Now that was positively Jordanesque. No, not Larry Hughes' 22 footer as time ran out to give the Bulls a 101-100 victory over the Utah Jazz. Though it was a terrific shot and better recognition and good fortune as Hughes recovered Derrick Rose's miss off the back iron, pump faked C.J. Miles and nestled a win into the basket.
“I’ve never had a walk off," Hughes said. "That’s no time on the clock, doesn’t give the other team another chance. I’ve hit some game winners, but never without any time on the clock."
But, hey, we've got to get past the Michael Jordan comparisons for Rose. There hasn't been another yet and I still don't see one here or coming along.
So perhaps that last three minutes for Rose was more Bird-like or Kobeesque or reminiscent of Oscar or West or Barry or Magic.
The kid took the ball down the stretch, like he did in last Friday's win at Golden State when he scored the team's last four field goals and five of the last seven on the way Monday to a team high 25 points and nine assists, and made just about every play: Drive past Mehmet Okur, who led the Jazz with 26, to make it 93-92 Bulls. Drive from the top (I think the Bulls ran the same play 18 straight times, a high pick and roll) and foul for two free throws and Bulls lead of 95-94. Drive and scoop to put the Bulls back up 97-96. Drive across lane and pushing one in from nine feet as he's slipping crossing the lane to put the Bulls back up again 99-98.
No, the Bulls didn't stop the Jazz, even though they were missing Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver and Matt Harpring. The Bulls don't stop much of anyone anymore, especially on this Western Conference trip in which the five opponents are shooting a combined 50 percent with the Lakers 47 percent being the lowest. The Bulls have become one of the league's poorest defensive units, 16th in opponents' field goals and 24th in points yielded.
But that's not who they are anymore. They are an open the court, drive the ball and try to get the occasional runout, find Rose team. They're third in the league in shooting free throws at more than 80 percent, easily the best in franchise history. If you are going to play the game the Bulls do now, mostly small with more attacking thanks to Rose, you better make the free throws, and they are this time.
See, no one could coach that before Vinny Del Negro.
Okur and Kirilenko had dunked previously, and when Okur missed a 20 footer and Miles put the ball in after a rebound from Ronnie Brewer with 11 seconds left for a 100-99 lead, it looked over. The Bulls didn't call time out, but this time it wasn't a rerun of that loss in Orlando earlier this month when Del Negro skipped the time out and Ben Gordon ended up with a forced attempt into Dwight Howard.
This time, as he had been all fourth quarter, Rose drove into the middle after scoring eight straight, but his shot hit back rim and came to Hughes, who finished with 16 points on an efficient 10 shots. Hughes, as we know, usually isn't the most reliable shooter. But he'd made two of three threes in this game, and we know he'll shoot the ball. Sometimes it looks great, and this time it was.
“I just knew I had to get it up, got some space, and was able to get a good enough look to knock it down," said Hughes, noting clock malfunctions in the arena all game kept players guessing on time. "It felt pretty good. I definitely gave it a chance. I wasn’t going to shoot it short."
Still, it was another breathtaking finish thanks to Rose, who in both wins certainly bailed out the team and had his share of highlight moments, like his full court drive through every Jazz defender to close the first half and give the Bulls a 53-45 edge.
Now, a 2-3 mark on this trip looks pretty good with a decent chance to get one of the next two in San Antonio Wednesday with Tony Parker out and Manu Ginobili just returning and Sunday in Philadelphia as the 76ers are just 7-7 after losing to lowly Charlotte Monday.
Give Del Negro some credit here.
No, it doesn't appear he's going to match strategy with Hubie Brown or Alex Hannum. But his player-friendly ways seem to be something of a balm for this Bulls team that could have exploded. They're 7-8 with Kirk Hinrich out three months and Luol Deng just back Monday, but clearly not ready to play as he moved stiffly around the court for two points in 16 ugly minutes.
"It’s a terrific win for us," said Del Negro. "Our guys hung in there. Derrick (Rose) made plays down the stretch. I thought our bench in the second half really helped us a lot, gave us a big boost so our stars could get some rest. But it was just an overall really good team effort. Everybody contributed, did their role and we made plays. Both teams were going back and forth at the end. We got the last shot, and Larry (Hughes) was in the right spot and pulled up and hit it. We were just trying to get Derrick in isolations and penetration. He was making plays."
