Posted May 11 2011 10:59AM
CHICAGO -- Derrick Rose needs help. The Chicago Bulls had better find Derrick Rose some help. If they don't get Derrick Rose some help ...
That last one came nearly four months ago from Dallas guard Jason Terry, after Rose lit up the Dallas Mavericks for 26 points -- 10 of them in the fourth quarter, while guarding the sharpshooting Terry -- in a Bulls victory at United Center. "It's a big load," the Mavericks guard had said. "Jordan couldn't do it [by himself]."
Guess what? Derrick Rose got help Tuesday in Game 5 of Chicago's best-of-seven series against the Atlanta Hawks, a 95-83 victory that put the Bulls up 3-2, with chances to clinch either Thursday on the road or back home Sunday.
Getting Rose help -- that is, lightening a load on the Bulls' point guard that only seems to have grown more burdensome in the postseason -- has been a theme all year. A theme more than a priority, though, because the trade deadline came and went, March turned into April and here the Bulls sit in May, with Rose winning the NBA's Most Valuable Player Award but lugging them on his slender back more completely than at any point this season.
Rose scores 44 points, Cbicago wins big in Game 3 at Atlanta. Rose misses 20 of 32 shots, Chicago goes down in Game 4. It's nothing new. It's a bargain into which the Bulls entered back in training camp and it rendered silly some 11th-hour hand-wringing by fans and media in recent days over Rose's rising number of shot attempts. Too many shots? Rose? That even got a smirk out of normally stone-faced Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. Yeah and Mozart used too many notes.
Riding Rose is part of Chicago's core strategy. For good (mostly) or for bad (occasionally). As currently constructed, without another player on the roster who can create his own shot, the Bulls have little choice. No surprise, no complaints.
But even they know that fatigue and hard fouls can take their toll on a fellow, if not all at once then over time, cumulatively. Since they aren't close to being done -- nine victories and as many as 16 more games from the prize they're eyeing -- sharing some of the responsibility for victory that he bears nightly could be a good thing.
So Chicago did that. It helped Rose early and it helped him late. It found other scoring options in the first quarter -- Luol Deng with 11 points, Keith Bogans with eight -- and stumbled into one in the fourth when backup forward Taj Gibson took and made five shots in an 11-point period of his own.
Rose scored 11 points in the final quarter, too, and 33 overall with nine assists, but the Bulls didn't need every last bit of point production from him because their defense was helping out too. An unusually configured five-man unit -- Rose, Deng and backups Gibson, Ronnie Brewer and Omer Asik -- held the Hawks to 15 points and 5-of-16 shooting, while pushing them to five turnovers and some revert-to-form poor shot selection.
Going to and sticking with that group -- Gibson, Asik and Brewer played the entire fourth quarter while usual closers Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah and Kyle Korver sat -- was Thibodeau's way of giving Rose a little help.
"You never know with Thibs," Gibson said. "Thibs has trust in all of us, because he prepared us the whole year long. He just kept us in there. He saw that we were rocking."
Gibson was huge in slowing Josh Smith, Atlanta's skilled, lively and erratic forward who had hurt Chicago so badly in transition and with his interior passes in Game 4. He bothered Smith into three missed shots, one rebound and one assist over the final 12 minutes, while staying aggressive at the other end against the Hawks' small lineup. It was Gibson's three-point play to make it 76-70 with 9:05 left that allowed Chicago, which had trailed by a point minutes earlier, to breathe.
Asik, called on in place of a low-energy Noah, had three rebounds in the fourth but was just as helpful clogging the lane on Smith, Jeff Teague, Joe Johnson and the other Hawks. Atlanta had outscored the Bulls in the paint, 100-72, in Games 3 and 4 and had a 36-32 edge through three quarters Tuesday. But in the fourth, it was Bulls 18, Hawks 6.
Thibodeau usually goes with Korver down the stretch for his 3-ball threat and his ability to open the floor for Rose and the rest of the offense. But Brewer was the better choice in Game 5, giving his club a quicker defender who could help and recover on Atlanta's shooters.
Deng, an unsung contributor throughout this consistent, heavy-minute season, showed he could stick with and pester Johnson. He even exploded in a rare display of big emotions after pressuring the Atlanta scorer into an out-of-bounds turnover with 5:54 left and the Bulls' lead up to 85-76.
"We know very well we wouldn't be in this position if it wasn't for Luol Deng," Noah said. "I love to watch him compete like that. He's been through a lot as a Bulls player. To be in this position, to see him just enjoying the game and having fun, just competing, it's great."
Teague helped Rose inadvertently by continuing to torment him offensively, blowing by the MVP point guard or losing him in pick and rolls. Teague, the Atlanta backup who is averaging 17.0 points and has played almost 207 minutes in the series (198 more than he did behind Kirk Hinrich against Orlando in the first round ), has pushed Rose to fire back on certain possessions, what with the whole league watching now.
And then, finally, Atlanta's shot selection -- a by-product of Chicago's defense in the fourth quarter -- helped out Rose and the Bulls by lapsing into old habits. If part of a good defense is frustrating the other guys' shooters into bad decisions, the Hawks often are easy victims; what most teams would consider a third option, one guy figuring out something off the dribble or on the perimeter, they often embrace as their first.
"When we take bad shots, you can see it in our body language," Hawks coach Larry Drew said. "We know when we're not executing very well. We know when we are taking ill-advised shots. We know when we are allowing them to take us out of our offense."
The Hawks know it. They talk about it before every game. And then they fall prey to it, as often as not. That was a big help to Chicago and Rose, who got plenty for a change.
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