Bulls

Derrick Rose's return to Chicago a wistful one as Knicks beat Bulls

Derrick Rose's return to Chicago a wistful one as Knicks beat Bulls

Walking off the court seconds before handing the Bulls their first home loss of the season, the extrovert grabbed the introvert, prodding and poking, tapping him on the head, trying to elicit emotion or some form of release.

Instead, as the cheers came from the fans remaining in the United Center who waited for the moment Derrick Rose was pulled from the game with his “big brother” Joakim Noah, Rose allowed himself a smile.

The Return—in a different form.

Speaking to the same attendants he passed every day, shaking every hand, acknowledging everyone who acknowledged him, Rose’s homecoming felt as it was supposed to—like the kid who went away to college and came back home for Thanksgiving.

The response from the United Center crowd was mostly positive, although Noah’s reaction was overwhelmingly so. Rose heard the boos when he touched the ball, although it was a bit weird considering Noah was the one who departed via free agency and Rose was traded by the Bulls’ volition.

“I’m different. I always felt I was different. When I played that revenge game or tried to pay someone back, that’s when I failed,” Rose said. “My type of game is playing the way I naturally play, and that’s to win. I’m just trying to win the game.”

Yet, Rose—like fellow Chicagoans Isiah Thomas and Dwyane Wade—was jeered by the hometown faithful, treated like someone who betrayed them when his biggest basketball sin was his body betraying him.

And like Thomas and Wade, though, Rose turned those negative feelings into controlled fuel as opposed to reckless abandon, producing some breathtaking sequences that had to leave even the biggest detractors speechless. His halfcourt catch and dart to the basket before the half where he split Wade and Rajon Rondo before meeting Jimmy Butler at the rim, contorting his body for a twisting but surprisingly easy layup to keep the Knicks afloat before halftime looked like the Rose of old, not an old Rose.

Producing his best game as a Knick with 15 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds, he looked more comfortable in his own skin than he probably has felt in ages—so much so, that if the boos would’ve bothered him before, they became little more than background noise Friday.

“I’m used to it. I’ve been getting booed since I was in the sixth grade,” Rose said. “Being a south sider and playing (rivals) Patrick Beverley or Sherron Collins on the west side.”

He tried his best to keep his emotions in check, and he was likely successful in suppressing that while letting his skills shine through. Almost getting caught in the emotion of the Bulls’ tribute video to he and Noah—well done and classy, it should be said—reminded so many of a simpler time.

[MORE: Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose's return to Chicago a successful one as Bulls fall to Knicks]

When Noah was the kid with the goofy suit and bowtie on draft night, when Rose was the clean-cut kid who did everything he was asked by anyone who asked it and could do things on the floor no one could dream of requesting.

“It was a lot of love in the building today,” Noah said. “It feels good because even though we didn’t win a championship here, I know how hard and how bad Derrick wanted to win one (a title) and how bad I wanted to win one here. There’s no regrets because we gave it all we had for this city.”

“When I think about it, there’s things that were tough because we were really close. I look and I see Taj and I see Jimmy, and I competed with these guys for a long time. Even though we’re competing and talking s**t, they’re still my brothers.”

A break here, or a break there, the Bulls could’ve had a celebration in Grant Park like the Chicago Cubs did after 108 years of futility, bad luck and bad breaks. On the day Rose was awarded the MVP trophy before Game 2 of the Bulls’ second-round series against the Atlanta Hawks, the Cubs were a 14-16 bunch, completing a three-game set with the Los Angeles Dodgers with a 5-1 win but in the big picture, headed nowhere with a 71-91 finish.

Months later, the Cubs hired Theo Epstein, the break that went in their favor, and the rest became history—while Rose was still chasing some of his own.

For the Bulls, it likely came down to one break—when Rose tore his ACL in Game 1 of the 2012 playoffs, an event that won’t haunt Bulls fans as much as it will Rose, who’s not chasing that athletic marvel as much as he is a simple return to greatness no one is completely sure he can achieve.

“This is a new chapter,” Rose said. “I’m trying to become great, still chasing something and I have a great group to chase it with.”

From that point of the injury, he had starts and stops, fits and fistfuls of confusing thoughts and words as he struggled to deal with the unknown, a strategy that admittedly made him less of a fan favorite and more of a mystery.

