CHICAGO – This time, Derrick Rose wasn’t just determined. Or stubborn.
This time, Rose was defiant. And it worked out for the Chicago Bulls, in a way by which the team’s followers should be encouraged with 60 percent of the NBA schedule and all of its postseason remaining.
Rose, the Bulls’ star point guard and most important player whether healthy or hurt, scattershot in the first half against Denver Thursday night at United Center and sputtered nearly as much in the third quarter. Whatever was ailing his jump shot as he clanged out the old year – 7-for-35 in Chicago’s final two games, the narrow escape at Indiana and a lifeless loss to Brooklyn – was making for a lousy New Year’s hangover in the new year. Through the game’s first 36 minutes, Rose was 2-for-14, making him an 18.3 percent shooter (9-of-49) over a span of about 72 hours.
So what did Rose do in the fourth quarter to try to salvage something positive to start 2015? Did he shift into playmaker mode and let teammates with hotter hands chase down and fend off the Nuggets?
“I’m not going to let anyone dictate the way that I play,” Rose said after. The idea of holstering his weapon on a night its sight was sideways apparently never crossed his mind.
“If they’re giving me shots, I’m going to take them. Shots that I normally make, I’m going to keep taking them. I could care less what anyone says or talk about my game. They’re giving me shots, I should be able to make those shots.”
Rose’s increasing reliance on jump shots — including 3-pointers, which he’s hitting about as often as folks pulled from the stands during timeouts (32 of 121, 26.4 percent) — has been a noticeable and much-talked about change in his game.
Coaches such as Denver’s Brian Shaw and Brooklyn’s Lionel Hollins have lauded it as a means of self-preservation for a player whose explosiveness when attacking the paint might be too violent for his own good. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau mostly encourages Rose to be aggressive and avoids criticism — other than reminding him not to “settle” for an outside shot when lanes to the basket are available.
“Really, it’s my teammates giving me confidence,” Rose said after the 106-101 victory, which he helped seal with 13 of his 17 points in his final 7:49. “Even when you’re missing shots like I am the past couple games, teammates are still giving me the ball, giving me confidence, telling me to shoot the ball, still giving me the ball in position to shoot the ball. I’m very fortunate.”
Said forward Taj Gibson: “We kept telling him the whole game — the last couple games — to keep shooting. He understands that we all believe in him, but you keep putting the work in, you keep pushing through, keep taking the same looks, something special is going to happen.”
That Rose’s teammates aren’t second-guessing the choices he’s been making on the floor is nice. But frankly, given his nature, it’s not likely he would change things up or shy away from his shot even if they balked. The same hard-headedness that so exasperated Bulls fans during his extended recoveries from two knee surgeries and the tentativeness with which he seemed to play for much of the early 2014-15 season might have turned in his, the team’s and their favor now.
“My mentality is not going to change,” he said. “I’m going to shoot the ball. I’m a scoring guard.”
You can’t score if you don’t shoot. Rose’s jaw is set, his mind is made up and he’s going to play the way he thinks is best. Chicago, well, it signed up for that a long time ago.