“It was a big one,” said Rose of the victory after the Bulls trailed much of a lethargic first half. “We lost to them in Denver and they really beat us; coming here we really wanted to beat them and we want to start off another streak here."
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Bulls find gold digging in against Nuggets

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By Sam Smith | 1.02.2015 | 2:35 a.m. CT

So the Bulls were facing a little problem Thursday against the Denver Nuggets. They’d battled back from a 13-point third quarter deficit to take a lead going into the fourth. But the plucky Nuggets had eased back out ahead. And Derrick Rose back in the game with the starters had missed 42 of his last 51 shots over three games. What to do? The obvious, of course: Go to Rose.

“Everybody questions everything here,” Joakim Noah was saying afterward. “We’ll never question him because I know what kind of competitor he is.”

The sort of competitor to stick with it and stick it to the Nuggets as Rose:

  • Scored 13 of his 17 points in the last six minutes;
  • Assisted on a Jimmy Butler alley oop dunk in that stretch;
  • Made the jump shots to retake the lead for the Bulls;
  • Hit the crucial three pointer with four minutes left that gave the Bulls a six point lead before Rose added a floater and another jumper, making five of his last nine shots along with an assist and two steals.

The result was a 106-101 Bulls victory in which Butler led all scorers with 26 points along with eight rebounds and eight assists and Pau Gasol had 17 points, nine rebounds and a career high nine blocks toward the franchise record 18 blocks in the game for the team.

The win, after two shaky outings, was the Bulls 11th in the last 13 games to increase their record to 23-10 and 9-6 at home. It also opened a four and a half game lead in the Central Division over the Cleveland Cavaliers, now without LeBron James with a knee problem for about the next two weeks.

“It was a big one,” said Rose of the victory after the Bulls trailed much of a lethargic first half. “We lost to them in Denver and they really beat us; coming here we really wanted to beat them and we want to start off another streak here. We know it’s going to be hard task, but we know everyone communicating with each other it should be easier.”

Though most of the communication about the Bulls lately has been what is wrong with Rose and his shot, whether he should shoot or pass more or drive or, you know, make a shot. Rose and his teammates are pretty much immune these days to the disease of reproach. Go out there, play hard and do what you do. Everyone’s on board whether anyone outside has other ideas.

“I’m not going to let anyone dictate the way I play,” said Rose, who has been fielding daily queries from media about whether he should shoot the ball anymore or just simply roll up into a ball. “If they are giving me shots, I’m going to take them. Shots I normally make I’m going to keep on taking them. I couldn't care less what anyone says or talks about my game. I should be able to make those shots.

“It’s really my teammates giving me that confidence,” said Rose, echoing what reporters hear from other Bulls. “Even missing shots like I have been the last couple of games, teammates (are) still giving me the ball, still talking to me, giving me confidence, telling me to shoot the ball, still giving me the ball in position to shoot the ball. I’m very fortunate.

“My mentality is not going to change,” said Rose. “I’m going to shoot the ball. I’m a scoring guard. It’s mid range. It’s not like I’m shooting threes (one of three Thursday). Tonight they (midrange) did not go in, but at the end some of them did.”

And that’s all that matters because as talented as the Bulls are with so many more overall contributors as Noah had a battle with Kenneth Faried and had 11 rebounds and three blocks and Taj Gibson was active with seven rebounds and two blocks, Rose is the best closing games the Bulls have. He’s going to have to take those shots at big times, and he’s actually been a high level fourth quarter performer this season.

“It’s important (Rose) kind of broke off that slump and that he was effective and got himself going and scored big in the fourth quarter and helped us win the game,” said Gasol. “It was really important to have that kind of ending and now carry that momentum into the next game.”

Because of his injuries and his previous league MVP award, Rose naturally gets scrutinized more than anyone else on the team, if not the league. To Rose’s credit, he doesn’t back away from not only his responsibility, but his talent. Nuggets coach Brian Shaw noticed and it probably cost his team the game.

“In the first half, most of his shots were midrange jump shots,” noted Shaw. “Second half, it was drives to the basket, putting the pressure on the defense. The good thing for them was he didn’t shy away from shooting and being aggressive. A lot of guys do that. He kept the pressure on and he didn’t shoot a great percentage (seven for 25), but the fact he was putting pressure on our defense, he was driving, guys were coming over trying to help and block his shot and that opened up the lanes for them to get the offensive rebounds.”

Which is another element of why Rose needs to take those shots even when he’s not at his best.

With the defense reacting to his play the Bulls got three offensive rebounds for scores in the fourth quarter.

There was Noah beating Faried to the ball with 6:46 left to rebound and put back a Rose three to bring the Bulls within 86-85. Then there was Gibson with a put back of a Rose floater with 5:17 left to give the Bulls a 91-86 lead. Also crucial in that late stretch was the Bulls not only pushing the ball more in transition compared with their first half walk-it-up game, but Rose and Noah in pick and roll, which scrambled the defense and enabled Gibson to get in behind for that score.

“Thibs kind of let us go a little in the fourth quarter, run into pick and rolls and that’s a strength of guys like me and Taj,” said Noah.

