The narrative surrounding the Bulls dictates a team that goes nine deep and has more who are capable of playing heavy, productive minutes, giving Fred Hoiberg the best of options if he so chooses.
But Wednesday night displayed who the real Chicago Bulls are, or at least who they should aim to be this season.
Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler leading the charge and everybody else following behind, and Rose told his coach after shootaround he would have a great game.
The guard duo had arguably its most complete and efficient game of the season against the Memphis Grizzlies, combining for 43 points on 41 shots and it led to an 98-85 win at the United Center, a sight for sore eyes, so to speak.
If Hoiberg had any doubt to Rose’s text message vow, Rose hit three field goals in the first four minutes, being more aggressive to start than he’d been in the last game against Philadelphia as a whole.
“You could see it on the first possession. He really went hard to the basket,” Hoiberg said. “I loved his energy. He set the tone right from the start."
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Doug McDermott hit big triples in the second half to keep the Grizzlies at bay while Butler and Rose were on the bench, and Aaron Brooks hit one to offset an uneven ballgame.
Rose had silky, under control drives with confident finishes at the rim while Jimmy Butler started off hitting tough shots but decided to make the game easier as the night went on.
Rose finished with 19 and five assists while Butler lead the Bulls with 24, four rebounds and four assists. McDermott hit four triples to score 17 as the Bulls hit nine triples to the Grizzlies’ five, albeit on 26 percent shooting.
“People want me to go out and shoot 25, 30 times,” Rose said. “You have to wait, especially being the point guard. You gotta see who’s hot. We have to find our identity as a team and we’re trying to figure all that out early in the season, too.”
The backcourt took nearly half the shots but it was necessary and welcomed, as they for once, dictated the terms of the evening together and in concert.
“They were absolutely playing off each other, they were taking turns on the ball screens,” Hoiberg said. “We did a better job getting their bigs away from the basket.”
Rose admitted he wants to elevate his level of play and considering he’s had the luxury of the Bulls being one game out of the top spot in the East despite a choppy start.
Sometimes unsure, many times passive, Rose shook himself from his lethargy and illness to produce an impactful game.
“We’ll see. Jimmy’s been playing consistent,” Rose said. “He’s been playing great basketball. I gotta come along. It may become that but we still have to find that identity.”
Butler and Rose were the catalysts in the third quarter, after the Bulls had a turnover-filled end to the first half where only Butler hit field goals in the last five minutes of the second quarter, allowing the Grizzlies to take a 3-point halftime lead.
Butler had steals for layups while Rose had an impressive stretch where he took control of matters. He cleanly penetrated to the rim before Marc Gasol came over to help, leaving the lane open for Pau Gasol for a layup and 3-point play.
Then Rose beat Mike Conley off the dribble for an easy layup before following it up with a steal off Conley and another layup. By the end of the third, the Bulls held the Grizzlies to just 13 points and only needed to actually finish the ballgame in the way they didn’t finish the first half.
“I think our leadership came from the right people,” said Joakim Noah, who had six rebounds and five assists in 29 minutes.
Pau Gasol didn’t do much scoring but he didn’t force his offense, becoming the 10th Bull to make a field goal early in the third quarter and his 3-point play with a little over three minutes left gave the Bulls an 11-point lead he played solid defense on his brother, the Grizzlies’ leading scorer, to just eight points. Wings Courtney Lee and Jeff Green, who seemed to be more featured than Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph as Randolph comes off the bench for a smaller starting unit, could only keep up for so long.
Lee went scoreless in the fourth to finish with 18, and Rose did a good job defending Conley, holding the cagey guard to just eight points on 3 of 13 shooting.
The Bulls are struggling to find an identity while winning but for this night, the identity revealed itself—and the Bulls shouldn’t run from it.