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Bulls play not such sweet music for Jazz
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By Sam Smith | 11.25.2014 | 2:17 a.m. CT
Derrick Rose Monday wasn’t spectacular in his return from missing four games with a hamstring injury. There were no ooohs and aaahs plays, though perhaps a deep breath from fans as the Bulls avoided blowing a 21-point lead with a 97-95 victory over the Utah Jazz. Rose had 18 points and a team high five assists in just under 25 minutes in an understated effort in which he didn’t much drive to the basket.
Jimmy Butler was the high scorer with 25 points while Pau Gasol, also back in the lineup after missing three games with a calf injury, had 23 points and nine rebounds. Mike Dunleavy, with his only basket of the game, made what turned out to be the winning points by following up a Butler fast break drive that was blocked with 22.5 seconds left. The Bulls would withstand a pair of open Utah jumpers afterward, the last a three to win which caromed off the front rim from Gordon Hayward with .04 left.
But when the Bulls needed a basket to save a game that seemed sure at one time, they turned to Rose and he delivered with a driving three-point play with two minutes remaining as the Jazz were hanging onto a 93-91 lead.
The Jazz would retake the lead on a terrific spin move and slam dunk by Enes Kanter over Gasol with 1:37 left, and the Bulls would get the Dunleavy putback difference maker after a Gasol block on Alec Burks. But Rose’s late play was crucial as well as his 10 points in the first four minutes of the game to get the Bulls off to a 16-4 start after the bad losses in Sacramento and Portland.
“He makes a lot of things easier on both ends of the floor,” said Butler, who remarkably already has eight games of at least 20 points after nine total before this season. “Always finding guys open shots and he draws so much attention if he doesn’t get the shot he wants you can be sure he gets one for somebody.”
Which is why perhaps Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau expressed what seemed like a mixture of exasperation and expectation after the game about Rose. He knows the team needs Rose to be successful; Thibodeau knows the team cannot afford another injury with Rose, and certainly not early in the season. Yet, Thibodeau also is a believer in the continuity that is vital in playing together and gaining conditioning and timing as the “regular” starting five played just its third game together Monday. You don’t want to push too hard with an injured player in November games; but you have to play and play together to develop that team chemistry and attitude, Thibodeau knows.
Plus, Taj Gibson and Kirk Hinrich remained out with injuries and Joakim Noah struggled in getting four points and five rebounds in 30 minutes as the Bulls were again outrebounded and late in the game Noah had to leave after being hit in the eye. It’s possible in this merry-go-round of physical despair Noah could be next to need time the way things have been going.
“You can’t build chemistry unless they are out there playing, practicing, working together,” Thibodeau said about the regular starters. “Including in the preseason, it hasn’t happened a lot. We’ve got to get that straightened out.”
That was set against the play of Butler, who consistently has been the best player on the team. Butler was brilliant in shutting down Hayward for one of his poorest games of the season, made several high degree of difficulty finishes at the basket and generally was the player the team was going to coming out of time outs.
“You can’t say enough about Jimmy,” said Thibodeau, who had more to say. “To me, he’s played at an incredible level on both ends of the floor (and just under 44 minutes). Makes big play after big play at both ends; his defense gets us easy baskets. His intensity; plays at an incredibly high level all the time, which is how he practices, how he plays; doesn’t take any possessions off. He’s into it and it shows.”
Jimmy seems to be the new teacher’s pet after Taj Gibson last season.
Then asked about possible fatigue for Rose just coming back, Thibodeau seemed to become frustrated.
So much for the victory.
“I don’t know, Jesus,” Thibodeau said. “Got to get out there and play. I thought he (Rose) did a lot of good things; you can see he’s not real comfortable with the ball yet (four turnovers), but that will come. When Derrick strings some games together he’s going to take off. He’s got to go. That’s bottom line; he’s got to go (play).
Asked about playing in the back to back in Denver Tuesday, Thibodeau said, “I would hope so. Geez, we’ll see tomorrow, I guess.”
Yes, it’s not even Thanksgiving yet.
Talk about your seasons that promise to be long.
