By Tim Baffoe--
(CBS) I had two Chicago Bulls questions going into Thursday night's game against the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder.
One formulated almost immediately after an embarrassing 130-105 loss to the Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday and was for rookie coach Fred Hoiberg. How would he recalibrate his squad before matching up against one of the NBA's highest-octane offenses?
The other question manifested a bit more unexpectedly after the gossip du jour pointed at Derrick Rose following a fairly random report about him.
"The Derrick Rose breakup with the Bulls has begun," ESPN's Brian Windhorst said n a radio interview Wednesday. "I don't know how long it's going to last, I don't know when it's going to be complete, but you can sort of see it. The team and the franchise have moved on to a little bit of a certain extent. And while I am one of the people that will pound the desk and say it's not Derrick Rose's fault that he got hurt, same with Kobe. These people who apply this dislike to these guys, it's not their fault. Maybe Kobe overdid it, it's not Derrick Rose's fault that his knee got hurt. But his attitude has been not terrific. The comments that he made about his contract in 2017, you want to talk about being tone deaf?"
So what say you to that, Derrick?
Hoiberg is still fresh into his first pro head coaching gig, and it's always interesting to see how a new coach responds to his team's first truly humbling experience. Handing the Hornets their first victory of the season — and in tissue paper defensive fashion, no less — was perhaps the Bulls first "Whoa…" moment. Not that such a loss is indicative of what this team is. Far from it, and very good teams suffer a blowout loss over the course of 82 games.
"Usually, you look at a film and it's never as good or as bad as you think it is," Hoiberg said. "(Tuesday) was as bad as I thought it was. It was ugly from start to finish."
Hoiberg had to communicate to his team that such a game can only stand to be an anomaly. Yet he also needed tact, approaching whatever reprimand with a certain delicateness so as not to get a response of "OK, cornfield college boy." Something tells me he isn't of a Thibodeauian ilk of gassers until you've sweated, barfed or bled out those 130 points you ate.
Whatever that communication between Tuesday and Thursday was, it worked. The Bulls didn't show the previous game's lethargy, and while they trailed much of the first quarter, nothing got mailed in the way it seemed to be after they were defeated after the first quarter in Charlotte.
The last time Oklahoma City led in the game was with 10 minutes left in the second quarter, even though Chicago never put the game out of reach until the final ticks. That's a testament to the defense, which was a different animal Thursday, as the explosive Thunder were held to under 100 points.
Coming off the bench, Joakim Noah was plus-16 for the game in just under 26 minutes. Only one starter had a positive plus-minus for the game — Rose.
The Windhorst rumoring is sexy fodder for talk radio and column inches (hi!), because as long as Jay Cutler is playing competently, Rose is Chicago's now-favorite piñata of "heart," "leadership" and other farty intangibles.
To be clear, the remainder of Rose's contract is basically untradable, so even if the Bulls wanted to shop the guard, it makes the discussion of jabbering about any "breakup" fairly silly. And observing Rose in his career as a Bull, I knew he wouldn't verbally speak much to the national rumors anyway.
Still, Thursday felt like a middle finger to that talk. An answer was there, just on the court instead of at a mic.
Rose scored eight of the Bulls' final 10 points, showing a closer's presence in the final minutes and finishing with 29 points, on 25 shots, and seven assists. Those teammates with whom he was supposedly breaking up with showed how much their love was on the rocks while going nuts on the bench as Rose put the Bulls up six with just more than a minute left, sealing the game.
Most visibly excited was Rose's (apparently) soon-to-be-ex, Noah.
"F*** it," Noah said after the win. "To me, it's part of our job. When you play with somebody like Derrick Rose especially, to me, I know him, he doesn't care at all (about criticism). He doesn't care at all. But me, it bothers me especially for him. Because I know people don't realize how hard it is to go out there and play and especially when you've gone through the things he's gone through, like injuries."
And while the win over the Thunder doesn't mean the Bulls are world beaters anymore than a loss to the Hornets makes them bums or that Rose will have that game every game here on out, it was satisfying for an inquisitive watcher nonetheless.
I had some Bulls questions. I got some Bulls answers.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.
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