Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
SALT LAKE CITY — Most of the sellout crowd of 19,991 jammed into EnergySolutions Arena on Wednesday night to try to make Carlos Boozer’s homecoming a nightmare.
But in the end, the fans should’ve been focused on Derrick Rose because the Bulls point guard made several big plays down the stretch on both ends to lead his team to a 91-86 victory.
In a marquee matchup of All-Star point guards with Utah’s Deron Williams, the former Illinois star, Rose clearly had the upper hand. He had a game-high 29 points and made two huge plays in the final minute — one on offense and one on defense — to help the Bulls (35-16) avoid their first three-game losing streak.
“Phenomenal,” Boozer said of Rose. “After the game, I told him he’s a bad . . . I can’t say the word I said. He’s a bad man. Humble, aggressive, made shot after shot, tough shots, made defensive play after defensive play.
“He was a man for us tonight.”
Williams had 11 points and 12 assists and committed two crucial turnovers in the final minute.
“It was a tough loss,” Williams said. “Put it on me because at the end of the game, I had the ball in my hands. I’ve gotta make the plays to win the game. Two turnovers, not characteristic of me. Put it on me.”
This was mostly a sloppy game, and you could tell that players on both sides were a little more emotional than normal. Finally, the game came down to a few key possessions down the stretch.
With the Bulls leading 87-86, Rose missed a shot, and Kurt Thomas missed a tip-in. The Jazz got the ball and headed upcourt on the fast break. It looked like Utah was about to take the lead as Williams headed toward the basket.
But Rose caught up from behind and knocked the ball away to give the Bulls the ball back with about a minute left.
“Thank God I got there in time and he still had the ball in his right hand,” Rose said.
“That saved the game,” Boozer said. “He hawked D-Will and stole the ball and put the game back in our hands.”
The Bulls still had that narrow lead when they got the ball back with just under 30 seconds left. They put the ball in Rose’s hands. He ran some time off the clock, then was able to drive past Williams, who was forced to foul from behind with 13 seconds left. Rose went to the line and made both free throws for a three-point lead.
The Jazz still had plenty of time to tie, but it never got a shot. Rose denied Williams an opportunity to shoot a three-pointer, so Williams drove toward the basket. He then tried to pass, but Ronnie Brewer intercepted it.
Brewer was fouled and iced the game by making both free throws with 7.4 seconds to go.
Two days after apparently being maligned by Portland’s Nicolas Batum, Rose’s defense was a huge factor.
“I thought Derrick did a good job of making [Williams] work,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I also thought he missed some shots that he normally makes.”
The Bulls (including Rose) were quick to point out after the game that his superior performance doesn’t mean he’s is head and shoulders better than Williams.
But Rose also showed the attributes — hard work and tough-mindedness — that make everyone with the Bulls believe his game is far from peaking.