Bittersweet Bull: Remembering the Good Times with D-Rose

One of my first posts here at Down on the Block was about Derrick Rose and his continued bad luck and alienation from his sweet home Chicago. I grew up in Downers Grove, southwest of Chicago, a disciple of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson. I adore the NBA as a whole but will always be true to the Bulls first and foremost. Rose saved us from the dark ages post-Jordan and ushered in a new proud era of Bulls basketball. He instantly became my favorite player once the Bulls called his name in the 2008 draft.

Literally everything was perfect about D-Rose’s first four NBA seasons. He was already a legend on the Chicago prep scene, winning two straight state championships at famed Simeon High, where he wore Benji Wilson’s #25 in honor of the slain high school star. He was named Illinois’ Mr. Basketball and the third best high school point guard of the decade by ESPN. Simeon went 120-12 in Rose’s career there. The Bulls, meanwhile, lost 168 games in the same timespan. Yet after a decade of debacles, the Bulls suddenly found their savior. All it took was a charmed 2008 Draft Lottery in which they improbably won the No. 1 overall pick, as well as the good sense to not waste that pick on Michael Beasley.

After the Bulls made Rose the top pick in ’08, the script resembled a sports movie.

2008-09 – Rose won Rookie of the Year.
2009-10 – Made his first All-Star team.
2010-11 – Became the NBA’s youngest ever MVP and carried the Bulls to the No. 1 seed in the East.
2011-12 – Signed a $95 million extension with plans of leading his hometown team for the next decade. Started in the All-Star game. Led the Bulls to another 1-seed. And then…

Pool party. Venetian Hotel. Vegas. My dad, my godfather and I toasting at the pool bar as we watch our league-best Bulls lay waste to Philly in the first round of the playoffs. Daring to dream about the possibilities of finally getting past LeBron and raising a seventh championship banner in the United Center. Rose has 23 points, nine rebounds and nine assists. Then, with a 12-point lead late in the game, Rose finished one of his devastating drives by clutching his left knee in pain upon landing. Part of me knew it right away. Before the news of his ACL tear even became public I knew. Unable to stomach the happy faces around me any longer I left the pool, got piss drunk, lost a ton of money on Blackjack and was a complete mess the rest of the weekend. Somehow, experiencing that dreadful knee injury in Vegas was fitting – the Bulls’ run of good luck ended that day and hasn’t returned. I no longer drink. I tend to avoid Blackjack. But I still mourn for what could have been.

By now you’ve heard the news. The Rose era ended in Chicago on Wednesday, as he was traded to the New York Knicks. It shouldn’t have been surprising, yet I was taken aback and just…sad. I needed a couple days to process the news before writing about it. Really all I was able to do was stage my Rose jerseys for a sad tweet. I’ve been a sports fan long enough to know that all of this is fleeting and a sudden trade can swipe your favorite player off your favorite team in the blink of an eye. But this cut is especially deep.

I think part of me always held out hope (however slim) for a return to past glory. Though that hope is now gone, replaced by a reluctant acceptance, at least the team can move on to the next chapter and try to rebuild. The four seasons that followed the injury were as miserable for Bulls fans as the first four seasons of D-Rose were sublime. With Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol headed out the door behind Derrick, things will probably get worse before they get better.

But rather than dwell on all the pain and negativity and rehash what went wrong after the 2012 injury, Down on the Block chooses to relive the good times. Join me in celebration of 2008-2012 Derrick Rose with the selected works below. Let’s see if we can briefly forget, by losing ourselves in the awesome highlights of Chicago’s once-favorite son.

In his NBA debut, D-Rose dropped 11 points and nine assists against Milwaukee. Tune to 1:55 for a nasty fast break finish, a sign of things to come.


Check out Rose’s top 10 dunks of his first two seasons. The league was just starting to realize how special this kid was. Why you gotta do little Earl Boykins like that Derrick?

Rose helped push the defending champion Celtics to seven games in his first playoff run. He tied a record with 36 points in his first ever playoff game. One of the more memorable rookie showings in the playoffs in recent memory.

