By Dan Bernstein–
During this giddy, accelerating ride to their position as title contenders, the Bulls had learned that it was pretty much OK to lollygag for three quarters before letting Derrick Rose grab the game by the throat.
Consecutive wins over Memphis and Milwaukee had reinforced the idea that they were good enough to turn it up defensively when needed most, then watch their star do his thing.
Time to forget that.
If the reported level of postgame locker-room cursing is any indication, they know what’s coming at the Berto Center this afternoon: some grim video and an honest-to-goodness, big-boy practice.
They had been warned, according to Tom Thibodeau. He had been troubled by the kind of lazy, sloppy workouts that indicated a good team was going through the motions late in the regular season, and mentioned repeatedly to them that such losers’ habits can carry over into games.
Rose, who has already been handed the MVP award and is becoming America’s sports darling, was awful last night, particularly in the first quarter that doomed them. He followed up his 30-point, 17-assist double-double with another, dubious one – 31 points and ten turnovers.
So no Refreshingly-Humble-Hometown-Superstar story today, for the first time in a while. Instead of yet another comparison/contrast to Michael Jordan, or romanticized description of how his rugged game developed amid harsh, south-side environs under the protection of his doting family, we get this, from Rose himself.
“This one is definitely on me. I played like crap. I was just careless. Some of them was me driving, kicking the ball off my f—ing foot. I need to watch video and learn from this.”
The newly-christened “Bench Mob” provided a total of 14 points, while the Sixers’ Thaddeus Young (21 pts.) and Lou Williams (10 pts., 7 reb., 7 ast.) torched their vaunted defense. Ronnie Brewer was fresh off a morning of big talk, describing the Bulls’ aim for the best overall record in the NBA and boasting of the reserves, “We don’t give up. We play hard every possession.”
You were saying?
Sure, even top teams lose games. The home win streak was going to end, just as the loss to the Pacers foiled the unlikely goal of a perfect divisional record.
This Bulls-as-favorites onrush has occurred so fast, though, that a single, mundane clunker resonates more that it would for say, the Lakers or Spurs, or another accomplished, veteran group readying for a deep playoff run. It’s a reminder to everyone – the fans and the players – that this is still an overachieving team, in all that word means.
They are outperforming expectations because of their commitment to defense and attention to detail. Thibodeau’s Coach-of-the-Year candidacy has been built on the cultish adherence to principle, led by the examples of Rose and Luol Deng.
It’s all very exciting stuff when you see yourself unexpectedly on top of the standings, every next word written is some glowing praise, the river of text-messages is unending, and you’re asked to endorse things you don’t use.
Sometimes, the best way to remember how you got there in the first place is seeing what happens when you slip, and spending a dreary afternoon in a dark room, watching it again.