Bulls

Bulls: Rose delivers late, reaches new peak with career moment

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Bulls: Rose delivers late, reaches new peak with career moment

The broken play that led to Derrick Rose beating the buzzer with a 26-foot triple that hit the sweet spot on the United Center backboards wasn’t supposed to be like this.

You see, Rose was supposed to do this on the regular, standing toe-to-toe amongst opponents like LeBron James in high-pressure playoff atmospheres so much that this night should’ve been a replay of something we’ve seen so many times before—so much so that Rose’s expressionless reaction should’ve been worn by everybody in attendance Friday night.

Shots that make muscles of the most chiseled athletes go limp, shots that shake the belief out of 12 men in blue and shake the doubt out of 22,000 wearing red by watching them yell and raise their hands to the heavens was supposed to be an everyday occurrence.

But life—and basketball mortality doesn’t always work that way, as the last three years have shown us with the prodigal son who, a week ago, brazenly and nonchalantly told assembled media that “I’m built for this (bleep)” after giving up a game-winner to Jerryd Bayless in Milwaukee.

“It was a broken play,” Rose said. “I was supposed to get the ball in the corner, but when I ran to the corner I wasn’t open so I ran toward the ball.”

[MORE: Rose's buzzer-beating triple gives Bulls 2-1 series lead]

Broken play, broken dreams, wasted seasons, the sharp knives of surgery and criticism were all fresh in everybody’s mind—except the man running toward the ball.

“I don’t mean to sound cocky but that’s a shot you want to take if you’re a player in position,” he said. “I’m thankful and grateful that my teammates gave me the ball. They believe in me.”

Rose ran toward the challenge and into basketball immortality, just like he’s taken on every challenge, in some form, for his entire existence—the reason why everyone defends and praises him vigorously, even when they’re prodded to do otherwise.

“That is Derrick’s greatness,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “There’s not many like him. In fact, there are not any like him.”

But that broken play and Rose’s dogged determination to get to the ball is likely no different than his quiet determination to get on the floor.

Nearly 10 feet from where Rose sat on the NBA’s podium, calmly discussing his first playoff game-winner, was a much different scene two and a half months ago when Bulls GM Gar Forman told the world Rose had yet another successful knee surgery and that a return could be possible.

“I think Derrick’s ready to attack it. I do,” Forman said that day. “Like I said, I think he’s anxious to attack this rehab and get back on the floor with his teammates. In comparison to what Derrick had to go through the last several years, this surgery was minor.”

[RELATED: Cavs on Derrick Rose's game-winner: 'Got to live with it']       

All around that Friday morning, the basketball world was filled with a mixture of optimism and doubt. Ironically, when Rose’s mysterious injury was announced, the NBA’s players gathered around social media like his career was done, nearly holding vigil at his proverbial bedside.

One of those players was LeBron James, who issued statements over twitter and Instagram, saluting his then-fallen competitor.

“Man (I) feel bad for D.Rose! Keep your head up homie and stay strong G!” James tweeted in the wee hours of Feb. 24, likely from the mindset that matching wits two months later was nothing more than a dream.

But Friday it was James who was on the other side, missing a crucial layup that could’ve put the Cavaliers up one and turning the ball over seven times in a less-than-stellar night that in a way, set up the stage for Rose’s moment in time, as not even the game’s best player could interrupt Rose’s date with stardom.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

And in case anybody believes this is the zenith, Thibodeau is so quick to remind everyone Rose isn’t far removed from surgery, that these games are essentially part of an extended rehab.

“He’s still shaking the rust off,” Thibodeau said. “The more he plays, the comfortable he’s getting and the more rhythm he has.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

The man who had everything about his basketball character questioned when he couldn’t guarantee a return to the floor, picking at open media wounds that never closed, while some never considered his own very real emotional and physical wounds that caused those words to come from his mouth.

He overcame his own doubts, the frailty of his body and finally, the greatest superstar of this time to author an ending few saw coming.

“When people talk, it’s all their opinions,” Rose said. “I can’t get mad at your opinions. I’ll let God handle that. My job is to make sure I’m prepared for every game and come out and compete. What everybody says, nothing I can do about it. Everybody is entitled to their opinion.”

And with one shot that sent Chicago into delirium, it was another reminder that although it wasn’t supposed to be like this, maybe “what will be” can be more glorious than “what could have been”.

Steve Kerr told a Michael Jordan Bulls story to give advice to Kevin Durant

Steve Kerr told a Michael Jordan Bulls story to give advice to Kevin Durant

Anyone who lived through the Michael Jordan Bulls remembers those games when he was putting up tons of points, but the Bulls were still struggling overall.

