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Bulls edge Raptors, sit atop East

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Something happened to the Bulls Thursday on the way to an impressive 100-93 victory over the conference leading Toronto Raptors, the Bulls’ fifth consecutive road win without a loss.

Derrick Rose, who had 20 points with the Bulls leading by seven with 1:53 remaining after being up by 18 a few minutes earlier, slipped on a drive and had to leave the game. In a timeout, Joakim Noah was seen comforting a head down Rose. Uh oh?

“Everybody needs to chill out; chill out,” instructed Noah as only he can. “Everybody needs to chill the (bleep) out.”

Rose seemed fine afterward, easily doing multiple rounds of interviews with reporters and TNT for the national broadcast. He said it was merely a tweaked hamstring, that he’d have it looked at back in Chicago Friday and was hoping to practice.

“I guess it was cramps in my hamstrings,” Rose said. “I think it is minor and they decided to pull me out. It feels like just cramps, so I just sat out. We have a good team, we had the game up 10 by then. So why force it? I over stepped, just stretched out a little bit more with my left leg. It just comes with the process, I guess, of missing two years.”

It’s hard to blame everyone for gasping every time there’s an incident with Rose given the history of two major knee surgeries. And this week with Rose embroiled in a national sports call in show debate about the appropriate commitment of athletes. Rose was verbally tortured for comments about being cautious and looking toward the future, which he said were not quite in context, though he added everyone was free to take them as they chose. It angered some in the sports world. And that frustrated teammates, as voiced by Noah.

Though Rose seemed well afterward, he did warn, in effect, that this is just the climb in this season’s roller coaster, the Wild Rose, and everyone probably ought to prepare to strap in and keep the screaming to a minimum.

“This is going to happen, especially when you miss two years,” said Rose in his usual patient way. “Talking to a lot of people who had surgeries, my agent had five or six surgeries. It’s going to happen, especially when you miss two years. Just trying to do everything right, work on flexibility, eat right, stretch right, hydrate right, try to put everything on my side (to) get better. Missing two years, you are just going to fall for no reason, I guess. Just trying to work every day. I’m not losing any confidence with these little setbacks.”

Relax seems to be the new anthem in sports.

The Bulls did perhaps a little too much somewhat early in Thursday’s game, and it resulted in a 52-45 halftime deficit with probably the season’s poorest performance from the Bulls reserves, especially rookies Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic. They never did get back in the second half and played about five minutes each.

But it was yet another terrific game from Pau Gasol, who led the Bulls with 27 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks. It was Gasol’s 13 second quarter points that held off a pressuring and overplaying Raptors team that was spurred on by a raucous home crowd and 7-1 record entering the game. Gasol scored the Bulls last 13 points of the second quarter with a variety of jumpers, drives and dunks to keep the Raptors from taking what may have been an insurmountable lead.

“Pau kicked some serious (butt) tonight,” said Noah, who added six points, eight rebounds and six assists. “That was big; we’re going to need that from Pau. The way he’s been controlling the paint defensively as well; the way he has been holding down the paint has been huge for us.”

It was a huge win even early as the Bulls tied the Raptors at 7-2 for the top of the East, but more so taking games off that start of 12 road games in the first 17. Jimmy Butler also had another excellent game with 21 points, nine rebounds and six assists and running DeMar DeRozan into his poorest game of the season, three of 17 shooting for 10 points.

“The main thing is this group is hungry,” said Gasol, “which is what I like a lot and one of the reasons that I came here.”

It’s been vital for the Bulls in giving the team that missing second reliable scoring option at crucial times other than Rose. Even Butler is beginning to support that role. His pull up 20 footer with 1:32 remaining took some air out of the Raptors following Rose leaving and that 18-point fourth quarter lead down to five. Butler’s swisher made it 95-88. And then after a James Johnson jumper, the former Bull with 16 points off the bench, Mike Dunleavy effectively clinched the game with a veteran move. With three seconds left on the shot clock and Dunleavy on the far right wing, he went up to shoot but faked. It drew Terrence Ross in the air. Unable to levitate, Ross came down on Dunleavy for a three-shot foul. Dunleavy made two with 58.9 seconds left and the Bulls were not going to lose a seven-point lead at that point.

And, oh what a week it’s been for team drama.

Of course, with the game on the national TNT broadcast, Rose’s comments earlier in the week about health and priorities was debated pregame. Charles Barkley offered the knee jerk reaction, though not to confuse Barkley with the adjective.