Details about his private life came out in an embarrassing civil suit where he was accused of rape, and although he was cleared of the charges, the stain will likely follow for some time—causing even more confusion.

“Not a villain but people didn’t understand me. I didn’t let them,” Rose said. “We were losing. I held everything in. I didn’t voice my opinion the way I wanted to and the way I expressed it was being quiet. I’m an introvert. So I’m just quiet and thinking about things.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

There was no blueprint for him to follow, as he was groomed to be a basketball player and the instincts he developed courtesy of Chicago’s South Side were ones of survival, not public diplomacy.

He retreated further into himself as time went on, leading to more confusion. And when he publicly stumbled over his words and sentiments, he became harder to defend—even if there was never malicious intent.

“You know, sometimes with fans, they want to see results right away,” Rose said. “Especially when you play with a franchise like this, six championships. They want results, they want playoffs they want rings. I understand that. That’s how they felt. That’s how I felt. It wasn’t no patience on both sides.”

And thus a divorce was necessary, perhaps it should’ve occurred last season when it was obvious the mix of players were no longer compatible, the air too poisoned with confusion and ambiguity on all sides, where plenty of mistakes have been made.

Noah, always being Rose’s biggest advocate and most vocal defender, likely conveyed his teammate’s true feelings about how bad they both wanted the win when he said, “I’m not gonna lie, this one felt really good.”

And we don’t have to lie, either. Just because one is cheered, it doesn’t make him a hero. And because someone is booed, doesn’t make him a villain.

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.

The Celtics tied MJ's and the '96 Bulls' record for consecutive home playoff wins

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USA TODAY

The Celtics tied MJ's and the '96 Bulls' record for consecutive home playoff wins

The Boston Celtics have been the surprise of the 2018 NBA Playoffs, and after last night's Game 5 win against LeBron James and the Cavs are one game away from a trip to the NBA Finals.

They've done it with some of the most interesting splits in league history for a team that's advanced this far: they're 10-0 at home and  1-6 on the road.

The six road losses are something else, but with the convincing 96-83 victory over Cleveland, the Celtics tied a record held by the 1996 Bulls for the most consecutive postseason home wins in a season.

Boston earned home wins against the Bucks in Round 1 in Games 1, 2, 5 and 7. They crushed the heavily favored Sixers in five games, earning home wins in Games 1, 2 and 5 (and their only road win in Game 3). They took the first two games of the series from the Cavaliers at home and then again in Game 5. If they can't close the series in Cleveland they'll have a chance to break the record Sunday in a potential Game 7. If they do close the series in Cleveland their next chance will be in Game 3 of the NBA Finals; Boston will be on the road regardless of whether Houston or Golden State comes out of the West.

Jordan's Bulls won 10 consecutive games during their historic 72-10 season. They swept the Heat in Round 1, winning at home by 17 and 31 points. In the second round they knocked off the Knicks in Games 1 and 2 at the United Center, winning by 7 and 11 points. After the Knicks earned a Game 3 win at Madison Square Garden the Bulls won the final two games of that series, including a 13-point win at home to clinch the series and a fifth straight home win.

The conference finals were no problem for the Bulls at home or on the road. They began their eventual sweep of Orlando with a 38-point shellacking in Game 1 at home. A five-point win in Game 2 gave them their seventh consecutive home win and they wouldn't be back at the United Center until Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

They smoked the Sonics by 17 in Game a 1 and held on for a four-point win in Game 2. Seattle took Games 4 and 5 at their place to avoid being swept, but when the series returned to Chicago the Bulls were back to their winning ways, earning a 12-point win - their 10th consecutive in the postseason - and their fourth NBA title.

Yes, the Bulls lost just three times (half as many as the Celtics) and actually won the title. Boston, of course, has plenty to do before they reach that status, and they'll do so with at least six losses. We're not comparing the two teams. Simply pointing out a record.

And if you're wondering, Steph Curry and the Warriors have simply been too good to get to 10 wins. Last year they swept all three rounds of the West playoffs, giving them six straight home wins. Then they only needed five games to beat the Cavaliers in the Finals, with three of those coming at home. So they went 9-0 at Oracle Arena before winning it all. They recently had their streak of 16 consecutive postseason home wins, regardless of year, snapped when the Rockets earned a Game 4 win on Tuesday.