Steve Kerr referenced one of those games to give advice to Kevin Durant during Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals. The TNT broadcast caught the conversation and aired it late in the third quarter.

"When MJ was with the Bulls, we had a playoff game," Kerr began the story. "He kept trying to score and he was scoring, but we weren't getting anything going. Phil Jackson said 'Who's open?' He said, 'John Paxson.'"

Paxson scored 10 of 12 points for the Bulls during a fourth quarter run in Game 5 of the 1991 NBA Finals, the series clincher, and famously hit the game-winning shot in Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals to clinch that series. Kerr, who later hit his own championship-winning shot on an assist from Jordan in 1997, was trying to get to get his teammates involved.

"I want to trust your teammates early," Kerr said. "What you're doing is you're getting to the rim and then you're trying to hit him. I want you to trust the first guy and then move. Still attack, still look to score, but trust these guys, OK?"

Watch the video above to see the interaction.

Durant scored 29 points in Game 5 to lead the Warriors, but Houston took a 3-2 series lead with a 98-94 win.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stock is on the rise; just how high will he climb?

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USA TODAY

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stock is on the rise; just how high will he climb?

John Calipari's 2017 recruiting class featured five McDonald's All-Americans and Hamidou Diallo, a former five-star recruit who nearly jumped to the NBA the previous year. It also included a lanky 6-foot-6 point guard named Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. And for the first part of the 2017-18 season, the Toronto native who played his final two high school years in Tennessee, appeared to be a nice fit off the bench for Calipari.

But something flipped. Gilgeous-Alexander was inserted into the starting lineup for good on January 9 and never looked back. He played his best basketball beginning in late February to the end of the season, a span of 10 games against eight NCAA Tournament opponents. In those games Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 19.0 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists. He shot 51 percent from the field, 50 percent from deep and 84 percent from the free throw line, and added 1.4 steals in nearly 38 minutes per game for good measure. He was one of the best players in the country, and on a team with five McDonald's All-Americans, he was Calipari's best freshman.

"I knew with how hard I worked that anything was possible," SGA said at last week's NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. "It was just a matter of time before it started clicking and I started to get it rolling."

That stretch included a 17-point, 10-assist double-double against Ole Miss, a 29-point showing against Tennessee in the SEC Tournament, and 27 more points in the second round of the NCAA Tournament against Buffalo. Even in his worst game of the stretch, a 15-point effort against Kansas State in the Tournament, he made up for 2 of 10 shooting by getting to the free throw line 12, converting 11 of them.

It made his decision to make the jump to the NBA an easy one - that, and another loaded Calipari recruiting class incoming. He stands taller than just about any other point guard in the class and might have as good a jump shot as any. He's adept at getting to the rim, averaging 4.7 free throw attempts per game (that number jumped to 5.6 after he became a starter, and 7.5 in those final 10 games of the season. He isn't the quickest guard in the class, but he uses his feet well, is able to find open shooters due to his height and improved on making mistakes on drive-and-kicks as the season went on.

"I think I translate really well to the next level with there being so much more space on the floor and the open court stretched out," he said. "It only benefits me and my ability to get in the lane and make plays."

There's something to be said for him being the next in line of the Calipari point guards. The ever-growing list includes players like Derrick Rose, John Wall, Tyreke Evans, Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Murray and DeAaron Fox. It's the NBA's version of Penn State linebackers or Alabama defensive linemen. The success rate is nearly 100 percent when it comes to Calipari's freshmen point guards; even Brandon Knight averaged 18.1 points over a three-year span in the NBA.

"That’s why guys go to Kentucky," Gilgeous-Alexander said. "It prepares them for the next level. Coach (Calipari) does a really good job, especially with point guards, getting them ready for that next level in a short amount of time."

Gilgeous-Alexander didn't test or play in the 5-on-5 scrimmages, but he still came out of Chicago a winner. He measured 6-foot-6 in shoes with a ridiculous 6-foot-11 1/2 wingspan, a full three inches longer than any other point guard at the Combine. He also added, rather uniquely, that he watches of film Kawhi Leonard playing defense. Most players don't mention watching film on different-position players; most players aren't 6-foot-6 point guards.

"(It's) obviously a more versatile league and playing small ball. And with me being able to guard multiple positions, a lot of teams are switching things like the pick and roll off ball screens, so me being able to switch and guard multiple positions can help an organization."

Gilgeous-Alexander's arrow is pointing way up. He appears to be teetering near Lottery pick status, though that could go one way or the other in private team workouts, especially if he's pitted against fellow top point guards like Trae Young and Collin Sexton. But if his rise at Kentucky is any indication, he'll only continue to improve his game, his stock and eventually his draft position.