LOS ANGELES – Derrick Rose drove the lane and lofted home a smooth floating shot for the winning points in the Chicago Bulls’ opener, just in case anybody doubted the youngest MVP in NBA history can shoulder the expectations that come bundled with that shiny new trophy and a huge contract extension.
Yet Rose realized the Bulls’ dramatic comeback and his beautiful winner were only possible because Luol Deng did a whole mess of dirty work against Kobe Bryant.
Rose scored 22 points and hit a short go-ahead shot with 4.8 seconds to play, and the Bulls rallied from an 11-point deficit in the final 3:44 for an 88-87 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday.
“If it weren’t for my teammates, making the steal and getting the ball to me at the end, there’s no way I could have gotten that shot off to help us win that game,” Rose said.
That credit went straight to Deng, who scored 21 points and stole Bryant’s pass with 16.9 seconds left to set up Rose’s winner before finally blocking Bryant’s short shot right before the buzzer. Rose was grateful the Bulls hung on to win the clubs’ first Christmas meeting, but even happier about their poise in an early test.
“We definitely don’t want to be in a situation like that, but we fought our way back,” said Rose, who shot 9 for 13. “We just played harder. We stepped up our intensity on the defensive end. Throughout the whole game, our defense wasn’t there. Then, at the end, we played defense.”
Carlos Boozer had 15 points for the Bulls, who have designs on a championship run after leading the NBA with 62 regular-season victories last season. But Chicago appeared headed for a mildly surprising loss in the first game of a season filled with high expectations until Rose and Deng bailed out the Bulls, who finished with a 17-5 rally.
The Bulls had to score the final seven points to earn their first road win over the Lakers in six tries.
Deng scored nine points in the fourth quarter, including a three-point play and two free throws in the final 45 seconds. One possession before he stretched to block Bryant’s final shot, Deng alertly intercepted Bryant’s pass to Pau Gasol out of a trap, setting up Rose’s winner.
“He threw a lob pass, and I was able to get to it,” Deng said. “As soon as we got the ball, I knew we were going to score.”
Until the final minutes, the Bulls were thoroughly disappointed with their effort, while the Lakers were pleased by their passion and execution after a tumultuous preseason. Chicago struggled mightily against coach Mike Brown’s new defensive schemes for the Lakers in the second half, managing just 25 percent shooting (12 for 48).
Bryant scored 28 points and committed eight turnovers while playing with a torn wrist ligament for the Lakers, but couldn’t finish strong in his NBA-record 14th Christmas Day appearance.