Immediately after the Bulls' scintillating 101-100 victory over the Utah Jazz on Monday night, Larry Hughes put his aching body through his nightly postgame ritual.
The right shoulder was wrapped. Into the ice bucket went both ankles. And with every movement the veteran guard flinched, if only slightly.
Hughes looked nothing like the man who had turned himself into a savior just minutes before. But with his buzzer-beater over the outstretched arms of C.J. Miles, that's exactly who he was.
"I never hit a walk-off shot before," Hughes said. "I've never hit a shot with no time on the clock. I've hit game-winners before, but never something like this, where the other team didn't have a chance."
His shot capped the most exciting finish of the season for the Bulls, one in which Derrick Rose put his team on his rookie shoulders and carried them with an explosive series of drives off the dribble that either ended up in layups or free throws.
And even when the Jazz answered every one of Rose's buckets with shots of its own, the young Bulls never wilted. They never faltered, seeming to have learned from Sunday's 114-101 loss to the Denver Nuggets.
As a result, the Bulls handed Utah its first home loss of the season, no small feat, and ran their record to 2-3 on the circus trip. And they proved to themselves that they can fight back when a team makes a run at them.
"We needed this win," Rose said. "It didn't matter how we got it, we just needed the win."
Rose scored a team-high 25 points and tied his career high with nine assists. Ten of those points came in the fourth quarter. And when the game was on the line, he almost always delivered.
The one exception was the next-to-last play. Without a timeout and down 100-99 after Miles' layup, Rose raced up the court with 10 seconds to go. On previous plays his burst was enough to get him straight to the rim. This time, however, he pulled up from 18 feet and took a jumper, which bounced off the back of the iron — and into the waiting hands of Hughes.
With the scoreboard down for the entire night, Hughes was unable to get a view at the clock. But his inner clock told him he had time. He took a 22-foot jumper that hit the bottom of the net.
"I knew that I had to get the shot up, but I didn't want to rush it," Hughes said. "When I did, it felt good. I just knocked it down."
The Bulls led 53-45 at halftime but quickly saw that lead disappear due to a third quarter full of turnovers. The Jazz held as much as a seven-point lead late in the third, but a late 6-2 run pulled the Bulls within 75-72 at the end of the period.
Four Bulls hit double figures. Besides Rose, Drew Gooden scored 18, Hughes 16 and Ben Gordon 15.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times