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Rose shows fire against new flame Westbrook in Bulls win

Former MVP outduels Thunder's star point guard for best game of young season on national stage

POSTED: Nov 6, 2015 1:54 AM ET

By Steve Aschburner

BY Steve Aschburner

NBA.com

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Thunder vs. Bulls

Derrick Rose produces his best game of the season scoring 29 points with seven assists, Jimmy Butler adds 26 as the Bulls win it 104-98.

— One of the great things about the NBA regular season is the potential on any given night to see a tremendous individual matchup. Unless, of course, you're talking about Derrick Rose vs. Russell Westbrook, which happens about as frequently as a lunar tetrad.

Given how rare their meetings have been -- they last competed head-to-head in an NBA game nearly five years ago (Dec. 6, 2010) -- the minutes they logged against each other Thursday night at United Center were destined to be special, regardless of the outcome. The fact that the two explosive point guards -- kept apart by injuries (mostly Rose's) and by playing in opposite conferences -- shined, battling back and forth, only goosed the excitement to another level.

Highlight: Rose, Westbrook duel it out in Chicago

Check out this clip of Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook's duel from the Thunder-Bulls game.

Rose, in his best outing of the young season, scored 29 points, 12 of them in the fourth quarter of Chicago's 104-98 victory over Oklahoma City Thursday at United Center. Westbrook countered with 20 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds, relentlessly putting pressure on the Bulls' defense with the mere threat of his combustibility. Then there were Kevin Durant (33 points) and Jimmy Butler (26), cohorts doing what they do best.

Stars being stars for a national television audience. Who cares if the season was only 10 days old?

"I mean, it's fun," Rose said afterward. "When you play against great talent like that, it makes you play great. If anything it can help your confidence, and I need all the confidence I can get right now.

"Me and Westbrook, we work out with each other in the summer. We push each other. Our workouts are extremely hard. And it's paying off. The way I see him playing has been great ... so for me to work out with him, I just need an amount of time to catch my rhythm."

The game was big enough, the opponent dangerous enough, to grab the Bulls by the scruffs of their necks and force them to focus and work. That hadn't happened 48 hours earlier when they embarrassed themselves at Charlotte, putting the lazy in their laissez-faire defense in the 130-105 drubbing.

Inside The NBA: Thunder-Bulls analysis

The guys analyze the break-out game from Derrick Rose and the woes in Oklahoma City.

They didn't dare repeat that performance -- what, you think anyone was actually going to call it an effort? -- so they cleaned up some mistakes, grimaced during film review, bent their knees a little more and pushed through a NSFW practice Wednesday. "Everybody was cursing out everybody" forward Taj Gibson said.

And they got a game that, maybe, offered a glimmer of a better, healthier, more aggressive Rose.

"When I was hot, he continued to give me the ball," Butler said. "Whenever he was [hot], 'do your thing brother.' It's fun. I'm glad to see him out there doing what he's normally doing. It's all reads. ... Whenever he's in the paint, he's looking for that open guy."

It's been a long road back for the Bulls point guard, from three knee surgeries in three consecutive years and most recently from the orbital bone facial fracture Rose suffered in his team's first practice of training camp. That wiped out all but the final preseason game and still has him squinting like Popeye to cope with some double vision.

He played in the Bulls' first five games of the regular season, but not well. Prior to Thursday, he was held to single digits in three straight games, a career first, while missing 21 of 29 shots.

At least when Rose has been sidelined completely -- for 185 of 246 games over the past three years -- NBA fans could daydream about the way he had played in becoming the league's youngest MVP in 2011. Seeing him struggle and grasp to regain his old form, though, that was tougher to take. Venting and frustration ensued on Chicago airwaves and websites.

"I know, for him, he doesn't care at all," said center Joakim Noah, who also had his best game of the season Thursday. "But it bothers me especially for him. People don't realize how hard it is to go out there and play, especially when you've gone through ... injuries that he's gone through."

That's what made Rose's play against OKC so encouraging, reassuring even. He was able to parry each of Westbrook's thrusts. He hung in through a 1-for-9 start to make 11 of his final 16 shots. And he made solid decisions, particularly down the stretch in a barrage of pick-and-roll action with Pau Gasol. Thunder coach Billy Donovan spent the first minute or two of his postgame bemoaning his team's inability to cut off Chicago's point guard and center.

"It's a play that when you have a ball handler who's explosive and can penetrate and he has it going the way Derrick hit a few shots in the fourth and then you have a screener who picks and pops and can roll as well, it's a tough cover," Gasol said. "They had to pick their poison, kind of. It worked out well -- we went to it pretty much every time for four minutes in the fourth."

Said Hoiberg, whose arrival as head coach and the changes he has asked of a mostly stand-pat Bulls roster are ongoing: "We basically went to a two-man game with him and Pau at the end. Not only with the shots that he made, he also got Pau the points with the switches they made."

The Bulls new head man added: "Our guys are very happy for him because they know how hard he worked in the offseason and how much time he has put in to get back after the injuries. ... A game like tonight will be great for his confidence."

Unless it's not. Rose's 29 points were the most he had scored since last February, when he got 30 against the Cavaliers. But that performance on Feb. 12, the Bulls' getaway game before All-Star Weekend, proved to be fool's gold. He missed the team's first post-break practice, was lackluster in Chicago's next three games and, somewhere in there, tore the meniscus in his right knee that required surgery and cost him another 20 games.

That's why Rose, of all people, wasn't inclined to overreact to his results Thursday.

"No relief," he said. "It's a process. There's going to be ups and downs. Just because it's a high right now, it's not no relief.

"All I can do is get the most out of every shootaround, every practice and every game. And it'll pay off. I know I work extremely hard. I know I dedicate my whole life to the sport. I know it's gonna pay off one day. But I can't get all high because of this game. I'm going to have more ups and downs, and I'm going to find my way around 'em."

Let's be honest, when someone such as Durant says, "That's why he's Derrick Rose" to explain the roll Rose was on in the final quarter, it's more out of habit. Rose hasn't been That Rose for some time and many doubt he ever will be. But stringing together a few more nights like this one, and fewer like the previous three, might stir a little doubt in the doubters.

Better to keep everything simple, the way Noah did at the end of the night.

"Yeah, it's great when our best players play well," he said, poking fun at a reporter's question. "When our good players play good, it's a good thing."

For a night, Rose, Noah and the rest of the Bulls were willing to settle for that.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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