Derrick Rose vowed it wouldn't happen again after he missed a pair of free throws in the closing seconds in a loss to the Miami Heat in January. It happened again on Sunday when Rose (and Luol Deng) contributed to the Bulls' loss to the Knicks with two missed free throws each.
Our panel weighs in on that and more this week:
Fact or Fiction: Rose’s late-game free throw shooting is something to worry about.
Nick Friedell: Fact. Rose has repeatedly talked about how the free throws he's missed late in games have motivated him, but when placed in the same situation he has missed the same shots. Over time, Rose will start knocking down those free throws because he badly wants part of his legacy to be that he came through in the clutch. In the short term though, the Bulls should be concerned because Rose is putting too much pressure on himself at the line late in games and is over-thinking once he gets up there.
Scoop Jackson: Fact. Because now I think it might be in his head. Sunday was the second time this season that Rose let his free-throw shooting become a determining factor in the outcome of a game. He beat himself up the last time against the Heat in January and vowed that it wouldn’t happen again. Well, it happened again. Which takes away the “isolated incident” mental lie he can tell himself. But I don’t think we should worry that much about it. As long as he doesn’t do a Nick Anderson and never be the same afterwards, then he’ll be fine.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. I don’t really connect Rose’s famous missed free throws in the national championship game in college to the ones he missed in Miami and New York, but there’s something there. Rose is best when he’s operating on instincts and athleticism. Typically he’s a solid free throw shooter, but with the weight of the franchise on his shoulders, he’s slipped a few times lately. The pressure will only get greater and the free throws will only have more importance. Rose takes the blame when things go wrong, and he knows there’s no excuse for missing those shots. But he’s got to make them.
Fact or Fiction: The Bulls, who are 2-3 since Tom Thibodeau’s unhappiness with his contract surfaced, are distracted.
Nick Friedell: Fiction. The players want Thibodeau to be the coach, but they aren't concerned with his contract. They believe an extension will get done. His contract status has no bearing on how the team has been playing.
Scoop Jackson: Fiction. Thibs knows that he has more job security than any coach in the NBA, including Gregg Popovich. But I’m talking league-wide security, not with one specific team. If the Bulls are stupid enough to play games with Thibs after what he’s done midway through his contract -- a contract that he has outperformed in every aspect of the terminology of the deal -- then he knows there’s probably no one team in the league that wouldn’t move heaven, earth or current coach to get Thibodeau to do to their franchise what he’s been able to in one and a half seasons for the Bulls. Distracted? Thibs is probably laughing at the front office.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. When Rose was at the line with a chance to ice New York, he wasn’t thinking “Man, I hope Thibs gets his paper.” Thibodeau is under contract next year with a team option. He’s not going anywhere. I can guarantee he’s prepared the team with the same feral intensity as before. Simply put, the Bulls needed Rose back and Rose, in turn, needs a few games to get in rhythm. As Thibodeau is known to say, “They’ll be fine.”
Fact or Fiction: The Bulls should look at Boozer more in late-game situations.
Nick Friedell: Fiction. For as well as Boozer has played in spurts this season, he is still a defensive liability. Thibodeau has made it clear over time that he prefers defense over offense late in games -- that won't change now.
Scoop Jackson: Fact. Why not? The more options a team has to close games -- especially with players that are not going to be double-teamed when the game is on the line -- the better that team’s chances are to win a ring. Boozer, whether you like him or want him gone, can score. If the Bulls can look at the defenses teams are playing them down the stretch and see that Deng and Rose are being schemed and stacked upon, then why not test Booz out a couple of times? The one thing every team has to do is find a way for opponents to play them honest. Finding out if Boozer can be a legit, extra, late-game option could be the playoff’s biggest surprise.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. Boozer should be getting the ball with an emphasis on creating offense for others. Boozer has been taking a lot of jump shots this season, more than normal, and if he can get the ball at the elbows, he can bring out defenders and create space for Luol Deng or Joakim Noah. Boozer can’t out-jump most NBA defenders, but he can out-think them. The Bulls simply can’t rely on Rose to play hero ball when it’s close. If not Boozer, they need to involve other players early in the play clock.
Nick Friedell covers the Bulls for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000. Scoop Jackson is a columnist for ESPN.com. Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.