by Jake Appleman / @JakeAppleman

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Pre-Show

I’m third in a line of assorted media looking for some of Derrick Rose’s time pregame, and I distinguish myself by saying that I’m “SLAM’s resident Poohdini expert,” which isn’t totally true, but it sure sounds good. We rap for a little while about basic stuff. Derrick isn’t much for offering elaborate answers–he credits the late game exploits of teammates for his own resurgence following an ankle injury, and appreciates that I’m not pushing his buttons too hard.

But when I ask–from the perspective of someone who has never manned the point–if his decision-making process is natural or if he’s thinking a few steps ahead, he says matter-of-factly that it’s the former; what I dub the perfect combination of practice makes perfect and go with the flow.

I could have asked his teammates for their thoughts, but they were busy wearing shoes that look like the Batmobile, listening to Jadakiss and joking that, in the second half their last game against the Sixers, Samuel Dalembert shot the ball “like the basket was moving.”

The home whiteboard advises the Sixers to corral Rose and Kirk Hinrich on dribble penetration with early help from bigs and to keep an eye on cutters. Food for thought.

Program Alert: Willie Green (replacing Allen Iverson, not at the game for personal reasons) and Jrue Holiday (took Lou Williams’ spot two weeks ago) are starting in the backcourt for the Sixers.

It’s also worth noting that Taj Gibson is yawning hardcore just before the opening tip, which would be akin to me preparing to type my first sentence by throwing my laptop on the ground. We haven’t even started and it seems that Rose will need to overcome Gibson.

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First Stanza

The first frame (2-6, 6 points, 3 assists, 1 rebound, 1 turnover) is a mix of the regular and the spectacular for Rose.

The Normal: Rose does a good job initiating and facilitating rudimentary ball movement. These sequences lead to long jumpers and more complex developments that don’t in any way credit or discredit the man that started them. It’s worth remembering that even when Rose has no bearing statistically on the play, he usually tips the first domino.

Complacency: The Sixers’ bigs, true to their whiteboard’s instructions, help to keep Rose out of the paint. It’s not direct trapping (that would come later), but the help packs the paint tightly, discouraging No. 1 from many fearless forays. Derrick’s reaction to this is set up on the left wing and play a two-man game with a big, usually Joakim Noah or Taj Gibson.

Because the painted area is crowded with wild swinging Sammy Dalembert arms and a semi-revitalized Elton Brand, and because Derrick has worked hard at improving his jumper recently, he’s quick with the trigger on midrange pull-ups. He makes one and misses a few others, leading me to wish he’d test the defense and try slithery attacks to the hoop more than three times in almost 10 minutes of game action. However, knowing that he played the night before and needs to conserve energy for a late push, I can’t fully blame him.

A Lack of Help: Derrick Rose is not a good help defender. There’s a good insecurity–we’ll call it fully aware concern–to many of the League’s best help defenders. Rose’s insecurity is attention and confusion-based. He turns his head too much and rarely puts his body in position to see two things simultaneously.

There’s also a lot of stalking the opponent’s shot. Rose spends a prolonged period of time waiting for the shot to go up and for the subsequent rebound to be corralled so that somebody can get him the ball quickly. This prevents him from boxing out as much as possible, which is either good or bad depending on your philosophy. If you want him aiding the rebound effort, you’re pissed. If you want him readying the transition game, you can live with it.

Moreover, since he’s not guarding a guy (Holiday) that’s a threat to score often on this night, he spends a lot of time waiting for offense. It’s almost like he’s in a relationship with the ball and doesn’t know what to do when he’s not in control of his baby. Not that I can blame these instincts; thDerrick Rosee ball, which he shares, most definitely loves him back.

The Spectacular: This is what you would pay money for: 1) Rose sets himself up on the right wing. He uses a beautiful spin dribble as he begins his drive–which leads legendary Philadelphia Daily News columnist Phil Jasner to exclaim “oh my, that was beautiful!” He jackknifes his way into the paint and draws a foul. He hits both free throws.

2) He forms a triangle with Luol Deng and Brad Miller and a screen cycle ensues. When he receives the ball, he penetrates and finds Tyrus Thomas for an easy two. Fantastic vision. It’s great because it’s an assist he worked for; he set a screen, ran a play and lulled the Sixers’ D to sleep before catching them off guard with a change of pace.