Watch Rose force Game 7 with a block and a steal in the final seconds!

What are you doing Dragic?!?

D-Rose won the city over not just with monster dunks but with his ability to completely take over a game in the fourth quarter, as he did here against the Bucks in 2011.

Rose had a knack for hitting clutch shots for the Bulls. Enjoy this compilation, some old and some newer.




Good luck in New York Derrick. May you regain a piece of what fate took from you.

NEVER FORGET!

Cavs Ruin the Warriors’ Dream Season

Last week, before Game 6 of the NBA Finals, I had a vivid dream. The kind that, though absurd, felt so intensely real. The dream took place in Game 7, which the Cavs had forced despite losing a majority of their players to (unspecified) injury in Game 6. Since the Cavs couldn’t field a full lineup due to those injuries, the league allowed the Oklahoma City Thunder to play Game 7 on behalf of Cleveland. And the Thunder were kicking Golden State’s ass. That’s when I woke up.

Subconsciously, I think I had recognized that the Cavs found the formula the Thunder briefly uncovered in the Western Conference Finals and that spelled doom for the Warriors. The bully ball of Steven Adams and Serge Ibaka that imposed its will on the defending champs was now being played by LeBron James and Tristan Thompson. The swagger of Dion Waiters and Russell Westbrook that shook Golden State’s famous confidence, brought to you by James, JR Smith and Kyrie Irving in the Finals. The otherworldly performance by a transcendent player, in Kevin Durant, was being surpassed by James. OKC would fumble it away, this elusive Warriors kryptonite, but the Cavs wouldn’t. In my dream, the Thunder were allowed another try to come back from the abyss and finish off the Warriors. In real life, it turned out, Cleveland’s transcendent superhero only needed one chance.

Stephen Curry and the Warriors, meanwhile, learned how cruel the NBA Finals can be, and also how quickly the cheerleaders morph into vultures. LeBron is all too familiar with those cruelties. Cleveland’s Game 7 victory and come-from-behind series win will rightfully be remembered as the King’s coronation, the final level of his redemption tour. We all remember when The Chosen One, the child prodigy, the next Jordan became a selfish, presumptive, entitled brat in the eyes of many overnight in the summer of 2010 with the ‘Decision.’ For the first time in LeBron’s life, he was the villain, a role he embraced more as a coping mechanism than a fundamental identity. His Heat team would win two titles, but lose two others as the stain on his legacy seemed to be written in permanent ink.

It wasn’t long ago that the Warriors were the darlings of the NBA. Remember when Draymond Green was the scrappy second-round pick, passed over due to his lack of size and ironically now using that unique body to anchor the best lineup we’ve ever seen? After two months of playoffs he’s a nut-punching pariah, heir to the throne of professional heels Bill Laimbeer and Dennis Rodman. Remember the Baby-Faced Assassin, whose proficiency from long range was overshadowed only by his affability and boyish charm? Now in the eyes of many, Curry is a fraud. How dare you fool us into believing you were the best player in the world? LeBron reclaimed that title, while denying Steph his repeat championship and crushing the MVP’s pride with blocked shot after blocked shot:

How quickly the script gets flipped. In this zero-sum game, the prodigal King and his band of underdogs from the sad sack sports town of Cleveland reach the peak of the NBA mountain while the greatest regular season team of all time gets tossed down the stairs, everything they stand for repeatedly kicked on the way down. I’d be shocked if there wasn’t some secret rendezvous last night, where the likes of Charles Barkley, Tracy McGrady, Scottie Pippen and Oscar Robertson toasted to the death of the Warriors’ brand of basketball.

At one point it seemed Golden State had found the cheat code to the NBA, quickly skipping all the steps it is assumed must be taken before becoming elite. Michael Jordan took his lumps from the Pistons, who had to overcome the Celtics and Lakers before being crowned. The Warriors’ rapid success under Steve Kerr helped sour many who never snatched the Larry O’Brien trophy (ahem, Barkley). Golden State won the title last year without ever tasting the pain of being so close, yet so far away. The Warriors now have their “almost” moment. As Curry said afterward, that pain will stick with them for a long, long time. It will be fascinating to see how they respond next season, and also whether the grumpy commentariat suddenly show them some respect now that they’ve been humbled.

