It's a safe bet that Derrick Rose's picture doesn't appear next to the "Best Personality" award in the back of Simeon High's Class of '07 yearbook, but the Chicago Bulls' point guard isn't nearly the inhuman, monosyllabic machine his harshest critics might lead you to believe. Rose is soft-spoken but decidedly wholesome, and not exactly the first athlete who would rather let his play do the talking. Yes, Rose is a shy dude, a man of few words, and the type of pitchman who can move product in silence. But sometimes, bashfulness can have its advantages.
It's easy to confuse signal and noise for athletes like Chad Ochocinco or
Ron Artest Metta World Peace, but Rose never has that problem. When the reigning MVP speaks, you listen. This is why after the Indiana Pacers handed the Bulls their first United Center loss of the season on January 25, Rose's post-game reaction to Indiana's on-court celebrating garnered such attention. Derrick Rose did perhaps the most out-of-character thing he is capable of: he said something interesting.
"I'll never forget how they celebrated just from winning this game," Rose told reporters. "I can't wait to play them again."
And just like that, "Derrick Rose's Revenge" was born. Beat writers have had March 5 circled on their calendars ever since. It's the easiest lede of the season, and a game story that practically writes itself. "Humble, determined superstar restores local pride by avenging previous defeat". Throw in the geographic aspect, the two teams' recent playoff history, and the added shit-talking that went back-and-fourth pregame between Chicago's Joakim Noah and Indiana's Roy Hibbert, and you've got yourself a ready-to-go rivalry, fresh for the buzz cycle.
Here's another thing: it's certainly possible that the Bulls and Pacers don't like each other in the same way the Blackhawks and Canucks don't like each other. Sports fans love that, because usually we're the ones who harbor senseless grudges. Put a Bears and Packer player in the same social situation and they'll likely be best friends. But a Bears fan and Packers fan in one room? That's a call to arms. In professional sports, it makes all the difference. The Bulls and Pacers don't need a cash bounty to go after each other. They'll gladly do it on the clock, as part of the job description.
For all the pre-game hype, or maybe because of it, Chicago came out flat in the first quarter. It didn't help that Rip Hamilton left :45 seconds into the game with a shoulder injury his teammates said "looked serious", especially not when C.J. Watson was seen walking around the stadium on crutches, not acting as Chicago's primarily scorer in its revered the second unit. If the first half was a practice in aesthetics, the Bulls would have failed miserably. But even with Rose, Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer combining to shoot just 3-of-21 from the floor, Chicago trailed by only a point at the half.
A lead so slim when its superiorly talented opponent was this flummoxed may as well have been a death wish for Indiana. When the second half began, the Bulls were pissed off and ready to cut loose. When the blood was finally wiped off the scoreboard, Chicago had outscored the Pacers 33-13 in the third and turned a halftime deficit into a blow out victory.
You could have bet on a big second half for Rose after he scored just two points though the first two quarters, and that's exactly what happened. He did it in the most "eff you" way possible: connecting on a trio of back-breaking three-pointers, each one demoralizing the Pacers' collective spirit a little more with every hit.
Rose was far from Chicago's lone stroker: the Bulls would end the game 9-of-15 from downtown, a mark that's unsustainable but fun nonetheless. Less flukey was Chicago's rebound advantage: if you're looking for an area where revenge was really exacted, this is it. The Bulls have a bonified edge in physicality compared to most of the league's teams, and that goes for Indiana. Chicago grabbed 60 rebounds to the Pacers' 32, and more than doubled Indy on the offensive glass. These second chance scoring opportunities is how the Bulls truly reach maximum gear, and on Monday night, the machine was firing on all cylinders.
After uncharacteristically self-hyping a relatively medial middle-of-the-regular-season game, a 20-point victory sure feels satisfying. If the Bulls were to lose, they'd look like overly pompous bullies who picked a fight with the wrong underdog. Instead, Rose is vindicated and order is restored. Chicago reigns supreme, those plucky upstarts from Indiana can go back to being a better story than a basketball team. This is all Derrick Rose wanted, and by now you should know that he usually gets his way.
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1. From Blog-a-Bull's splendid recap:
The only thing making me feel not as bad is that it's hard to consider Rip ever even part of the team in the first place.
This, sadly, is completely true.
2. My buddy Brandon captured this during the third quarter run.
Luol's "u mad?" Face twitter.com/Walldo/status/…— Brandon Wall (@Walldo) March 6, 2012