“A lot of people want me to score 30 points in the first half,” noted Derrick Rose. “I don’t have to. I can pick and choose when I want to score and change the game and that’s all I’m trying to do with this team.”
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Bulls defeat Wizards behind Rose's 25

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By Sam Smith | 12.24.2014 | 2:02 a.m. CT

John Wall, check. Kyrie Irving, check. Damian Lillard, check. Deron Williams, check. Yes, it starting to seem like old times again.

“Like I have been saying from the beginning,” Derrick Rose was saying after he and the Bulls took down another top team and another great guard, this time John Wall and the Washington Wizards Tuesday in an inspiring 99-91 victory. “I know where I’m going to be in a couple of months and you all are the ones that will be surprised by the way I’m going to play.”

Count plenty surprised already given some of the venom, vitriol and doubts of even recent weeks.

But Rose in the second of a back-to-back on the road once again came up vital down the stretch in the fourth quarter with 10 points just as he did Monday back in the United Center. Rose finished with a game high 25 points on 10 of 17 shooting. After the dynamic Wall broke from a game long malaise and foul trouble with eight straight points on some breathtaking drives to give the Wizards an 87-86 lead on a 12-0 run with 3:44 remaining in the game, Rose took charge.

Winnin’ time, as Magic Johnson used to say.

First Jimmy Butler, who had 11 points and strong overplaying defense on Bradley Beal, got a pass from Aaron Brooks, drove and was fouled, making two to push the Bulls back on top by a point.

Rose, who made several big defensive plays earlier, deflected a Wall pass for a turnover. Rose then drove left, switched hands and put in a falling away runner over Paul Pierce for a 90-87 Bulls lead with 3:01 left.

“He had the two games where he was sick and then he’s picked up right where he left off,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “It has been a step-by-step process and this is the first time he’s played really well in a back-to-back. You can tell his confidence is growing; he’s feeling a lot better and that’s great.”

It was Wall and Rose now, though the Bulls had the defensive edge as they could defeat the pick and roll, the bane of NBA defenses, with switching. This time Joakim Noah, again with a spirited and motivated defensive effort, took Wall. Noah had been defending Pierce in the small ball finish and switched onto Wall after the pick. Noah stayed in front, not letting Wall penetrate and Wall hit the front rim with a jumper.

“The strength of having two guys like Jo and Taj (Gibson), you have two guys who can guard smalls on the perimeter,” said Thibodeau. “I thought Jo did a terrific job.”

The Bulls were matching three guards and Rose beat Wall with a hesitation dribble, drawing a foul against Marcin Gortat. Rose made both free throws for a 92-87 Bulls lead with 2:02 remaining, meticulously carving up the Washington defense. The Wizards then tried to put Pau Gasol in the pick and roll to avoid Noah. Gasol came out well against Beal and Jimmy Butler recovered quickly to get Beal, who passed to Rasual Butler. He missed a three.

Rose with the clock winding under two minutes saw Wall now laying well under the pick and sitting back in the paint. So Rose pulled up and made a 20 footer for a 94-87 Bulls lead with 1:48 remaining.

The Wizards called timeout as Rose happily, with his arms swinging in an exaggerated march, skipped back toward the Bulls huddle. Though Rose’s punch is not as lethal as his scoring punch, in his high stepping march Rose accidently caught assistant Andy Greer, who didn’t even take a standing eight count.

“Just the moment, being in a game like that, being on the road,” said Rose, who generally exhibits more the stoicism of a Clint Eastwood character. “The emotional side is going to come out. I never celebrate; it’s just something I felt and it just came out that way. They made a hell of a comeback and put us in a tough situation. We were up a decent amount of points and they came back and made it a game again, so of course the emotional side is going to come out a bit.”

“Looks like he’s having fun out there,” added Noah. “He’s playing at a really high level. A lot of guys are stepping up. Feels good to have Derrick on the court.”

Wall, who led Washington with 18 points and also 10 in the fourth quarter, then made a nice drive. He drew three defenders, leaving Gortat open for a slam dunk to bring Washington within 94-89 with 1:41 left.

Rose, however, wasn’t done.

Rose drove and passed to Noah when Gortat came to help after the screen. Noah’s shot bounced off the rim. But Rose got inside position on Wall and Pierce and tipped the ball in for a 96-89 Bulls lead with 1:21 left.

“You’re seeing it,” said Thibodeau. “He’s been through a lot, worked his way through it. He’s starting to play better and better and gaining confidence with that. You can tell his teammates are thrilled for him; he’s thrilled for his teammates when they do well. It makes for great team spirit and that goes a long way.”

Wall pulled up for a quick jumper, which pretty much ended it as the Wizards began searching out threes in vain.

“A lot of people want me to score 30 points in the first half,” noted Rose. “I don’t have to. I can pick and choose when I want to score and change the game and that’s all I’m trying to do with this team.”

It may be the best recipe for a complete team and season the Bulls have had in a long, long time. Sure, Rose has been coming on strong and standing tall in the terrific matchups that present themselves, like recently against Lillard, Monday against Lowry and against Wall. But it’s also the depth and versatility of the team as Rose can save the spectacular as he did the last two games.