Though this game looked like it was going to be an easy one with Rose and Gasol back, the starting unit together and doing a tango all over the Jazz.
Butler stole the ball the first two times Utah had it, though missed the second breakaway; Rose threw to Pau being fronted for an easy score and then Rose scored 10 straight with a pair of threes and Butler with a reverse for that 16-4 start.
“We did a lot of good things to build the lead,” noted Thibodeau. “I thought the way we started the game was critical. I thought Derrick started real fast, as did Pau. That got us off to a great start and Jimmy was unbelievable throughout the game.”
The Bulls seemed in control throughout the first half, blunting any notion of a Jazz comeback and Butler chasing Hayward out of the game. The Bulls led 30-14 after one quarter and got a pair of three pointers from Nikola Mirotic as the reserves extended the lead to 45-24 midway through the second quarter. The Jazz showed some life thanks to Australian import Joe Ingles, who was pesky in a 10-0 run along with Derrick Favors, who had 21 points and 15 rebounds.
But Rose came back in with another three and Butler added a step back three as the Bulls were eight of 12 on threes in the first half, shooting almost 60 percent overall for a 56-41 halftime lead.
But the Bulls kind of coasted into the third quarter, loose with the ball as Butler and Gasol each had a pair of turnovers, though they kept the Bulls in the game, as it turned out, with their scoring as Gasol had 10 points in the quarter with several nice post moves. But the Jazz kids hit the Bulls with 36 points and 71 percent shooting with a series of open jumpers and suddenly it was 78-77 Bulls going into the fourth quarter.
“I wasn't trying to do too much when I was in there," admitted Rose. “They were giving me shots (early) and I was trying to take the shots they were giving me. It’s been time for me (to return). Every injury is a set back. This is... behind me. Tonight we came out in the third quarter and we were bs-ing around and made it a game. I know everything else is going to come (for me), conditioning, the wind, my shot is there. It's just I had too many turnovers and that's one of the reasons they got in the open and got some easy baskets because of my turnovers. It’s a learning experience. When we get a team down like that we’ve got to keep them down. If anything, our defense has to always be there and that’s something we have to learn.”
Butler got into a bit of a dustup with Ingles early in the fourth quarter when Butler felt Ingles hip checked him and then Butler stood over a downed Ingles. Butler admitted later as he got a technical foul that Aaron Brooks told him he was the one who bumped Ingles into Butler. Butler was then booed vociferously the rest of the game and said he got through it by asking himself what Noah would do given Noah is booed so much on the road.
“Jo would just block it out, smile and knock down some shots,” said Butler.
Brooks added a couple of hard driving scores early in the fourth quarter as the teams traded baskets and a big time three with the score tied at 84 with 6:05 left.
Then it was Butler and Rose making the crucial scoring plays with just enough defense despite being beaten badly on the boards again and 11-7 on the offensive boards.
Butler had a tough driving finish just before Brooks’ three and then a crucial 22 footer with 3:14 left coming out of a timeout after the Jazz had taken a 91-87 lead and the Bulls were scoreless for almost three minutes. A miss there might have been too much for the Bulls to overcome on the road.
“With the nucleus of this team, we’ve been in tough games,” said Rose. “Jimmy’s been in tough games and he’s the youngest out there. Jimmy’s a player who can affect the game on both sides. He’s shown people what he’s been working on shooting the ball. He’s a hell of a player. We’re used to these situations and moments and you come away with a win and it helps you.”
As for Butler, he demurred when asked to take credit for his defense on Hayward, saying Hayward just missed shots and reiterating he is not any go to guy for the team.
“Energy? That’s part of my game,” said Butler. “I’m always going to bring defensive effort and a lot of energy every night. We got a lead and gave it up a little bit, but all that matters is we finished the right way. Go to guy? I don’t know. He pinned my stuff on the glass for being the go to guy at the end of the game (before the Dunleavy follow). I think they trust me to take shots, make shots and create for someone else. I don’t think it’s being the go to guy. That’s just the matchup the team likes (at the time). It could be anybody on any given night.”
So it was Rose in another return, Gasol with support and once again Butler. But as Thibodeau understands, the team needs them all.