It occurred again with 1:38 left with Rose missing a floater and Gibson again coming in from the weak side and this time for a monster slam dunk and 100-93 Bulls lead.

“Derrick was phenomenal,” said Gibson. “We kept telling him all game, the last couple of games, to keep shooting. He understands. He’ll keep taking the same looks, something special is going to happen and that’s what happened. Our rebounding has been pretty good (but 57-46 Denver Thursday) and it’s a testament to guys going after the ball. We want Derrick to get the ball up on the rim because that gives us a lot of chances for tip dunks, offensive rebounds, easy scores for us.”

Rose added one more jumper after that Gibson slam as the Bulls shot free throws down the stretch to assure the victory.

“Just the energy in the second half was a lot better,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “I thought the defense was pretty good. We were a lot more active, reacted to the ball a lot better. Got out into the open floor, got some easy baskets. I thought that got us going. Pau was terrific. Nine blocks in a game. The activity of all the bigs in the second half was huge. They’re big and quick to the ball. You have to be ready to match that. We got some easy baskets. I thought Derrick got going in the fourth. Jimmy was fantastic throughout, scoring, defending, playmaking. That sort of carried us through that stretch at the end of the third and start of the fourth.”

It would be a halting start for the Bulls, sort of a continuation of the end of the Indiana game and Tuesday against Brooklyn. But, yes, that was last year. Of course, New Year’s Day is another matter.

“It was definitely a good win for us,” said Noah. “We blocked a lot of shots; that was good. Pau was pretty special blocking shots. It’s always tough to play New Year’s Day. You know?”

The NBA actually does as only two games were scheduled. The Bulls drew a tough one.

It was 23-22 Denver after one quarter as neither team was close to shooting 40 percent and then a late surge from Wilson Chandler in the second quarter gave Denver a 53-42 halftime lead. The Bulls were shooting 31.9 percent with Noah the only starter at two of three over 50 percent.

But Rose after a zero for seven shooting first half scored on a pair of drives and then Butler pounded his way inside and to the free throw line for six points and 15 in the third quarter. Plus the five blocks from Gasol enabled the Bulls to get their legs and a 77-74 lead after three quarters.

“We didn’t get back in transition,” noted Shaw, who got 22 points from Chandler, 20 from Ty Lason and 18 points and 19 rebounds from Faried. “In that third quarter we were casual and (Rose) was pushing it. He got a couple of layups, Jimmy Butler got out in transition and got a couple. We warned them Derrick Rose was going to be a lot more aggressive in the second half; he was. (Butler is) perpetual motion, just keeps on moving. Can score in the post, face up, take you off the dribble, hit from the three point line. So he has every offensive weapon you can ask for and defensively he makes you work for everything. He plays the passing lanes, hits the offensive boards, gets a defensive rebound and pushes it out himself, a lot of different ways he can attack you.”

The Bulls would have it in this game, especially with that second half aggressive style that accounted for 64 points.

“In the first half, they were the ones securing all those rebounds and getting 19 fast break points,” noted Gasol. “So the energy and focus was not there. We had to tighten up and be the aggressor in the second half to have a chance to get back in the game.

“Once we pushed the ball and played aggressively from the get go without really having to call set plays, play out of our athleticism and our skill sets we’re a much more dangerous team,” Gasol noted. “There’s always a time and place for a set play. But if we have an opportunity to get stops and push the ball and be aggressive, it really gets us going. And we finally started knocking down shots, which will open up the lane for our penetration, the post presence. It was good to see.”

It was also for the Bulls good to see Kirk Hinrich back after missing a handful of games with a hamstring injury. He scored 10 points on four of four shooting as the bench returned to effectiveness with a 34-18 edge. Aaron Brooks added 12 points and Gibson nine, though the health of the principal three big men is pushing Nikola Mitotic back out of substantial playing time.

Thibodeau has been closing of late with three guards and ofsten prefers a defensive tandem with Noah and Gibson. They were effective, though on the verge of a triple double and with nine blocks, it was apparent Gasol was disappointed not playing more in the fourth quarter.

“I always want to be in the game, especially in the fourth quarter when the game is on the line, so 100 percent, yes (I want to be in there),” said Gasol. “Regardless of what I have (in statistics). I like to play, I like to compete; I like to be on the floor as much as I can.”

Thibodeau alluded to this conundrum earlier about his discomfort giving Mirotic time at small forward.

“I think it’s hard for him to pick up two positions right now,” said Thibodeau. “When he does play at the three, it limits what you can do in terms of it’s a very small package of what we’re using. Defensively, I think we can cover in certain situations more than offensively. You’re talking about going from being a post guy to a perimeter guy. Perimeter guys, those three spots are pretty interchangeable and the two bigs are interchangeable. There’s a lot of difference between small and big. I also don’t want to take away from his aggressiveness. I think he has a distinct advantage at the power forward because he can out quick those guys.”

But with Noah and Gibson looking healthier and Gasol playing at a high level, it seems there won’t be many minutes for Mirotic in the big man positions for now.

Meanwhile, Mike Dunleavy sustained a sprained foot, but said X-rays were negative. He’s never missed a game since he’s with the Bulls and did not know his status for Saturday against Boston.

As for Rose, it appears more of the same.

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