After his 30-point performance against the Boston Celtics on national TV on Thursday night, Chicago Bulls All-Star guard Derrick Rose may have just clinched the NBA most valuable player award.
Rose put on a spectacular show against one of the best defensive teams in the league, getting to the rim at will and destroying his old nemesis Rajon Rondo in the process. In a week when the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant struggled against non-playoff teams Utah and Golden State, the Heat’s LeBron James suffered an embarrassing loss to Milwaukee at home, and the Magic’s Dwight Howard was assessed his 18th technical foul that could result in a one-game suspension, Derrick Rose rose above his peers and turned a close MVP race into a runaway. Might as well carve his name on the Maurice Podoloff trophy now because no one is going to catch him.
Rose cemented his MVP claim with a spectacular but efficient game against the Celtics, making nine of 16 shots from the field and draining two of his five 3-pointers – a shot he severely lacked when he came into the NBA. He added eight assists, five rebounds and two steals for good measure.
When Rose is making outside jumpers beyond 15 feet, you might as well call it a night because no one in the league can stay in front of him when he decides to attack. Basically, two things will happen: 1) he’ll embarrass you at the rim with some ridiculous circus shot, or 2) he’ll draw a foul. He rarely misses when he’s that close to the basket. Rose went to the free throw line 10 times vs. the Celtics and converted all 10 foul shots.
With Rose leading the charge, the Bulls – who have won 17 of their last 19 games – have secured the No. 1 seeding (barring a complete collapse) in the Eastern Conference, meaning the Celtics, Heat and Magic will have to win a game at the United Center in order to win a series against the Bulls.
“Like it or not these are probably the guys who we’ll meet in the conference finals or wherever,” said Rondo, who was thoroughly outplayed by Rose in the Bulls’ 97-81 win Thursday, a night when Scottie Pippen was honored with a bronze statue at halftime.
First-year head coach Tom Thibodeau, a former Celtics assistant, has the Bulls playing at an optimum level and the whole team has bought into his defensive concept. But when it comes to offense, Thibodeau has put the ball in the hands of his third-year guard and the former Memphis Tiger has responded with the best season of his young NBA career.
He’s averaging 25 points per game, almost eight assists and 1.1 steals. He’s also shooting the 3-ball at 33%, which is almost seven points higher than his percentage a year ago. He’s also making 85% of his free throws, which is nine points better than last year. But above all the stats is the way Rose has kept his team near the top of the conference for most of the season despite injuries to starters Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer, and the Bulls are headed to their best regular-season record since No. 23 and No. 33 were together in Chicago.