No doubt the Warriors made mistakes. It seems they took the Cavs lightly after jumping out to 2-0 and 3-1 series leads. Green’s suspension likely cost them Game 5. Kerr’s knack for playing too many guys came back to bite him, as Anderson Varejao and Festus Ezeli were given atrocious Game 7 minutes. Both Ezeli and Harrison Barnes cratered their earning potential this offseason by no-showing through most of the Finals. Curry was never the same after slipping on Donatas Motiejunas’ sweat puddle in the Houston series. Steph’s balky knee is not an excuse, it’s a plain fact. He was noticeably slower with the ball in his hands, lacked quickness on defense and struggled to gain his usual separation behind the 3-point line. Be it hubris, injury, poor clutch play or loss of composure, there is plenty of blame to go around in Oakland. They had the better team, which almost always means victory in a seven-game series in the NBA.

But in the end, this was all about LeBron. He led all players in the series in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. He followed up two straight 41-point elimination game outings with a triple-double in Game 7. Multiple times during the last three games I exclaimed to whoever I was with, “He’s EVERYWHERE.” The chase-down blocks will live on in NBA promotional footage for decades, but the consistent rim protection even in the half court had the once-cocky Warriors afraid to attempt a layup. He went home to Cleveland, heavily influenced the makeup of the team and made himself responsible for whatever ended up happening on the court. When the Cavs’ season looked to be destined for another Cleveland ending, James played the best basketball of his life, beating the Warriors twice in Oracle Arena and handing them their first three-game losing streak of the entire season. His partner Kyrie’s step-back three over Curry in a “How does your medicine taste?” move was the cherry on top.

LeBron showed his teammates and the city of Cleveland it’s OK to believe in dreams.

For the Warriors, who matched their regular season loss total (9) in the playoffs, the nightmare endures.

Draymond is Tommy from Goodfellas

“It was revenge for Billy Batts…and a lot of other things.”

The retroactive Flagrant 1 ruling that came down yesterday on Draymond Green, leading to his suspension from Game 5 tonight, was questionable and unfortunate. But at least it gives me an excuse to reference “Goodfellas.” My all-time favorite movie, and Martin Scorsese’s most egregious Oscar snub – “Dances With Wolves” really, Academy?

You see the suspension is really payback for Steven Adams’ kiwis, the trip on Enes Kanter and plenty of other Draymond playoff indiscretions. The NBA let him dance on the edge for weeks, but he just couldn’t help himself. Similarly, Tommy was whacked years later for killing Billy Batts – a made guy – something that couldn’t be forgiven since he continued to behave like a sociopathic jerk, albeit a hilarious one. Accordingly, Draymond was whacked from Game 5. “And that’s that.”

Even most Cavs fans would agree that on its own merit, this LeBron James incident was trivial. If anything, Bron was the more flagrant of the two, the aggressor and the instigator during a frustrating time of the game for Cleveland. He slammed Green to the hardwood then deliberately teabagged him in a move that must’ve had his coach Tyronn Lue getting combat flashbacks. In the second video below, it’s clear Green made contact with the royal jewels, but not enough to elicit even a painful wince from James.

It can be difficult not to make contact with that part of a man’s body when he’s treating you like the bachelorette, he the naughty police officer. I mean, I’m guessing here.

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Draymond Pesci: “Alright, so he got hit in the nuts, what is it, a big fuckin’ deal? You got a problem with what I did, Channing?”

But Adam Silver and the NBA, with perhaps some nudging by James himself, have put their foot down and Golden State is forced to try to close out the series without their ace in the hole. This sets up a fascinating game tonight. From both an emotional and strategic standpoint, we may be in for a classic playoff showdown.

