he picked up a technical foul in order to send a message to the officials. On Sunday, Rose made his feelings known to the player who was responsible for the hit.
As Rose has done throughout his career, he took control of the Bulls, who appeared to be heading toward one of their most disappointing losses of the season. The Bulls were on an emotional high Thursday night when they pulled out a 96-86 overtime victory over the Miami Heat, a contest that the team received little to nothing out of its reigning league MVP.
At the time of Villanueva’s excessive foul, the Bulls trailed 76-73 and were in desperate need of a play to spark them. They were in the midst of an offensive drought that lasted just over six minutes – which followed a third quarter in which they went almost seven minutes without a made field-goal.
Rose had his struggles on the evening as well, shooting 9-for-22 from the field and 1-for-4 from three-point range. To make matters worse, he had a bloody mark on the top of his nose that needed to be tended to by the Bulls’ training staff after Villanueva’s foul.
But when the Bulls needed him most, Rose, sporting a clear band-aid over the bridge of his nose, came through in grand fashion, accounting for 14 of the squad’s 22 fourth-quarter points and the first basket in overtime. He ended up with team-highs of 24 points and nine assists in 41 minutes, showing improved explosion all night in his second tilt back after a one-game absence due to a right ankle sprain.
However, Rose’s most critical play came with under 13 seconds left in regulation when Noah grabbed a defensive rebound off of Rodney Stuckey’s second missed free throw in his last four attempts. Rose quickly corralled the ball and dribbled up the court with a smooth and fluid pace. Then, he got a screen from Noah a few feet behind the top of the key, took two dribbles to his right and pulled up for a three-pointer that swished through the net with 6.4 seconds on the clock as Pistons center Greg Monroe was late to react and provided a weak contest.
It was the type of shot that deflated the Pistons and sucked the air out from under them, as the Bulls led for the final 2 minutes, 34 seconds of overtime. It was also the type of high-level shot that gave his team renewed energy in hopes of grabbing a win that looked improbable at certain points down the stretch.
“When Derrick hit that three, it just gave our team new life, and we handled our business in overtime,” Noah said.
Even though Rose had shot four airballs entering that crucial jumper, he had no doubt in his mind that he would run downcourt and knock down whatever look the Pistons would give him. He scored more points (four) in the first two minutes of Sunday’s game than he did in 25 minutes of Thursday’s, in which he also put up an airball.
“I’m shooting airballs … [but] that’s not stopping me,” Rose told the assembled media, laughing at his own shooting struggles. “If I get an open shot, I’m shooting it. They’re not going under the screens anymore so that’s a good sign, where if they sit behind the screen, I know I can definitely knock it down.”
The Bulls admitted they were fortunate to come out on top Sunday, when they had plenty of opportunities to put the game out of reach, leading by as many as 14 points early in the second half. They had plenty of lapses in judgment – such as the five-second violation on Deng with 15.3 seconds left in the fourth quarter and the Bulls down two points – while the Pistons scored 21 points off of Chicago’s 21 turnovers and piled up 42 points in the paint.
Still, Tom Thibodeau was pleased with his team’s resiliency, defense and rebounding. The Bulls held their opponent to below 95 points for the fourth time in the last five games, forcing the Pistons to shoot a paltry 39.3 percent from the field. Noah, who was energetic from the outset, led the effort on the glass, snatching 17 rebounds – 13 of which offensive – to go along with 20 points. It served as his third 20-point, 10-rebound outing of the season.
“Joakim was unbelievable with his activity and the offensive rebounding,” Thibodeau said. “Derrick [made a] huge shot. We were a step behind on everything, but I thought the defense was pretty good and the rebounding was outstanding. Offensively, we weren’t as sharp as we would like to be. Turnovers have been hurting us; we’ve got to shore that up.”
Added Noah, who accounted for eight of the Bulls’ 14 points in overtime, with a tip-in, two assists on consecutive possessions and a layup: “We didn’t play great overall, turned the ball over a lot. But, overall, I feel like we’ll take any win at this point in the year.”
With the hard-fought win, the Bulls moved 3½ games ahead – three in the loss column – of the Heat (42-17), who defeated the New York Knicks earlier Sunday, atop the Eastern Conference standings, with six and seven contests remaining for the respective clubs.
For his part, Rose committed seven turnovers against the Pistons. But the game’s biggest miscue may have come when Villanueva delivered a nose-denting foul to the Bulls’ franchise cornerstone, who feeds off any motivation he can conjure up.
Rose stood up for himself when he was hammered – and then backed his talk with the dagger three-pointer that tied the game up at 86 points heading into overtime for the second straight game.
The 23-year-old relishes those high-pressure moments, and while he has had some issues in them over the course of this season, he seems to be regaining the crunch-time touch he had a year ago if Sunday’s performance was any indication.
“I really don’t know [why opponents are giving hard fouls], probably because I don’t say anything,” Rose said. “I’m a man, where [in] situations like that, you have to say something.”
Most of the time, actions speak louder than words. Rose was emphatically clear on both fronts Sunday.