Updated: Monday, Jan. 30 at 10:43 p.m.
WASHINGTON Its often said in NBA circles that the best cure for what ails a team is to play, well, a bad team.
While Tom Thibodeau can claim that even a bottom-of-the-barrel squad is legitimately capable of beating the leagues elite and to his point the Wizards (4-16) made a fourth-quarter run, perhaps preying upon the Bulls (18-5) complacency a trip to the Verizon Center, resulting in a 98-88 win Monday night, was in many ways, the ideal bounce-back game from the Bulls emotional loss in Miami Sunday.
The visitors attacked the Wizards athletic, but inexperienced young big men at the outset, with Carlos Boozer (18 points, eight rebounds) using his savvy to produce in the early going and Joakim Noah (14 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists) exhibiting his typical high activity level.
However, the game quickly shaped into a point-guard duel between John Calipari protgs Derrick Rose (35 points, eight assists) and second-year Washington speedster John Wall (20 points, six assists), who carried the offensive load for the home team.When I woke up this morning, Sundays game was out of my mind. I just wanted to come out here, play aggressive. They have a good young team, where theyre great in transition and everyone just tried to learn the game plan, said Rose. Im just playing my game, man. Thats me being aggressive. Thibs always tells me just to play my game and everybody will follow.Explained Noah: Hes the ultimate competitor and he came to play tonight. He always does and we win and lose by that guy.
While Rose was complimentary of Wall prior to the game, he also spoke of trying to go crazy in an extensive, candid pregame interview and delivered on that claim, dropping in a variety of floaters and executing dynamic dribble moves, as well as managing to distribute the ball. He set the tone and hes been doing that. I think hes feeling a lot better. When he comes out like that, its his will. He imposes his will on everybody. He made us very aggressive, said Thibodeau. To me and you guys have seen him, you see him all the time every aspect of the game; he got to the line 15 times, hes in the paint, hes making plays, hes playing really good defense, running the team. I suppose, if you want to nit-pick, he could have had a couple of rebounds. Hes playing at a very, very high level right now.I thought, as a team, everybody did a good job being ready to play, which I thought would be critical for this game and playing from a lead was so important for us because we had to withstand that rush at the end. Because we had that cushion, it allowed us to take the hit and still be able to finish the game, and win.
Though missing injured starters Luol Deng and Rip Hamilton Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver (17 points) started in their place the short-handed Bulls ended the opening period with a comfortable 26-16 advantage.Right now, were good. Were down a couple players. We definitely miss them, but theres no excuses when youre in the NBA, Rose said. Weve still got to go out there and play these games, and were just playing team basketball.
A modified Bench Mob featuring an early appearance from rookie swingman Jimmy Butler, as well as the return to the lineup of backup point guard C.J. Watson, who had missed the teams two previous contests with a right wrist injury started the second quarter for Chicago and maintained the squads double-digit edge.
Washington received effective play from talented, yet often inconsistent center JaVale McGee (16 points, nine rebounds), who showed flashes offensively (including an old-school sky hook) and was his usual shot-blocking presence on the defensive end.
The pesky Wizards, while at times revealing why theyve been so hapless this season, were opportunistic when the Bulls made self-inflicted miscues and prevented their guests from opening up an even wider gap. However, with Korver truly breaking out of his slump to ensure the Bulls breathing room was never truly threatened and they went into the break with a 51-40 lead, following a Rose jumper with a second remaining in the first half.It was nice to be out there for a good period of time. I think its good when you know youre going to have more time, said Korver, who jokingly acknowledged that its back to the bench when Deng returns from injury. Youre not worried that, I might only get three, four shots, so youre able to be a little bit more patient. Got some good looks, probably should have made a few that I missed.Added Thibodeau: He was great. He had a tough matchup, too. He gave up a lot of size to Wizards forward Rashard Lewis and I thought he battled. I thought his defense was excellent and hitting threes I believe he had five tonight thats huge. It just spreads the floor. The three-point shot, for Derrick, is critical. It opens up floor and Derrick, in the pick-and-roll, I thought was sensational.