Prior to Green’s suspension, this game had the potential to be a snoozer, where the Cavs get discouraged after the first big Steph Curry-fueled Golden State run as a frenzied crowd smells an imminent title. That scenario is much less likely, now. Cleveland has a sliver of hope to win the series by beating a stripped-down Warriors team tonight, protecting home court in Game 6 and leaving it all up to Game 7. It’s tough to imagine the Cavs winning two straight in Oracle, but no doubt this suspension breathes life into that locker room. I highly doubt Cleveland no-shows tonight. Hope is powerful.

On the other side of the emotional spectrum sit the Warriors. If Klay Thompson’s comments yesterday represent the team’s collective mood, they are both incredulous and irate.

This 2015-16 Warriors team has thrived on slights, real and imagined, using them as fuel for their basketball fury to torch the league. Draymond’s suspension should be a galvanizing force; adding insult to injury the guy can’t even set foot in the arena (“What am I, a mirage?”). Through his many dramas, no one on the Warriors has publicly criticized Green. Instead, they rally behind him, creating an ‘us vs. them’ mentality. Expect them to come out firing, hoping to stomp out the Cavs’ flame even without their emotional leader. A championship-clinching win under these circumstances would, in a way, be so Warriors.

But do they have enough firepower now to beat this Cavs team? That question will be answered tonight, making Steve Kerr’s strategic adjustments must-see TV. The only game Green missed during the regular season was a loss to the Lottery-bound Nuggets. The Warriors’ defense, so critical to their success, can become a sieve without Green. He allows them to get away with playing small, which drives their turnover-causing, up-tempo, 3-point heavy style.

Cleveland wants to make this a half court game. That’s so much easier to do when Golden State is forced to play a traditional center. The Warriors offense seems to get less and less potent with each second that ticks off the shot clock. That’s when the Cavs’ wings can fly around and get in the faces of 3-point shooters and send help on the Splash Brothers.

Compounding the challenges, Kerr also has to make a player inactive tonight, since Green has to be listed as officially active even though he won’t be in the building. For most teams at this time of year, that’s no big deal. But Kerr uses every part of the buffalo when it comes to his roster. My guess is Ian Clark gets the axe. Marreese Speights is too good at home and James Michael McAdoo (inactive for the first three games) gives them now much-needed defensive versatility. Anderson Varejao also has to be out there thanks to his size and surprising production against his old team in these Finals. That leaves Clark, Brandon Rush and Leandro Barbosa. After Barbosa’s sizzling Game 1 I don’t see him getting left out of tonight’s game – he’s another player that can get hot at home. I can’t fathom Kerr making Festus Ezeli inactive, although it could be the natural progression of his continued obsolescence. To me, the decision comes down to Rush and Clark.

Will Kerr go super-big in a complete about-face? Will he double-down on small-ball even without Green, rotating in McAdoo, Barbosa and Rush while sitting Bogut? Will Harrison Barnes have to play the whole game? Clipboards beware!

In the end, it may simply come down to the superstars. This is the NBA, after all. LeBron vs. Curry. Four-time MVP vs. back-to-back MVP. Steph and Klay will be counted on to make it rain more than ever. LeBron needs to summon another iconic playoff game out of his well-worn body. The Cavs need Kyrie Irving to have a huge game and for Kevin Love to exploit a weakened Warriors defense.

The crowd will be venomous; one team desperate, the other resentful; both pissed; and the stars will be out. It’s the Finals, baby.

“It’s gonna be a good summer!”

Olympic Roster Rapidly Dwindling

Be it due to injury, fears of mosquitoes carrying Zika Virus or just summer vacation, big names continue to drop from the once-astonishing Men’s National Team roster. Just this past week, Russell Westbrook and James Harden have taken their names out of consideration for the 12-player squad looking for another gold medal in Rio this summer.

In January  I mused about the potential this team had to rival the 1992 Dream Team in talent and star power with my proposed final roster. I revised it a couple months later after  Anthony Davis got hurt and Chris Paul pulled out. Just take a look at what could have been, before we get into picking the actual, more watered-down (h/t Tracy McGrady) roster:

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Can We Get a Competitive Finals Game?

