"Get aboard the Derrick Rose train! WOO-WOO!" (Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE)
The story was written before the game: Derrick Rose and the Bulls would not let the Sixers beat them again. And...well, they indeed did not lose. But Sunday's game didn't prove that the Bulls merely needed their 'attention' to beat Philly, if anything it confirmed the opposite: the Sixers give them matchup problems. Which is alarming because they probably most resemble a poor-man's Miami Heat.
But first with the good, nay, great: Derrick Rose was tremendous in his 35-point effort. He's making it routine for me to say he makes the incredible routine, and it was more than just his drives tonight: he shot 4-7 from three. And I liked what I saw from his three-point attempts in the game, for the most part they weren't the ill-advised here-comes-the-dagger-in-transition type of shots. He was square and open, getting so a few times off of broken possessions. I feel it's important to mention that criticizing his long-distance shooting is nitpicking, as is pretty much anything for a top-5 player in the league. Rose provides so much going inside, taking a beating doing so, that if such shots are his way to take a few possessions off, that's fine: he's become a good enough shooter to at least get the defense to think about it. Making more of them is the next step and it's exciting that he even has those to take as he enters his prime.
It's getting him enough consistent help that's the season-long concern. Rose played the entire second half and encountered several different defensive looks from the Sixers, from using the bigger Andre Iguodala or Evan Turner on single coverage, to double-teaming him whenever he caught the ball past midcourt. This is a strategy in reaction to the inadequacy of Rose's teammates as much as it is to the MVP's brilliance. Luol Deng hit some big shots in the 4th but was absent until then (so is he the opposite of his old reputation now?), where he should've made the Sixers pay for using his defender on Rose. The trapping strategy bedeviled them for too long, leading to this epic Thibodeau face, but it's no secret they have no other true ballhandlers: Joakim Noah is a very skilled center and a heck of a safety valve, but he's still a fairly awkward big man who the Sixers were daring to make a shot all night.
The Bulls were able to figure it out. Omer Asik did great work early in the second half setting screens. CJ Watson returned from a bad-looking ankle sprain and hit a big 4th quarter shot. Or Rose simply beat it himself with this insane floater.
Philly is too flawed of an offensive team themselves, especially late in games. It'd make for a really interesting (and not so fun) playoff series but the Bulls would be heavy favorites. However, seeing the Sixers athletes being able to stymie much of the non-Rose offense is still disconcerting. As was their ability to own the rebounding battle, with an OReb% edge of 33% to 22%, numbers that are usually flipped to the Bulls side of the ledger. Noah and Boozer had solid but flawed production, even Noah's 16 rebounds is overshadowed a bit by how much trouble defensively he had on Elton Brand. But, again, whatever the issues are with the Bulls the Sixers have more, and though they were able to get many second chances, a lot of times they couldn't convert around the rim.
Carlos Boozer wasn't benched as much as he usually is against athletic frontcourts, but that may have been only because Taj Gibson was awful, and such is the issue when discussing situational players. As is the even fuller carousel at 2-guard. CJ Watson was their best bet tonight, but Philly is uniquely suited for him as they like to play Lou Williams at the two (and he was 0-7, yikes). Korver played under 6 minutes, Brewer shot pretty well but won't be consistent enough to keep defenses honest, and Rip Hamilton is still on the Bogans plan. In his 18 minutes, Rip was 4-6 from the field with an assist, but the starting lineup didn't play that great (even with REVENGE on their mind), and unfortunately he wasn't able to be used as a possible weapon for when Rose was given so much defensive attention in the 4th quarter. As in, the reason they got him in the first place.
I'm fine with easing Rip back into action, as we saw what happened when he tried to rush back earlier in the season. But it'd be nice for the Bulls to see enough of him in heavy and important minutes against good teams like this so that they're comfortable with him as their big addition to the team that lost in the Eastern Conference Finals. Because if it turns out they need someone else, the trade deadline's only 2 weeks away. With that timeframe it's likely just them putting their faith in Hamilton. But it's indeed still faith at this point, as he's an unknown until proven otherwise.