Posted May 19 2011 9:39AM
CHICAGO -- This is shaping up as a series where defense, and not the MVP, is the MVP.
Derrick Rose should agree. He must agree. He doesn't have a choice. Not after Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals. Certainly not after the fourth quarter of Game 2, when he scored as many baskets (zero) as you did. And you had an excuse.
In a sense, so did Rose. If the Bulls are the best defensive team in basketball, then the Heat is close enough to smell their breath. No doubt, Rose knows what Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Mike Bibby had for breakfast, lunch and dinner on Wednesday.
"We tried different bodies on him all night," Wade said. "Mario (Chalmers), myself, Mike, we all had him. We made it tough for him when he got the ball. He puts pressure on our defense whenever he has the ball, but I thought we defended really well."
And so, just like that, a third superstar turned to dust in this series, which now sits at 1-1. First it was James and Wade, who combined for 11 points in the second half in Game 1. Then it was Rose. He was stifled all night Wednesday in Game 2, but was especially a non-factor when it counted. The game was within reach in the final quarter, but Rose came up empty.
Here's what's strange, though: While Wade and James paid the Bulls respect, Rose seemed to suggest his 7-for-23 shooting was all self-inflicted. Only once, when asked about his struggles, did he mention Miami's defense -- and he did so briefly.
"They closed down the lane, but I missed a lot of layups. If anything, we lost this game because of our intensity on defense."
"Shots I normally make weren't falling tonight," he said.
"I didn't shoot that many floaters. It was just one of those nights, I guess."
And one last one:
"I was just missing shots. Everyone was just missing easy bunnies."
Perhaps, in one sense, Rose was right. He was off. He did have a few open looks. As much as he showed an improved jumper this season, and as unstoppable as he is when slashing through the lane and dropping runners, Rose is quite vulnerable to the occasional clunker. And when that happens, the result is usually the same as Game 2; the Bulls scored only 75 points (on 34 percent shooting) and lost by 10.
Just look at this postseason alone. Here are some of Rose's shooting performances:
11 for 25.
4 for 18.
6 for 22.
10 for 27.
12 for 32.
11 for 24.
Those performances were against the Pacers and Hawks, not exactly known for lockdown D. It's just proof that Rose, the youngest MVP in history at 22, is still evolving as a player (and particularly a shooter) and can hardly be considered a finished product. Not at this early stage. That's good news in the long run for the Bulls, who can expect Rose to compete for future MVPs. But it can be costly right now against a Miami defense that's swarming and quick.
Rose's best weapon, obviously, is his freakish quickness and whiplash first-step. What the Heat did was throw bodies at Rose and force him to run through a gauntlet on his way to the rim, and when he arrived at the basket, usually another body stood in his way.
"Their defense was outstanding. Their ball pressure was great," said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. "They challenged shots."
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra: "We tried to do the same thing we did the other night in terms of keeping him out of the lane, but that's a major challenge. Easier said than done."
Truthfully, there is nothing the Bulls tried on Wade or James, or the Heat on Rose, that they haven't seen. Double-teams? Weakside help? It's all been done before. The difference is in the personnel. The Bulls bring Joakim Noah and Luol Deng, the Heat with Wade, LeBron and Chris Bosh. And after Game 2, include Udonis Haslem. All are good or great defensive players who force turnovers or bad shots.
But prideful scorers always believe any bad shooting night is due more to them than the defense. After Game 1, Wade and James stewed for nearly three days while the national conversation patted the Bulls on the back. And you can expect Rose to do likewise between now and Sunday's Game 3.
"We think we're one of the best pick-and-roll defensive teams in the league," said Spoelstra, insisting that Miami had a little to do with Rose turning quiet.
Regardless, it's clear the Bulls will struggle when Rose takes lots of shots (he needed 23 in Game 2 to score 21 points) and will likely lose when he isn't making them. He means that much to the Chicago offense, since the Bulls lack a superb No. 2 scorer.
"We showed we can do to them what they did to us," said LeBron. "These are two very, very tough defensive teams, man. It ain't easy out there. Not by a long shot."
Or even a close shot.
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