After the intermission, the Bulls gradually extended their lead, as Roses continued relentlessness, Korvers shooting and contributions from Brewer led the way, helping the separation between the teams grow to more than 20 points. Rose was the catalyst of the visitors push to extinguish the hosts, as he predominately stuck to using his mid-range floater, but mixed in the occasional long bomb, finish at the rim and timely assist.Im very comfortable shooting that shot, but Im just taking what the defense is giving me. Im sick and tired of getting hit, and not getting the call or getting hit and falling on the floor. Thats an easy shot for me, so why not take it? explained Rose, who picked up a second-quarter technical foul for arguing a call. I felt like I had to get that one. I didnt mean to get it the way that I got it, but I felt like I had to say something.I felt like at the time, it changed. It actually changed the way that they were playing, he continued. Plays like that can definitely give a team confidence and thats what I was trying not to do.
Meanwhile, Chicago suffocated the Wizards offense, quashing any semblance of rhythm or quality shots for their young counterparts though undersized power forward Trevor Booker (14 points, nine rebounds) and instant-offense shooting guard Jordan Crawford (10 points) were sparks off the bench not exactly the most difficult task to perform against a team struggling chemistry and a recent coaching change. Just wanted to stay aggressive. We thought the first five minutes of the third, it was a critical point of the game because they actually were creeping back a little bit at the end of the second, so we didnt like the way we closed out the half, Thibodeau explained. We thought the start of the third, we wanted to set the tone with aggressiveness at both ends and for the most part, I thought we did and I give them a lot of credit. They hung tough and they battled back.Chimed in Rose: Staying aggressive, thats the biggest thing. I think were learning from it. Usually, in the third quarter, we tend to back off. This game, we kept going, tried to make the game easy and thats how we got the win.
Rose was subbed out in the waning moments of his efficient, 18-point period, with the Bulls leading, 76-59, prompting a small portion of the Verizon Center crowd to head for the exits, as they didnt anticipate the man they chanted M-V-P for returning to the contest.
The final stanza at first appeared to be following a familiar theme, with the Bulls using the quarter as extended garbage time and Boozer using the time to get himself into rhythm. Washington, however, had different plans, rewriting the script and cutting the deficit to single digits behind dogged defense and balanced play from a unit featuring Wall, McGee, Booker, Crawford and gunner Nick Young (17 points).Knocking down shots, being a veteran like he is, one of the leaders on the team, Rose said of Boozer. We hold everybody accountable when were on the floor and thats what we always when we step out there.
Boozers combination of powerful finishing and short jumpers, as well as Noahs playmaking the center, one of the rare players at his position in the league able to handle the ball and create for others, served as a playmaker when Rose was doubled in the backcourt; as Boozer explained, At the end of the game, they put two on D-Rose because he was out of control, to say the least were the visitors saving grace, staving off the Wizards and their pressure defense. Joakim, thats him. Hes one of the bigs in the league that can actually run the fast break, making great decisions. It was kind of weird. There were guys who were absolutely open. He had to make the right decision. I think he did great, said Rose. I think that teams are looking at that trapping him, but I think with Joakim being in the middle, its definitely going to make the game easy. We call it easy offense, so why not pass it to him and he makes the decisions?Echoed Thibodeau: The value of Jo some teams try to early blitz Derrick on the high pick-and-roll and Jo is very good in the middle of the floor, with his decision-making, his ability to put it down and create easy offense for us, so I thought that we had to get our spacing right first and once we did that, I thought it created easy offense for us.Joakim did a good job making plays in the fourth quarter. I thought we had solid contributions from a number of guys. I think Carlos, late in the game, was very good, he added.
Although a Chicago win was never really in doubt, the lackluster ending to the affair wasnt necessarily quite the satisfying conclusion the Bulls had hoped for. Still, the fact that they overcame the potential malaise from a heart-breaking defeat was enough to feel a sense of accomplishment afterwards.Said Boozer: Were driven. We have a lot of drive, we have a lot of focus and we have a goal in mind, and were all hungry to achieve it. Tonights game had just as much weight as last nights game. As bad as we wanted to win last night, we wanted to win tonight bad, too.We go into each game with the end in mind. We want to be a championship team and weve got to bring it every night to be there, he continued. We talked about how much we put into Sundays game and to come up short was disappointing, but we talked about the carry-over. A championship team will be able to dust Sundays game off and be ready for tonights game, and I think we did a great job of that.