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It’s been a long week of analyzing the NBA – check out my various posts on Hashtag Basketball and BSN Denver – so I’m going to approach this with the same intensity the Warriors approached Game 3.

On Tuesday I wrote about three ways the Cavs could make this series interesting. It boiled down to playing bully ball, containing the Splash Brothers and jumping out to a big early lead. Not to toot my own horn but all three of these things happened and the Cavs blew out the Warriors 120-90. After losing by 33 in Game 2, the Cavs improbably turned the tables with a 63-point swing. This was great for the Cavs’ chances in the series, but awful for fans of NBA basketball. There’s nothing better than edge-of-your-seat fourth quarters in the playoffs and little worse than a 30-point blowout.

For whatever reason, and it’s been well-documented, this year’s playoffs have featured more blowouts than close games and it’s gotten very old at this point. I turned off Game 3 with five minutes left, choosing sleep over Ian Clark and Brandon Rush starring in garbage time. I don’t turn off NBA Finals games. This pattern needs to change, quickly.

Whether Steph Curry is hurt or not, he’s undeniably frustrated by the physicality teams are using to contain him. He can’t move anywhere on offense without a Cavalier shoving or grabbing him, and refs aren’t calling the fouls they called in the regular season. It’s thrown him off his game. Don’t count on the officials suddenly having a change of heart during Game 4 in Cleveland. So Steph either needs to rise above it, or Klay Thompson will need to pick up a massive chunk of the scoring load. Thompson was bad in Game 3 even before the flying knee from Timofey Mozgov, throwing up threes without his feet set, which always leads to bad misses. This team doesn’t have the same punch when it doesn’t consistently hit the three ball.

They also don’t strike fear in opponents when they’re not creating havoc on defense. For all the ink that the Warriors offense gets, it’s their defense that starts everything. So much of their identity and trademark scoring runs come from turnovers and opponent misses. Kyrie Irving and JR Smith were given more room to operate than in Games 1 and 2 and took advantage, kickstarting that enormous early lead. LeBron James finished the job, looking like the 2012 version of himself and finally knocking down jump shots.

Speaking of, if LeBron’s shot is back and it wasn’t just a one-game aberration, the Warriors could be in big trouble. So much of their approach to the King has been based on a total lack of respect for his jumper. Andre Iguodala will be forced to play him close at the 3-point line if he comes out hot in Game 4, opening up everything else the Cavs want to do on offense. Suddenly Smith, Irving, Kevin Love, even Iman Shumpert become exponentially more dangerous if the Warriors can’t sag off LeBron.

Ah, yes, I mentioned Kevin Love. It will be fascinating to see how Tyronn Lue uses Love if he’s all the way back from his concussion. There’s a cottage industry growing around Love hot takes and whether the Cavs are better off without him. It does seem that he can’t share the court with Irving in this series because that means 40 percent of the team’s defense is exploitable. Is it a coincidence that the Cavs played like a completely different and more intense team on the defensive end with Love out and Richard Jefferson starting? We should find out tonight, whether Love is back in the starting lineup or relegated to a bench role. If you’re the Warriors, I think you want him back as a starter, which says a lot about Love’s game in 2016.

There could be lineup intrigue on the other side, as Andrew Bogut was rendered completely useless on Wednesday against the smaller Cavs lineup. Steve Kerr could choose to start the Death Lineup with Iguodala from the opening tip, matching up Draymond Green with Tristan Thompson at center. Thompson played like a man possessed in Game 3, so that could put a lot of strain on Green trying to keep him off the glass. My bet is Kerr sticks with his normal starting five but has a quicker hook on Bogut if things start going south early.

Hopefully after three games, these teams have learned enough about one another that they make the kind of adjustments that will give us our first competitive game in this series. It would be a shame to see another blowout – in either direction – after we invest so much time and thought into two months of playoffs. Both teams took turns embarrassing themselves on national TV in the last two games.

So it’d be nice if the defending champs show up tonight. Just not all the way up – let’s keep this baby close.