The Legend that will be Derrick Rose took a big step forward Saturday night at the United Center. Saving his best for the final quarter of Chicago's tussle with Yao Ming and the Houston Rockets, the first overall choice in the 2008 draft went 7-of-9 from the field and scored 16 of his team high 22 points in a breathtaking comeback that culminated in a 105 - 102 win for the Bulls.
Trailing by 17 with under 6 minutes to play, Rose put his team squarely on his 20 year-old shoulders and calmly directed them to a key victory over a Western Conference power. Rose finished with 22 points, 8 boards and 7 assists.
His backcourt-mate Ben Gordon chipped in 16, including 11 in the fourth quarter run culminating in his 18 foot jumper with 1:07 left in regulation to tie the game at 102. Following a Houston, time out, Rose hit a jumper to put the Bulls ahead for the first time all game.
New Bull John Salmons hit a free throw to ice the game as time expired. The Bulls' three-headed front line of Brad Miller, Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah combined for 40 points, 28 rebounds and 4 blocked shots while holding the 7'6" Yao to 17 points (nearly 3 below his average) on just 6 of 14 shooting.
Ron Artest led the Rockets with 32 points. The Bulls got 32 points from their bench compared to just 23 for the Rockets. Overall, the Bulls had 6 players in score in double figures while out-rebounding the Rockets 51-40.
The win pulled the Bulls to within a game of Milwaukee and the 8th playoff spot in the east.
While the Bulls are just 4-3 since their trade-deadline dealings, their new additions make the Bulls a team to watch down the stretch.
The addition of Miller gives the Bulls toughness inside while John Salmons and Tim Thomas are athletic wings who can spread the floor and hit shots. Miller also provides a veteran presence for quickly developing big men Thomas, Noah and Aaron Gray.
The new Bulls give the team added dimensions they have sorely lacked for the past few seasons. Hyper-athletic big men Thomas and Noah continue to develop. Ben Gordon remains one of the best scoring guards in the NBA.
But it is Rose, the Chicago native, who holds the keys to the Bulls' season. With 22 games to play, the Bulls are right in the thick of the playoff hunt.
If Rose can continue to take over games like he did tonight (he averages 18.8 PPG in wins compared to just 14.7 PPG in losses), if he can continue to distribute the ball (6.3 APG) and if he can continue to be the go-to player the Bulls have lacked since a certain Hall of Famer donned the red and white 23, Chicagoans should have a playoff team to root for this spring.
NOTES: The Bulls suffered two injuries. Luol Deng left with soreness in his right leg. X-Rays revealed a stress fracture in his right tibia which could sideline Deng for the rest of the season. Tim Thomas, acquired from the New York Knicks for Larry Hughes, hyperextended his left knee and did not return.