PHILADELPHIA – The 76ers’ double-teams kept coming, forcing the ball out of Derrick Rose’s hands earlier and earlier.
Finally, with the Bulls clinging to a two-point lead and the clock dwind-ling to under 25 seconds, Rose had had enough.
“I saw Thaddeus Young was kind of tired from trapping,” Rose said, “so I just attacked him. He let me turn the corner, and I had a clean look.”
Of course, a clean look to Rose is a tad different than a clean look for normal players. Rose’s hanging floater from the baseline with 20.9 seconds left could’ve carried extra points for degree of difficulty.
As it stood, the runner provided two critical points in the Bulls’ 96-91 triumph, their sixth straight and one that avenged a 16-point loss to the 76ers last month. The basket also put an exclamation point on Rose’s season-high-tying 35-point performance, which also featured eight assists.
Throw in the fact the Heat lost to the Lakers, opening a two-game lead atop the Eastern Conference for the Bulls, and smiles abounded afterward.
“They have all the elements of a championship team,” 76ers coach Doug Collins said.
Resiliency would rank high on that list. The Bulls were lucky to trail only 46-40 after a sluggish first half, and ultimately clawed back from an eight-point deficit with multiple clutch fourth-quarter plays from myriad people.
C.J. Watson shook off a badly sprained left ankle to play all but 21 seconds of the fourth quarter alongside Rose, scoring seven of his nine points without missing in the final period.
“He’s as tough as they come,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He went in [at halftime], got taped up, went back out there.”
Similar to his night on Wednesday in San Antonio, Luol Deng shook off a slow start – which featured him scoreless through three quarters – to deliver eight late points, including two 3-pointers.
“He’s so mentally tough,” Thibodeau said. “Offensively, he has so much poise.”
Joakim Noah (11 points) shook off early defensive issues to grab a season-high 18 rebounds and deliver five fourth-quarter points on a huge tip-in and three ice-the-game free throws.
But nobody topped Rose, who blasted out of the gate with 13 first-quarter points, sank buzzer-beating jumpers at the end of the second and third quarters, and then scored that ridiculous basket late.
“I wasn’t going to shoot it with my left hand; I’m not that good yet,” Rose said, laughing. “I just saw an opening.
“My floater is all right. ... Anything it takes to win, that’s my game. I make crazy shots all the time. That was definitely a crazy shot.”
The Bulls had talked about avenging that loss to the Sixers all day. Now, the focus shifts to Indiana, whom the Bulls took exception with their celebration following a rare home loss on Jan. 25.
Star of the game: Derrick Rose, Bulls, 35 points, 8 assists
Key performers: Elton Brand, 76ers, 14 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists; Joakim Noah, Bulls, 11 points, 18 rebounds
Up next: Pacers at Bulls, 7 tonight, WGN