"I think their biggest change was getting Pau Gasol,” said Washington’s Gortat. “Obviously having Derrick Rose is huge. But the biggest change to me was getting Pau Gasol. He is a great rebounder, leader, post up player and shooter. He is an all around great player. That is why you have a guy who won two championships."

The win Tuesday that concluded the back to back against two of the hottest teams in the Eastern Conference moved the Bulls to 19-9 and 13-4 on the road, which is five more road wins than any other team in the conference. The Bulls have won seven of eight and 10 of 13. Washington fell to 19-8 and 13-4 at home.

“Chicago Bulls are getting healthy,” said Noah. “It’s coming.”

The Bulls also settled a little score, though not much, in defeating the Wizards in the first time the teams met since Washington’s 4-1 playoff series win over the Bulls last season. But that was without Rose, Gasol, who had 18 points and nine rebounds, and this guy Jimmy Butler, who looks like the Jimmy Butler from last season but has been a completely different player and the team’s leading scorer.

Butler did have six rebounds to go with his 11 points and his usually rugged defense. And Rose, for one, maintained this Butler playing revelation is not all that surprising to the team, if vital the way Butler now draws defensive attention.

“Still not getting double teamed,” Rose laughed. “Jimmy always had the attitude where he always had the swag. I would say he was different. Right when he first came on our team he had the personality to become a star. He worked hard, something that was different; he listened to country music, so it was something that threw everyone off. But he did not care what anybody said about him or the jokes about him. He stayed in his own lane and it’s paying off for him. He ‘s making the game very, very easy and we hope he keeps it up.”

The Bulls also got another excellent performance from the reserves with 13 points and six assists from Aaron Brooks, 12 points and a pair of angry slams and seven rebounds in 19 minutes from Gibson, seven points and five rebounds from Nikola Mirotic and five points in a confident 20 minutes from E’Twaun Moore. Moore played for Kirk Hinrich, back in Chicago with a hamstring strain, and was so self assured and effective that Thibodeau played him most of the fourth quarter.

“Our bench gave us good energy when they were in,” said Thibodeau of the 37-24 Bulls bench edge. “I thought E’Twaun’s minutes were real good, Niko, even though he didn’t score a lot, spread the floor. Jo played with great energy. Did a lot of good things out there and Jimmy battled through it. Because of the attention he was drawing, that opened some other things for us.”

It made for a fulfilling win heading back for the Bulls second Christmas Day home game since 1997.

“For Kobe to travel out of LA on Christmas Day just shows how far we’ve come,” laughed Rose. “We actually have the Lakers coming to us. We appreciate that and don’t take it for granted and hopefully it will be a good game.”

The Bulls can only hope for as good as Tuesday’s.

Wall did start slowly as has been his tendency against Rose, whose teams are 5-0 when he plays against Wall’s team. Both played for John Calipari and are friendly rivals, though Wall was upset about being left off the summer USA Basketball team, of which Rose was a member.

So it’s been sort of a mission season for Wall and he’s carried the Wizards near the top of the Eastern Conference all season and is second in the NBA in assists.

“They’re both dynamic players,” said Thibodeau. “Hard to guard in transition, pick and rolls, and both are unselfish. So they make the right play.”

The Bulls got off a bit more energetically, ahead 14-8 before they went dry. Only a forced Gasol three to end the first quarter, Gasol’s first of the season, gave the Bulls a 21-20 lead after one.

“Kind of accidental pretty much,” Gasol said. “I was open, Aaron found me, the clock was running out.”

The Bulls bench took over in the second quarter behind Brooks and Moore, and then Noah had a flashing finish to the half with a steal from Gortat and full court driving layup and slam on a nice pass from Rose as the Bulls led 46-40. The Bulls also did a nice job holding down Nene, who was crucial in last season’s playoffs. Nene now coming off the bench initially had success against Mirotic. But Thibodeau switched Gibson onto him and Nene would end up with eight points. The Bulls would have a big rebounding edge as well with all 10 players with at least two rebounds.

The Bulls pulled ahead 58-47 behind Rose and Gasol to start the third. But even with an amazing Brooks reverse driving layup score, the Wizards moved within 70-65 after three. The Bulls opened the fourth 7-2 punctuated by a fierce Gibson slam dunk and seemed in control 86-75 with 6:23 left as Rose split the lane with a drive and layup.

But that seemed to finally energize Wall, who may now be the league’s fastest. He scored 10 points in the Wizards 12-0 run over just two minutes to take that 87-86 lead. He highlighted it with a fancy full court drive and behind the back dribble and score. Washington was rocking as it rarely does for sports these days.

And then Rose scored eight points in the next 100 seconds and it was over. Rose in the last month had 23 in a win against the Nets, 31 in a win against Portland, 29 Monday against Toronto and 25 Tuesday.

“I enjoy whenever I play,” said Rose. ”I really feel I was born to play this sport.”

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