- Melissa Isaacson, Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- He finished with a game-high 33 points, 11 of which came in the fourth quarter, along with three of his nine assists.
It was his driving layup that gave the Chicago Bulls back the lead for good early in that final period, and another that extended the margin to eight and gave them their first chance to exhale since midway through the third.
And yet when it was over, for the first time in Chicago's 10 playoff games, Derrick Rose was not the obvious headline, not the obvious hero, even as he remained one of the main reasons the Bulls defeated the Atlanta Hawks 95-83 Tuesday night to take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.
With the pressure as weighty as ever on the NBA's MVP, the Game 5 victory had to be a relief for Rose as teammates such as Luol Deng, Taj Gibson, Omer Asik and Keith Bogans provided the support needed to push the Bulls to within one victory of a berth in the Eastern Conference finals.
Rose can be forgiven if it was all a bit of a blur.
"At the end of the game, I think, what was it, four minutes left or something like that?" he said when asked to sort out the emotions of that fourth quarter. "Or seven minutes left, or something like that, we were tied, or up one or something like that, and we just stepped up our defense and made sure we got in there and fought for rebounds."
That last part was clear as the Bulls held the Hawks to 31 percent shooting (5-of-16) and outscored them 26-15 in the fourth after Atlanta used 60 percent shooting in the third quarter to send a shudder through the United Center crowd.
Rose admitted his shooting percentage in Game 4 (39 percent) was "not a good number," but he took more criticism for hoisting up 32 shots, a number that did not make Rose selfish as much as it reflected a Bulls' offense out of sync.
The Bulls, naturally, wouldn't hear of it. Not after Game 4 and not after Game 5.
"Derrick can go out and shoot 100 times, I really don't care," said Deng, who finished with 23 points on 8-of-18 shooting Tuesday after going 5-of-14 for 13 points on Sunday. "If he's making shots, he's the MVP, he's been doing that all year. I just felt like it's always something for people to pick on.
"We don't care who gets the most shots on our team. What we care about is going out there and winning. If the game tells Derrick he has to take 40 shots or 50 shots, we're fine with that. Some nights, some guys are going to shoot more than other guys. But right now, somehow you've got to win. You've got to see how the game is going and just attack that way."
Rose, who was aggressively trapped early but still had nine points and four assists as the Bulls built a 15-point lead in the first quarter, welcomed the attention, especially in the final period.
"At that time, I was just trying to make the game easy, and that's me driving, pushing the ball, just trying to make people commit to me, making it easy for my teammates so they can shoot open shots," he said.
Tom Thibodeau was banking on that when he uncharacteristically left Rose in the game at the start of the fourth quarter with the lead see-sawing and the Hawks having seized the momentum. Rose looked winded but ultimately gave his coach exactly what he wanted by attacking the basket.
"It was critical," Thibodeau said. "Not settling, forcing the defense to collapse, creating some easy opportunities for others leads to second shots. We had 50 points in the paint. We want to be inside-out, so I thought it was huge.
Even members of Rose's supporting cast had to admit that despite the able assistance they gave him, some things will never change.
"That's why he's MVP, he takes over games late, he plays a lot of minutes, he drives to the basket extremely hard," said Ronnie Brewer, who had four points, five rebounds, two steals and an assist in 20-plus minutes.
"I thought he was terrific," Thibodeau said of Rose. "I thought he had good balance. He was attacking the basket. He got to the line 13 times [sinking 10]. I want him to continue to do that. I thought he distributed the ball well. His defense was good. I think you guys [in the media] measure his shots all the time. But we need him to shoot like that for us to win."
As for Rose -- who, like his teammates, will relish the day off from practice on Wednesday -- he will no doubt benefit in the long run from winning and losing in a variety of ways.
"We've always said we have to walk through the fire together," he said. "Every series has tested us in every way and we've done a great job sticking together."
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.
Derrick Rose scored 33 points in Game 5, but he had help in beating the Hawks.