Derrick Rose is an absolute joy to watch, but is becoming near-impossible to write about. There simply aren't enough adjectives to describe what the 22-year old All-Star, and prohibitive MVP favorite, is doing on the basketball court these days.
Against the Raptors, Rose was simply a force of nature. Whenever Toronto made a run, and they made quite a few in an effort coach Jay Triano should be proud of, Rose had an answer. Often, it was an emphatic one. When Toronto closed to within two late in the third, Rose single-handedly took Chicago on an 8-0 run, finishing the quarter with 15 points.
Rose's line of 36 points, 10 assists, three rebounds and three blocks (!) included making 13 of 14 free throws, stopping Toronto's momentum and racking up easy points for the Bulls. Rose was a 77% free throw shooter his entire career up until his fateful miss at home against the Los Angeles Clippers in December. Since then, he is hitting nearly 89% of his free throws and is threatening Kyle Korver for the team lead in free throw percentage. The transformation, and his improved mental focus at the line, has been incredible to witness.
Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer played a crucial role as well, scoring 17 and 18 points respectively, and Taj Gibson had his best game of 2011 with 15 points and 9 rebounds off the bench. Ronnie Brewer also had a season-high six assists to go with six points and five rebounds. The Bulls won the rebounding battle 43-33, leading to 21 second chance points.
The Bulls struggle against Euro-style drive-and-kick teams like the Raptors, who became the only team to score 105 points against the Bulls twice this season. Out for the third straight game with an ankle injury, Chicago missed Joakim Noah's length on defense as the Raptors scored 63 points in the second half using frequent drives down the right side of the lane.
Jerryd Bayless, substituting for injured starter Jose Calderon, and DeMar DeRozen both scored 26 points for the Raptors, and rookie Ed Davis put up an impressive 17 points and 11 rebounds for the Raptors, who shot 51% and had only eight turnovers against the best defense in the NBA.
With both the Heat and Celtics idle on Saturday, the Bulls' 56-20 record puts them three games ahead in the race for the top seeding in the playoffs. The Bulls' 33-5 record at home ties the San Antonio Spurs for the best home record in the NBA. Amazingly, only one game separates the Bulls and Spurs for the best overall record in the NBA. It is as simple as this for the Bulls: Win the next three games and they clinch the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
Pinch yourselves as much as you want, Bulls fans. This is really happening.
Follow Zachary Lee on Twitter @rightfieldsucks