Derrick Rose (and his Bulls) show mixed improvement in closing out Pistons

No pull-up dagger-three photos available as of press time. (Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-US PRESSWIRE)

That turned out to be a much better game than expected. A lot of factors had this seeming like it was going to be a snoozer: coming off the high that was the Miami win, the Bulls owning the Pistons in the Rose era, the crowd making it seem like watching a scrimmage at the local gym (complete with classic rock soundtrack!)...if not for the same annoying announcer that the Pistons employed back when they were good. Being forced to listen to an especially execrable version of the local telecast didn't help either (yeah, Neil Funk, "I'M TELLING YA!").

But the Pistons really aren't that bad of a team. Though they've been out of the playoff race for a long while, they've been playing close to .500 ball since that time as opposed to the tank-a-palooza we've seen with many other teams in that position. And while they may not have an idea how a lot of their players fit in both context of roster and salary, they have a lot of capable players. So perhaps it's not surprising that while the Bulls bench completely took over the last game against their main rival in the East, they were outplayed for several long stretches in Detroit, and were ultimately tied in total points. Charlie Villanueva came out of hiding to take 15 shots, Ben Wallace showed some life (always a surprise to any Bulls fan) in defending Taj Gibson, Ben Gordon remains my hero (though he wasn't much for production in this one), and they could all be better options than what the Heat often trot out there.

So in an opposite scenario of that Heat game, it was the Bulls starters who came through and closed out this one. After his worst game as a professional on Thursday, Derrick Rose had a couple days of rest and it was key in this game to see what he'd have. And though Stacey King would be saying all game (and screaming after Derrick's big 3-pointer tied it) that the MVP was 'back', he wasn't. Still didn't shoot the ball very well (9-22, with 4 airballs that I counted), turned the ball over 7 times, and wasn't unleashing the spectacular we know he can when healthy. But Rose was definitely improved, which is a great sign. His drives showed more spring than in his last game, and he was able to still command attention from defenses and did a very good job passing in those situations (9 assists).

With there being an overtime period, Rose wound up playing 41 minutes and took a couple hits during that time: going to the deck hard after slipping (a frequent occurance for both teams), and getting the bridge of his nose opened up a bit from the aforementioned Charlie V. Derrick got some definite superstar treatment from the officials calling a flagrant foul on that play. While the result made it seem worse, Villanueva's foul on Derrick wasn't of ill intent or excessive force, and you could say just a couple plays later Jason Maxiell had foul more deserving of that call on Noah. It was a tightly-called game overall, and the Bulls aggressive defense found themselves on the short end often, namely Omer Asik with 4 whistles in 11 minutes.

With a technical foul added on to that flagrant call, the Bulls were able to make up a 3 point deficit and receive the ball with 4:31 to go. Rose exited the game for a couple possessions to get patched up, and from then on was more deferential than he usually is in such late-and-close situations. This can be considered is a good sign when thinking relative to his poor performance when going hero-ball in the Bulls loss at MSG. But while that's a quality adjustment to make, it also may speak to him not being fully healthy yet, especially considering the Pistons used Ben Gordon to defend him on several of those possessions.

But, all that said, being able to sprint the length of the court and using screens to hit a game-tying 3-pointer off the dribble can erase a lot of doubts. Whether that has a carryover effect or simply getting more game minutes helping overall, Rose will hopefully show even more progress Monday.

And the starters as a unit did well, outside of Luol Deng's abysmal night (2 points, 0-4 from three) which culminated in an unconscionable 5-second violation that is only overshadowed because Rodney Stuckey went 2-4 from the line to set up Rose's 3. Carlos Boozer salvaged a mistake-prone game with hitting several key baskets in the 4th and OT, Joakim Noah was an absolute terror on the offensive glass (14 of his 17 boards!), and Rip Hamilton showed more flashes of what he can bring to the Bulls in getting 13 points.

The supplemental focus of these final 2 weeks of getting Rose back up to speed is seeing him play more with Hamilton, and that was a mixed bag. I thought Rip did a very good job on defense, and running into aggressive shots in transition when the Pistons were coughing up the ball incessantly to start the game. But in the half-court the results weren't as good, and there were several turnovers caused on their own end when trying to connect. Though each stint started very well, Hamilton's lineups overall were a -3.

And the elephant in the room is that even on a night where he was aggressive and played well (former team, after all), Hamilton did not get a 3rd chance to step on the court. So while the Bulls have had 2 straight improbable last-possession comebacks going into overtime victories, they could easily have two losses too. And while that wouldn't be the end of the world, especially with Rose showing improvement, I wonder if there would be more attention given to the fact that the Bulls supposed crunch-time lineup isn't even given a chance in these games.

But reality is that they're 2-0 in those games, and Kyle Korver was huge in both. Still red-hot (sauce?) from the field (13 points on 4-6), and the Pistons unsuccessfully tried to attack him late with Tayshaun Prince. So maybe that closer SG role is Korver's job to lose? Or are we going to see Rip off the Bogans-plan soon and given at least a chance to earn it?

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