Things almost got out of hand. In fact, they did get out of hand. Yet once again, we came barreling back.
We still lost though.
Much of this season will be spent articulating the subtle differences between last year’s uptempo collapses and the developments currently unfolding before us. Yet for all the excitement surrounding our fair ball club, for all the strides we’ve seemingly taken, that first quarter against Chicago was the unfriendliest reminder of our lot in life.
You see, no matter the personnel, there is still some truth to be squeezed from that old cliche: With solid fundamentals, proper teamwork and an unyielding effort, any team can compete in this league. However in order to actually win, a team needs someone that defies the rules. Someone a step faster, a foot taller, a leap higher, capable of seizing control. Someone who simply can’t be stopped.
Enter Derrick Rose.
He skips through the narrowest of gaps before a defense even recognizes them. Even when expertly defended, he’s liable to score anyway. There isn’t anyone he can’t jump over and no three men he can’t weave himself around. Plainly put, Rose is an unprecedented package of size, speed and skill, complete with a competitive streak that would make even Chicago’s most celebrated sociopath nod in admiration.
So much like His Airness, Rose sensed the weakness of a woefully overmatched defense and promptly attacked. What was previously snarked on the twitters warrants repeating: Derrick Rose on Luke Ridnour is nothing short of a hate crime. Rose began by calmly pulling up from twenty feet for an easy bucket. Then he dashed past Luke for a layup. Off the ball, he nimbly slipped past Luke again, leaving himself wide open for a dunk. When Luke forced him into help defenders, Rose, well…rose above them all and finished with his left hand from an angle that defies explanation. Finally, when left alone on the perimeter, presumably due to both fear and defiance, Derrick sunk two three pointers. His first and only miss of the quarter would come with six seconds remaining. By then he’d amassed 14 points, 2 assists and a 16 point lead for his mates.
There wasn’t much we could do about it. Or was there?
We’re an incomplete team. This remains the common denominator in practically every missed opportunity and every valiant, yet insufficient comeback. Though they’ve improved, it hasn’t taken long to diagnose the litany of problems stifling our pups development: lack of a dependable wing or post scorer, constant mismatches and a corrosive carelessness with the ball. We undoubtedly need more, but we also need to use what we have more effectively.
Enter Ricky Rubio.
He began in the second quarter with a calculated drive and kick to an open Anthony Randolph from sixteen feet. Minutes later, Rubio drove the lane again, drawing Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah on a trap, only to freeze them both with a hesitation dribble and slip a pass between them to Randolph for a dunk. He casually flipped a pass to Kevin Love, who drained a contested three pointer. He strolled up court-now with the defense’s full attention-and did it again. Once the passing lanes were filled and the defense pounced, he niftily slid around a pick from Randolph and sunk an unexpected floating jumper. Then he came back up court, sized up Derrick Rose and fed a trailing Love for another three.
The malaise had lifted and a crowd on the brink of explosion demanded more. He didn’t disappoint. Beating Joakim Noah to the spot, Rubio corralled a defensive rebound and raced the center up court. With Noah out of position defensively, Boozer was forced to step up and deny the drive. Yet even with pressure from Rose and approaching help defense from Ronnie Brewer, Rubio was able to raise his dribble overhead and loft a perfect alley oop to Anthony Randolph from the weak side.
Just like that, a 24 point lead was whittled down to eight and 19,000 fans lost their fucking minds. Even the ones in red. For an encore, he snared another rebound with seconds remaining, streaked towards the basket and dropped another pinpoint pass to Randolph for a layup to beat the buzzer.
12 minutes, 2 rebounds and 7 assists. Through it all, the most impressive aspect was his emotion. Opening night did nothing to hide the fact that he was talented. Those continued forays to the basket, even after being rejected and oftentimes outright shoved, proved he was tough. But tonight we saw a snarling competitiveness emerge from behind that floppy haircut and those long eyelashes. He wants to win and will do whatever’s necessary to get there. We saw a leader.
He doesn’t cut as imposing a figure as Rose, yet against this vaunted Chicago defense Ricky Rubio has proven that when one man can turn into five, he can’t be stopped either. He’ll never be an MVP, but he should be in the starting lineup.