A Sublime Moment: He pats his chest like it’s his fault after Noah misreads Deng on a potential backdoor cut and throws the ball out of bounds. This is admirable and shows a maturity that belies his age.

***

Second Stanza

Rose (1-4, 2 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists) helps his teammates in the second quarter while staying relatively quiet himself.

Rest: As Hammertime blares over the loudspeakers during a timeout Rose doesn’t dance, or notice. He’s paying attention to Vinny Del Negro. He does not realize that MC Hammer’s words are in his presence around the same time that Vanilla Ice is performing at the Raptors-Nets game. Good for him. We should all be so lucky.

Slowing: I’m not sure why the Bulls aren’t running more (they end up with two fast break points for the half). Maybe it’s that Rose on the Bulls is like a Porsche engine on a VW Golf. Or maybe it’s that Vinny is ignorant. Or maybe there’s just something I’m not seeing here. Regardless, Rose does a good job in the second quarter of feeding his teammates in the right spots in the halfcourt. To his credit, he doesn’t get bogged down and force crap plays. He tosses a simple pass into Tyrus Thomas in the post. Tyrus throws up a complex air ball. Still…not a bad idea. He pushes the tempo just a touch–the right touch–and finds Hinrich for a corner three. Then he penetrates and draws the defense in, hitting Kirk in the other corner for a trey. When his teammates miss shots off of good ball movement, it’s not his fault and you wonder if they had the knack for tossing better passes, maybe some of those shots would fall.

The Bulls lead by six heading into halftime behind efficient production from Deng, Tyrus and Kirk (14-19 from the floor).

****

Popcorn

I spent halftime on the phone with fellow SLAM Senior Writer and Comcast Sports Net Bulls Insider, Aggrey Sam.

Some of our talking points: Aggrey reports that Rose has developed a lot over the past few months and that he’s been working hard with Randy Brown on different things. His jumper is more fluid than it used to be and he stopped going hard to rack and tossing up floaters because he felt he wasn’t getting calls.

We agree that he might be shooting too many jumpers and this may be because he’s worked hard on it, so he’s trying to employ it more in his arsenal. Aggrey asserts that he’s still a weak overall defender, in part because he’s never been taught; he got by based on athleticism in high school and he spent his year in college pressing opponents. Now he’s with Vinny Del Negro. So…yeah.

*****

Third Stanza

Rose’s third quarter line (4-5, a three (!), 9 points, 0 assists, 0 rebounds) is pass-backwards and turns his first half performance upside-down.

Sluggish: It’s not surprising that a team playing on the second night of a back-to-back on the road would come out disinterested after a first half that featured hot shooting from their supporting talent. What’s disappointing is that everyone–from the top on down–is culpable. You could make the argument that the Bulls lost the game in the third quarter and nobody would be able to blame you. “We should have just put this game away when we had the chance to,” Rose says after the loss.

How did this sluggishness include our subject? From the notebook… He had a few near turnovers. He threw a poor entry feed. He played lax on-the-ball defense, allowing Andre Iguodala all the space and sight in the world to hit a cutting Willie Green for a too-easy layup. He let Jrue Holiday cut for a layup on an inbounds play. He carelessly lost the ball at the top-of-the-key. Yet, if you looked at the third quarter box, you’d probably shrug and say, “oh he probably should have just passed a little more.” Again, wrong.

The Well Dries Up: Rose did pass the ball during the third quarter. His teammates just–instead of filling it up–engaged in what I’d like to call free-masonry, except that would imply that the Bulls have some sort of secret. And anyone who watches the Bulls knows that they have no secrets; just a super-talented point guard and parts that range from really good to capable to “wait, Taj Gibson is starting?”

Exceptional Cuts: An accentuated bounce to his step led to overly-jagged jump-stops on his midrange pull-up. It mesmerized me. Twice. And he drilled both. Sidney Dean. Your thoughts? So pretty. It’s so, so pretty.