“That was stupid,” said Barkley, who knows something about the subject. “I limp around and I go home to a big ol’ mansion. There are people who work harder than Derrick Rose that go home to a shack (not O’Neal). There are consequences to what we do. I don’t mind limping around. Derrick Rose is making $20 million a year. He got a couple of bad knees. That’s disrespectful to me, people in the Army who go out and kill people and got no arms and no legs. As much as I like Derrick Rose, that was flat out stupid.” Kenny Smith, however, tried to provide some substance to the discussion, somewhat rare in that setting. Smith said as Rose did earlier to TNT that the comments could be viewed out of context, that Rose wasn’t one to let down teammates and that being a league MVP there was no way you could be a soft player who didn’t want to compete.

You hear that story from teammates about Rose. And Noah, again post game, launched into a defense of Rose over his frustration with the dichotomy of the way teammates feel about Rose and what outsiders say they do.

“Looking at it as a teammate, it’s frustrating because he’s sometimes portrayed as something he is not,” Noah said with frustration building about what he and teammates were supposed to have felt toward Rose. “You don’t come back from the injuries he’s come back from without unbelievable commitment. I’m watching the power you (media) have; sometimes you guys can portray somebody as something he is not. That is a little disappointing to me because I know how much he cares about this game. I see it every day. You have injuries, you have tweaks. Every time something happens to him, people act like it’s the end of the world. That’s so lame to me. Relax, OK? He’s coming back from two crazy surgeries. Obviously, we are being conservative with him. He has to listen to his body more than anybody. I just don’t like it when people portray him and judge him. It’s not fair to him.”

You’ve heard a lot of media stuff (the usual sources who may or may not know) how teammates must feel let down. But they know Derrick and they saw what he went through those two years without a complaint, never a, 'why me,' or sense of depression. He always maintained this impressive faith of the best being yet to come and what happened being destined. I’m fairly sure I would not have seen it that way, but his teammates know.

Rose, to me, wasn’t saying he wants to have perfect health at 50 so he won’t play now—which was the immediate conclusion assumed by so many—but that he’s been through so many injuries and they led to more serious injuries. So he is being careful. He understands the best way to help himself and the Bulls long term is to not push himself the way he did in 2011-12 and then cost the team his services for a year or more.

Thursday’s game was an example. Look, it’s possible that the human body just cannot take the level of torque applied by Rose. After all, we’ve never seen a small guard that explosive with those kind of shifting changes of speed. It doesn’t say Rose cannot maintain or have a long career. Just that perhaps he needs to be a bit more cautious, which he was indicating. The fact of this season is he’s played as much as he was allowed by the team—and more than most in the NBA with the summer of USA Basketball—and was back very quickly from sprained ankles. Aren’t we supposed to be governed by actions more than words?

It was actions in an excellent early season game, one in which it is opponents these days looking to measure themselves against the Bulls, which was the pregame talk for the Raptors.

But it was the Bulls winning the rebounding after a slow start this season on the boards and shooting 48 percent in another impressive offensive game led by Gasol.

“You can’t say enough about him,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau in saying more. “The way he sets the tone for the team, plays both sides of the ball and plays unselfishly. He’s great, every aspect of the game. He sets great screens, he passes it well, gets deep post position, second defender comes he hits the open man. Defensively, he communicates well, protects the rim, rebounds in traffic. He’s been huge for us.”

The Bulls led 25-24 after one quarter, but the Raptors devoured the Bulls reserves to start the second quarter with seven Bulls turnovers in the first five minutes of the quarter and an 8-0 Toronto start. That had Thibodeau rushing back Rose and Noah sooner than usual in the regular rotation. The athletic Raptors perimeter players were pressuring up, deflecting passes and making a mockery of the Bulls’ offense. Rose countered with consecutive scores to stop the stampede and then it was Gasol. It’s the difference with this Bulls team when both play. Rose can stop those runs, and Gasol finally is a reliable second option when defenses crowd Rose.

“Pau played great tonight,” said Rose. “When they had their run in the first half, he did a great job making sure we were close. What we were looking for was someone to take that spot. I was not making any shots; Pau, Jimmy and Jo were making plays and we found our way in the second half coming back and getting victory.”

That third quarter, especially, which was the stuff of great teams. The Bulls defenders smothered the Raptors prize perimeter, holding Toronto to 28.6 percent shooting. Meanwhile Gasol dominated inside, Rose and Dunleavy made threes, Taj Gibson with 10 points and seven rebounds stepped inside with impressive drop step moves and Butler found the range along with a fancy inbounds lob dunk on a pass from Dunleavy. Dunleavy with 14 points even went full court with a dribble for a score as Mike Krzyzewski probably spilled his wine at home and it was a 10-0 Bulls close to the third for an 80-66 lead.

“Third quarter was great,” said Thibodeau. “And then we hung on in the fourth. But we did a lot of good things to build that lead. I thought Jimmy played a terrific game, Derrick had a good game going, Jo was just real solid throughout, Mike Dunleavy was solid. Kirk (Hinrich) played great defense, Jimmy played great defense. We had a lot of guys step.”

And Rose did walk off comfortably in the end. To be continued.

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