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Rose rises to challenge of facing Paul

12/31/2011

LOS ANGELES -- Derrick Rose spent his pregame media session trying to explain to anyone listening that he didn't have a rivalry with Chris Paul.

"My biggest thing is winning," Rose said. "I could care less about the matchup."

Having been around the 23-year-old long enough, Joakim Noah doesn't buy it.

"I think he takes those games as a challenge," Noah said in a crowded locker room after the Bulls' impressive 114-101 win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday. "I don't think it's another game for him. I think he circles those games in the calendar."

Like so many great players, Rose is always looking to find a motivational edge. He admitted as much before the game in saying that he still hasn't forgotten his previous home game against the Clippers last December in which he missed a game-tying free throw at the buzzer.

"I remember everything," Rose said. "When I play, I'm a quiet guy so I try to think of anything to get me going. I definitely remember that."

It seems Rose also remembers that there are a lot of people around the league who believe Paul is the better point guard -- although that contingent is surely shrinking.

How does he respond to that claim? With Friday night's performance, a 29-point, 16-assist, eight-rebound effort against one of the NBA's most-hyped teams.

"He did everything tonight," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "And Chris Paul, he's as tough of a matchup as you're going to get. It's like two heavyweights going at it. Punch after punch. And we were fortunate to pull it out in the end, but they're both fierce competitors. I thought Derrick got our team going offensively. We had some easy baskets. We had a good pace. And his rebounding was terrific tonight. Not only the assists and the points, but the rebounding was excellent."

While none of Rose's performances surprise his teammates at this point, it's clear this particular effort had more of an impact than most.

"I see him do that all the time," Bulls forward Luol Deng said. "He's a great player. Tonight was one of his better games, but he really controlled the game. He got the crowd into it. They were just watching him. He really controlled the game. It was his show tonight."

That's the part Rose enjoyed the most. Rose and Paul were playing so well early in the game that the pair appeared to lift each other to a different level. That's the way Rose likes to play.

"[It's] fun," Rose said. "It's a challenge. Especially when you're on an island with [Paul]. The crowd gets into it. In Chicago, that's what you live for. Isolation, whatever. I'm taking the challenge; it's fun."

In the process of conquering that challenge, Rose also led the Bulls to their most impressive win of the season.

They were dominant at times on offense (shooting 50 percent), and Rose pushed the pace whenever he could (a point of emphasis from Thibodeau in recent days).

"Me attacking first opens up everyone else on the court," Rose said. "The first game I was just basically out on the perimeter just passing the ball and settling for jump shots. The Golden State [game] was like that, too. But since then, I've been pushing the ball, trying to get to the line."

That's exactly what Thibodeau likes to see.

"He's gotten significantly better because of his experience," Thibodeau said. "He's seeing every [kind] of defense there is. And I think he understands where the holes in the defense are. Any time you put two on the ball or you do certain things, there's going to be openings and he's got to read those. And I think he's doing a great job with that."

When Rose plays the way he did Friday night, it will be hard for anyone to stop the Bulls during the regular season. When he has his mind made up on something, it's hard for anyone to even slow him down. Just ask Paul.

"When you see what Derrick did tonight, I think overall that was probably one of the best performances I've ever been a part of," Noah said. "Just the way he competed against Chris Paul tonight, it was pretty crazy."