John Wall squared up against the player whose career he would most like to duplicate and did his best to trade him acrobatic layup for head-scratching layup. And for a half, Wall held his own against Derrick Rose, the reigning league’s most valuable player, unwilling to get upstaged on his home turf.
But as the game dragged on, and the Washington Wizards continued to miss shots and Rose continued to share the ball with his more-than-capable teammates, the gap between the two players and their respective teams became more magnified.
Rose got stronger as Wall disappeared. The Chicago Bulls kept finding ways to fend off the Wizards’ feeble attempts to make the game competitive. And Rose was able to leave town with fans at Verizon Center serenading him with “MVP!” chants, while Wall had to accept a 98-88 loss — and another reminder of how far he is from Rose and how far the Wizards are from being a serious threat.
“It all depends. It all depends on my development and it all depends on how your team carry on,” Wall said, when asked if he looked at Rose and saw himself in two or three years.
For now, Rose is an established elite player, capable of pacing himself through an efficient game in which he scored a season-high 35 points, handed out eight assists and blocked three shots. He had basically done so much through three quarters that when the Wizards decided to trap the Bulls’ fullcourt in hopes of getting the ball out of his hands, Rose let Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah provide the finishing touches.
“Rose had a hell of a game. He’s a hell of a player. He made shots that from a man-to-man standpoint, I don’t know what else you could do,” Wizards interim coach Randy Wittman said. “I mean, the guy, hey, we tried every strategy. I don’t know if there’s anything we would’ve thrown out there that could’ve [stopped him] so did he dice it up? Yeah.”
Wall had 20 points, but only had two in the fourth quarter, when JaVale McGee stole a pass from Noah and fed Wall for a fast-break dunk with 1 minute 15 seconds remaining. Wall’s dunk had ended a spirited rally from a 22-point second-half deficit, but the Wizards didn’t score the rest of the game. Rose ended the scoring with two free throws. He was 14 of 15 from the foul line.
Before the game, Rose said he was going to “go crazy” after the Bulls lost the day before, 97-93, in Miami. Rose had shouldered the blame for the defeat as he missed two free throws and a hook shot in the closing seconds. He quickly made amends, scoring 13 points in the first period, coming down the lane and hitting difficult floaters and runners in the lane.
“I was like, ‘Wow,’ ” Trevor Booker said after coming off the bench to contribute 14 points and nine rebounds. “Sometimes, I caught myself spectating, just watching him. And some of the shots he hit, just unbelievable. He’s definitely at the top. I mean, I watch him on TV, but in person, it’s different. It’s way different, just to see some of the things he did. Just crazy.”
Rose scored 15 points in the third quarter, giving the Bulls a 75-63 lead with 2:56 left in the period. But the Wizards wouldn’t roll over, as Wittman asked his team to start pressuring the ball fullcourt. They were able to disrupt the Bulls’ offense, giving them less time to get into sets, and they also started making shots on offense.
Nick Young (17 points) overcame a horrific 2-for-11 start to make five of his next seven shots. Young buried a three-pointer to bring the Wizards within eight points with 6:51 remaining.
“I was little hesitant to do what we did in the fourth quarter because we hadn’t worked on it,” Wittman said of the trapping defense, “but I said: ‘Let’s go, guys. We got one chance here to make this a ballgame.’ We got it down to eight, and I looked at our guys on the bench and I said, ‘This is a chance to steal this game. We have a chance to steal this game. Stay in it. You never know what’s going to happen.’ That’s what they did.”
The Bulls never appeared to be seriously threatened. And Noah did a fine job taking the pressure off of Rose. With McGee often appearing frozen defensively, unable to know whether to defend Noah or Boozer, he wound up leaving Boozer wide open for easy layups in the final period. Noah finished with 14 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists, while Boozer scored 12 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter. Starting in place of an injured Richard Hamilton, Kyle Korver added 17 points and made five three-pointers — many of which were uncontested.
McGee finished with 16 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots and Jordan Crawford added 19 for the Wizards, who will have to go the next three to five weeks without Andray Blatche, who suffered a strained left calf on Saturday in Charlotte. Blatche isn’t expected to need surgery, but the Wizards (4-17) have now lost all four games he has missed this season. But after the game, Wall could only think about the lessons learned from Rose.
“They’ve got a good offensive team that he don’t have to do all the scoring, but he knows when to take over,” Wall said. “It’s not hard when you’ve got guys like Kyle Korver, who can make shots, run off down screens and a guy like Carlos Boozer that can pick and pop and when [the injured] Luol Deng’s there, guys you can run plays for that make shots and can create shots, it’s kind of easy.”