SALT LAKE CITY -- Derrick Rose has too much pride and is too humble to say, on the record, what he really thought of Portland Trail Blazers forward Nicolas Batum's comments about his defense, or lack thereof, in the Bulls' loss Monday.
"Oh man, he threw me under the bus, didn't he?" Rose said after Wednesday's practice. "But no, man. Everybody's got their opinion, but I know I can play defense, man. So it is what it is."
The fact that Batum later backtracked and said he was misquoted is almost beside the point. Rose heard the comments, watched the tape of LaMarcus Aldridge and Andre Miller torching him and his teammates during Monday's loss, and was bound and determined to change things. Like most elite players in the league, nothing motivates Rose more than someone saying he can't do something or that he's not good enough. The 22-year-old point guard heard the words that supposedly came out of Batum's mouth and that was all he needed. Like pretty much everything else regarding the Bulls these days, Rose knew he had to set the type of defensive tone that his teammates would follow, and there was no better place to turn over a new leaf than in Utah against All-Star point guard Deron Williams.
"Coach always says it starts with me," Rose said after the Bulls 91-86 win over the Jazz. "The way that I play the ball, the way I be aggressive, every single thing kind of comes down to how I play. I was just trying to play aggressive ... everybody was playing great tonight. I think everybody was playing with a lot of confidence."
No one was playing with more confidence than Rose.
On a night that was supposed to have centered around Carlos Boozer's return to Utah, Rose once again stole the show. He dropped 29 points on the Jazz and held Williams, a point guard many experts feel is still a better all-around player than Rose, to just 11 points.
"To be 22 and do what he did on offense," Boozer marveled. "He carried us on offense again. And then at the same time, he did a great job defensively on D. Will. D. Will hit some shots but he had to work for every shot that he hit. And that steal he got from the end was a huge steal for us, that sealed the game."
In the Bulls' minds, the steal Rose made on Williams was the play of the game. Williams got the ball and was headed up the floor with just over a minute left and the Bulls clinging to a one-point lead. Seemingly out of nowhere, Rose came racing up the floor from behind and popped the ball away from his counterpart. The entire sequence exemplified the type of all-around night that Rose delivered.
"Huge," Thibodeau said of the play. "That was a great hustle play. That's what we needed. That basically wins the game and then Ronnie [Brewer] made a big steal too. Offensively we struggled all night ... I thought our defense was a lot better tonight."
That was the single biggest key all night long for the Bulls. After playing poor defense over the past two games, they seemed to get back to the basics that Thibodeau continually preaches. They hustled up and down the floor and didn't allow the Jazz to get many clean looks at the basket. Aside from Rose, Omer Asik and Taj Gibson and Brewer came off the bench and gave the Bulls quality minutes on the defensive end.
Thibodeau knows his team can do better, but he will take what he can get right now.
"Even though we allowed a high percentage [47 percent], too high," Thibodeau said. "But I thought there were stretches where we played a lot better. We're still not playing well defensively but I thought we did what we had to at the end of the game to come up with the win."
If the Bulls are going to become the team that everyone in their locker room thinks they can be, they have to continue to play with the same fire they showed down the stretch of Wednesday night's game, the passion on the defensive end that is the difference between the good teams and the great ones.
"The thing that I did like was that I thought the mental toughness at the end [was there]" Thibodeau said. "To do what we had to do to come up with the win. To come up with some loose balls, to hustle, when you do that you give yourself a chance."
The Bulls had a chance all night because of their renewed focus on the defense end ... and because of the fact that their All-Star point guard answered the bell one more time.
"Phenomenal man," Boozer said of Rose's performance. "I told him after the game he's a bad, I can't say the other word I said. He's a bad man. Humble, aggressive, made shot after shot, tough shots. Made defensive play after defensive play. He was a man tonight."