Even on an off night, Rose awes
Bulls' superstar shakes off hard fouls, poor shooting to hit the key shot
INDIANAPOLIS -- Twenty minutes after the smoke cleared, Brian Scalabrine sat at the laptop that feeds the projector in the visitors locker room at Conseco Fieldhouse.
He had to see the play again.
From his seat on the bench, Scalabrine has seen Derrick Rose do a lot of amazing things on the basketball court, but he had to go to the tape to rewatch Rose's final shot Thursday night, the split-the-blue-and-gold-sea left-handed layup with less than 18 seconds left that gave the Bulls the lead for good. With that momentum, Chicago outslugged the Pacers for an 88-84 win that put the Bulls up 3-0 in the first-round playoff series.
"Watch him close this gap," Scalabrine said to me as he rewound the shot again. "See that space? Watch him take [Paul George] on right there. There's one, two, three, four guys there."
You can't teach that, I said kind of blandly.
"You can't teach any of the stuff these guys do!" he said.
The Bulls can't seem to shake this Pacers team, but once again they did enough to win. For a No. 1 seed with outsized expectations, the Bulls deserve the criticism they're sure to get for needing another late shot to win. But they're one win from closing out the Pacers, most of whom will head to their offseason jobs of tenderizing meat and watching "The Fighter" on a continuous loop.
Forget style points is the message the Bulls are sending out.
"You look around the league, and no games are easy right now," Joakim Noah said. "Everyone is fighting for their lives, and that's the way it's going to be. We've been a scrappy team all year and we don't always win pretty, but right now we're up 3-0 in the series and that feels good."
Rose had a similarly upbeat tone after the game. He wouldn't give the Pacers credit, or blame, for anything but playing hard-nosed basketball.
Until that final shot, his lone inside basket of the game, Rose had been suffering a frustrating night, as he fought through traps and hard fouls. He couldn't seem to get a rhythm against Dahntay Jones and George.
Rose had missed 14 of 17 field goal attempts before that final shot -- and only four were 3-pointers.
He did hit 13 of 15 free throws and, in the third quarter, went chin-to-collarbone on Pacers center Jeff Foster after a particularly hard foul, showing some of the fight he learned playing in the city's parks and the notoriously tough Public League.
"They're just making me better as a player," he said. "As a young player, I've seen about every coverage. Tonight it was a little different the way they changed up the guys on me. They made it tough."
But with the game on the line, Rose, the second-best clutch-time scorer in the league (according to 82games.com), threw out the past and embraced the present. We've seen it before, but it never gets old, does it?
"When the game gets close, we definitely have the best closer in the world," a beaming Noah said in the locker room. "Derrick has ice in his veins. At the end of the game, 'Pooh' wants the ball in his hands. And that was an unbelievable layup, too, if you look at it."
So what was Rose thinking with the clock ticking down?
ESPNChicago.com Bulls blog
The latest news from Bulls reporter Nick Friedell. Blog
He just went. Sounds Forrest Gump-ish, but it's pretty true.
Rose, as we know by now, doesn't sweat the past. Forget the humility; he's an extremely confident guy. Did he ever doubt himself?
"No, never," he said. "That's just the way I am. I have confidence during the game to keep fighting through it. So what, I missed shots? My other teammates were hitting them and I was finding them."
That's pretty accurate, actually. Yes, the Bulls shot 38.9 percent, but if you take out Rose's 4-for-18 and Carlos Boozer's 2-for-10, the rest of the team hit 50 percent.
Luol Deng "played like a man," as Boozer said, with 21 points, six rebounds and six assists. Kyle Korver was the fourth-quarter hero with 10 of his 12 points. Noah had 11 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks.
While Boozer complimented his teammates -- he is a willing and able passer, after all -- he didn't take the bullet for his own poor play.
"Because we care about winning," he said. "We don't care about the small stuff. At the end of the day, we knew we were going to have a chance to win the game, we got the ball in the MVP's hands and he made a monster move to the hoop."
I like his attitude, and he seemed genuinely unbothered by his performance, his second bad one in this series. But before Rose's game winner, I thought the story was Boozer's bad game, and maybe it still is. He looked completely lost offensively, although he probably deserved to shoot at least one free throw, and hey, at least he got one dunk down. Boozer also still finished with a team-high 11 rebounds. But he got paid this summer to take some of the scoring load off Rose and play at an All-Star level. The only thing that could make his inside game worse was if someone left a stray gym bag on the ground.
"He's going to find his way," Rose said. "You gotta understand, they're putting size on him and they're doubling him. So if anything, it's going to be tough. The shots he normally hits, he didn't hit tonight. But rebounding, he was there, and he just kept fighting."
It's not silly to wonder how long the Bulls can keep winning like this, but those are storylines for down the road. For now, the Bulls are right. In the playoffs, it's all about the result.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.