They got a wild night from Andres Nocioni, who was being beaten on defense and picking off his own teammates when the Jazz hit the Bulls with a 6-0 run to tie the game at 87 with 3:47 left. Then Nocioni came out of the timeout with a jumper and frustrated Paul Millsap, whom he'd been pounding on as Millsap had 21 points and 10 rebounds, into a foul and made both free throws. Millsap is the Jazz' best interior defender, and it was his fifth and he was soon to foul out before Rose made three more successful assaults on the basket.
The Bulls don't have much inside presence, though Aaron Gray had another nice stretch, this time for about the first eight minutes of the fourth quarter as among his eight points was a back to back baby hook and tip in and a nasty put back when he seemed to push Okur out of bounds without a call as the Bulls took an 85-79 lead with about six minutes left.
He had been running that high screen roll every play with Rose, though wore out soon after that score with a lazy pass out of bounds for a turnover and was replaced by Drew Gooden. Gooden had another solid offensive effort with 18 points and six rebounds, though he is a little small to fight off the big size inside. Gooden has made up with it on this trip with a nice pop out game that bothered the Jazz' interior players.
The Bulls finally made the adjustment of putting someone who could make a shot in that pick and roll or pick and pop play instead of Joakim Noah or Tyrus Thomas, who often run out to set those screens. Why? No one is passing to them.
Noah did show some exceptional energy running out to congratulate Hughes as his winner went in with Hughes offering, as usual, little expression.
But it was the most animated the often morose Bulls bench has been in some time.
Noah had six points and seven rebounds, four offensive, in 16 minutes mostly in the first half as he again wound down quickly and signaled to the bench with three minutes left in the first quarter to get him out of the game. And apparently to emphasize that hauled up a wild shot after he'd raised his hand to be excused.
Meanwhile, it seems as if Rose has one of those super charged nickel hydrogen batteries that power the space stations.
The kid just keeps going and going, offering little or no expression, and as the game grows tighter and more demanding, he is willing to—heck, wants to, demands to—take the ball and the responsibility.
It really is the most rare trait in sports.
Guys like Jordan and Tiger Woods and Reggie Jackson and Kobe and Bird and Tom Brady and Joe Montana have that. There were always guys around who could jump higher and shoot better and throw farther and hit a ball farther and straighter. But they were the ones who could do it when it was needed most and when everyone was watching to see if they would fail. They did, but they always came back and wanted it again because they were sure the miss was an aberration.
It seems like that with Rose, who with a seeming nonchalance simply takes over. There's no fuss or braggadocio, just a man going to work. Ben Gordon will try to do that, but he doesn't have the athletic moves or that first step quickness and jumping ability like Rose, who can get to the basket seemingly anytime he wants and past multiple defenders.
“We needed that win and we didn’t care how we got it," offered Rose casually, as usual. "We just wanted to come out of here with just a victory. (I) missed the shot and Larry gathered it and he’s been in this situation before and he just shot the ball. We left on a good note and this won’t do nothing but help us.”
This was a Jerry Sloan team, after all. And while it was devastated with injuries and down its two best players, it's always a tough team and was 9-5 without a loss this season at home.
The Bulls got the Jazz into their game most of the time, the Jazz falling into more individual play and jump shots as the Bulls pushed the pace. The Jazz got little resistance at the basket and shot 51.4 percent and ran out on 19 Bulls turnovers for a 21-4 fast break margin. The Jazz did have 30 assists on 43 field goals, far better than the Bulls, who still shoot too many individual jumpers. The Jazz generally is disciplined and forceful, but they could not find space in front of Rose.
“We gave them too many opportunities," lamented Sloan. "That last shot that they made, we kind of fell asleep a little bit, they came up with the offensive rebound and buried us. There are always a million things you can think of, but the bottom line is they beat us at the last second. It just takes one play to beat you.”
Good win. Great last shot. Remarkable young player.
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