TWO POINT GUARDS: With just under four minutes left in the period, Deng stole the ball and the Bulls got out in transition. This was interesting because Derrick Rose didn’t have the ball. He was able to parlay his speed without the ball into a beautiful reverse layup. This begs the question: if Vinny is going to play–and not only play but start–Kirk Hinrich next to Derrick, why wouldn’t Rose be encouraged to run without the ball more? If he can be a one man fast break and succeed in the open floor without the ball–after all, without the ball he forces the defense to keep track of him–shouldn’t the Bulls be more than a middle of the road pace team? And if you’re a Bulls fan don’t you want the opportunity to see at least two more bricked 21-footers per game?

Have A Seat, Watch Some Crap: The Sixers go on an 8-4 run to end the quarter after Rose is subbed out. It’s 10-4 when he enters early in the fourth, facing a hill that’s now slanted up.

*******

Fourth Stanza

The fourth quarter is Rose’s everything bagel: 2-5 from the floor, 5-6 from the line, 9 points, 2 assists, 0 rebounds, 0 turnovers.

Aw Man, Not Again…: The Sixers would build the bulge, or the Bulls would miss a jumper, and Rose, sensing the urgency, would get to the rim on the ensuing possession. It’s a great lesson about a young kid with a never-say-die attitude, no matter how cliche that sounds. Does getting to the line and stopping the game help your energy level late in the second night of a back-to-back or hurt it? I don’t know. You’ll have to ask lactic acid.

As for the back-to-backs in general? “Oh, you feel it,” Rose says after the game with a chuckle, before extolling the virtues of learning how to sleep right and eat right on the road.

Whatever You Can Do, I Can Do Better: With four minutes left, Willie Green wets a pull-up in Rose’s eyes. He atones with a killer-crossover leading to a two-handed flush, a signature moment. Green comes back with the perfect counter, driving and creating for Lou Williams. After Deng travels, the Sixers call for time, setting up a riveting final few minutes.

Impossible Is Nothing?: Not sure how to break down Rose’s defense late in the game. When he wasn’t struggling to contain Royal Ivey and Green, it’s like he was doing nothing. I mean, he’s there. But I’m not quite sure he’s really there.

Not Rising To The Ultimate Challenge: Eddie Jordan finally switched Andre Iguodala on to Rose with under a minute to go and Iggy forced the Soph into a terrible shot. Clinical defense by AI. Arguably the game’s most important possession right there.

Game On The Line: Rose gets a semi-clean look on a baseline fadeaway. Off rim. The angle of the shot is rough, but the execution was good and the fact that the ball goes to the kid in that spot, while nothing new, is still impressive. And that’s what the great ones want, right? To hit ridiculous game-winners?

That it’s such a low-percentage shot isn’t as impressive.

The Bulls have won 9 of their last 13 and I’m sitting here all Vinni Viddi Itchy.

On to overtime.

*******

Free Show:

Rose, his tank running close to empty, finishes another valiant effort with a “meh” overtime (1-2, 4 points, 1 assist, 2 turnovers). It’s not enough.

From the notes:

– He kicks it out to Deng, top of the key, left side. Brick.

– He turns it ovDerrick Roseer on a trap up top.

– He does a decent job chasing Green around screens. Green misses.

– He blows by Green for a layup. It’s a continuance of the “oh, crap we missed a jumper, I gotta do something good” syndrome.

–He’s partly responsible for a shot clock violation.

– He gets burned by Brand on a screen cycle. He recovers, and may have been bailed out because Green doesn’t take the shot.

– He doesn’t turn a fast break opportunity into anything. The potential advantage of a quick pass to Salmons on the left wing is nullified because Salmons doesn’t shoot. This leads to Salmons getting tied up and losing the jump ball.

– He beats Green to the cup. Gets to the line. Hits both.

– He watches Iggy’s three break a 98-all deadlock.

–He drives to the middle. Draws contact. No whistle. Gets mad.

– He’s beaten by a dribble handoff screen. He recovers somewhat with his speed, but it’s not enough to deter Green’s too-easy 10-footer, a shot that serves as the final nail in the coffin.

If this night is any indication, the young All-Star is developing nicely, but he’s got a ways to go.

Q: In the first half and in the third quarter you were making more simple plays; in the fourth quarter you had to ratchet it up a little bit. Do you think that comes more naturally to you every game or is that sort of a game by game thing where you need to turn it up in the fourth quarter?

A: Every game [laughs], almost every game. I can’t relax a night, honestly…My team trusts me and believes in me, for me to take them shots. They just gotta live and die with my decision.