Derrick Rose's last-second heroics in yesterday's 88-87 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers highlighted the fundamental characteristic of the defending MVP's game which will make the Chicago Bulls successful this season.
Yet against a weakened opponent that lacked the services of their starting seven-footer, Andrew Bynum, it was the feature that was most obviously absent during most of the game which led to such a close score.
On paper, the Chicago Bulls boast a robust lineup of youth, experience, hunger and grit. During the prolonged offseason, they shrewdly chose to keep the nucleus of a 62-win team intact, quietly recruited Rip Hamilton to fill the much-needed shooting guard spot and reciprocated the production and love that Derrick Rose has shown for the city of Chicago by signing him to a five-year, $94 million extension.
The Lakers, on the other hand, were suffering a multitude of basketball ailments and were rapidly plummeting in power rankings: Phil Jackson was no longer head coach, a failed attempt at landing Chris Paul directly led to Lamar Odom's departure to the Dallas Mavericks, Andrew Bynum was serving a four-game suspension, Kobe Bryant was suffering from a torn hand ligament and, most importantly, Luke Walton was still on the team.
Yesterday's game should not have been that close given the dichotomy of both programs: one rebuilding with less talent, and the other surging with an improved roster.
Sloppy play and a lack of offensive production from the rest of the team notwithstanding, the Derrick Rose that led the Bulls to last year's Eastern Conference championship did not show up.
If you're a Bulls fan, you were probably salivating at the thought of an aging Derek Fisher, or a weaker Steve Blake, attempting to guard Rose. I, personally, expected a total obliteration of the Lakers guards, followed by the two-handed jams that Rose is known for.
Instead, we were treated to a passive, three-point shooting Derrick. The type that scored more than 50 percent of his points from three-point land and only had a total of five field goals within 16 feet of the basket. No free-throw attempts.
There were no defensive breakdowns caused by overcompensating defenses, nor were any of the Lakers' bigs in danger of foul trouble. No easy points from the line that could have made up for the rust that accumulated during a shortened training camp.
Yet, when the game was on the line, Rose resorted to instincts and delivered the game-winning bucket by doing what he does best: driving to the hoop.
The essence of his being, the value of his physical gifts, and the apex of his basketball IQ are most prominently effective in this style of play, and the cumulative effect of these elements is what made the Bulls so dangerous last season.
Had Rose been more aggressive throughout the game, maybe the outcome would have been different and no last-second heroics would have been needed. The Lakers, as presently constructed, were easily ripe for exploitation at the hands of the most explosive point guard in the league, and, unfortunately, he let them off the hook.
While the outcome was favorable and the conclusion exciting, I hope that yesterday's performance was merely a one-off and that the Derrick Rose we all know resurfaces with the tremendous speed and power we've all come to expect of him.
As it applies to the remainder of the season, this bullish feature will be key in improving Chicago's winning chances, regardless of the opponent.