Commentary

Rose gets his groove back

With MVP behind him, Bulls star got back to basketball, and tore up Hawks in Game 3

Updated: May 7, 2011, 1:26 AM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

ATLANTA -- Joakim Noah is a man of many interests. He's a rebounding machine, a fashion icon (or disaster, depending on your taste), and a multilingual citizen of the world.

He's also an expert on Derrick Martell Rose.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Rose
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesDerrick Rose hit 16 of 27 shots, including 4 of 7 three-pointers, on his way to a career-high 44 points in Game 3.

Noah could do a dissertation on Rose's game, and he's always the No. 1 guy for a rah-rah Rose quote. So, just what did Noah think when Rose started Friday's game on a blistering pace?

"I knew it was going to be ugly," Noah said. "Because he doesn't do anything out of the ordinary for him, you know. That's what he does. So it's fun to watch. It's fun to watch because those are his shots."

The heavily pro-Bulls crowd was chanting "MVP" all night as Rose took control of the series with a career-high 44 points in the Bulls' 99-82 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.

He was efficient, deadly and focused.

"I knew it before the game even started," Noah said. "I saw it in his eyes."

It was as if Rose came out in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals trying to prove two points. Yes, he deserves the Most Valuable Player award he got on Tuesday, and no, his sprained ankle is not bothering him anymore, thank you very much for asking.

Or maybe he thought this was the only way to get people to stop ripping on Carlos Boozer.

Rose shouldn't have needed to send a message after his runaway regular season, but he did anyway in front of a friendly crowd that was heavily invested in the Bulls, who continue to draw traveling parties akin to the Bears and the Cubs.

While I don't see the Bulls returning to Atlanta, they'll be playing in either Boston or Miami soon, so those fans should start booking hotel rooms soon. The Bulls have a 2-1 lead in a series that shouldn't go past five games.

Because he's a point guard, and because fans are now obsessed with efficiency, Rose has been criticized for taking too many shots. But on Friday, the Hawks were begging him to shoot.

"They were going under [screens] and leaving me wide open on the jump shots, so why not take it?" he said.

He took the dare and didn't miss much. Rose hit 16 of 27 shots, including 4 of 7 three-pointers, and connected on 8 of 9 from the free throw line. He added seven assists, five rebounds, five smiles, a couple grimaces and more high-fives than the White Sox have doled out in a month. It was a full game.

Only two teammates scored in double figures: Taj Gibson (13) and Kyle Korver (11). Noah grabbed 15 rebounds and blocked five shots, and Gibson added 11 rebounds in a very important 26 minutes. No one cared about the points.

"We just kept telling him, 'Don't stop,' " Luol Deng said. "The whole game I stayed in his ear, 'Don't stop, until they stop you.' As a team, we realized he had it going early, and our defense kind of fed off that. We locked in defensively, and Derrick just had us going offensively."

Boozer's turf toe was barely a footnote in the game, and he finished with six points and six rebounds in 22 minutes, though his game was better than his final line indicated (minus one hilariously bad offensive foul that negated his dunk).

But this wasn't a night to dwell on the negatives.

With the crowd chanting "MVP," this was Rose's show, and he didn't need an opening act.

He scored 17 in the first quarter, driving to the hole in the team's second and third possessions, scoring on a layup and two free throws, off missed Hawks' shots. He hit an 18-foot jumper a few minutes later, and midway through the quarter, he hit a 3-pointer and a running floater on consecutive possessions.

As the leader of this team, it's Rose's job to inspire his teammates and at 22, that's not always easy. These guys will be talking about this game for years to come.

"Listen," Boozer said. "We just jump on his back, and we go along for the ride. That's what it is. I don't know how else to say it. As a teammate, it's fun to watch and fun to witness."

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has been pleading for Rose to attack and stop settling for jumpers.

"To set the tone, we needed him to attack," Thibodeau said. "Again, when he's not dancing with the ball and attacking, he's impossible to stop."

[+] EnlargeJoakim Noah
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty ImagesJoakim Noah, who had 15 rebounds and five blocked shots, said he saw a big performance in Rose's eyes before Game 3.

Thibodeau also used that phrase "dancing with the ball" before the game. Rose said he hadn't heard his coach use that phrase before, but I don't buy it. Then again, Rose added that he can't repeat most of the things Thibodeau says to him, not verbatim anyway, unless he was on HBO.

"Thibs is hard," Rose said. "He's a hard coach. But that's why I like him. If anything, he motivates you, especially in the locker room. He tells you he wants you to play hard. He tells me he wants me to go out there and control the team, hold everybody accountable."

Rose didn't let up. He scored or assisted on 20 of the team's 24 points in the third quarter. In the fourth, he scored 10 points, hitting both 3-pointers he took.

This was the third straight game Rose took 27 shots from the field, but in the first two games, he made just 21 combined, continuing his poor shooting performances from the first-round win over the Pacers. What was the difference Friday, besides the ankle, which he won't discuss because he doesn't believe in making excuses?

"Just get my groove back," he said, of his and Stella's main goal. "Knocking down shots, getting guys in the open court, attacking and trying to get to the line. That's all I tried to do today."

In reality, he watched a lot of film and got treatment for his ankle, which he hurt in Game 3 of the Pacers series. His improved jumper is a main reason why he won the MVP award. But up until Friday, he was shooting 21 percent (11-for-52) from behind the arc in the playoffs, the worst percentage for any player with at least 20 attempts.

After practice, Rose has spent extra time watching film with Thibodeau.

"I spent a lot of time working on my mechanics," Rose said. "My confidence didn't go anywhere. I just had to see some of them go in. Looking at film, all my shots were short. It wasn't hitting the side of the time or anything. They were just short."

Rose started the week with Thibodeau getting the Coach of the Year award, followed with a bitter loss to Atlanta at home Monday night -- "That one hurt," he said. "Hurt very bad." -- and on Tuesday, he made everyone cry with a heartwarming MVP acceptance speech directed at his mother. Then there was a victorious Game 2 . It's been a hectic week.

"Of course I love the award," Rose said. "But I'm just happy to get that over with and really focus on playing basketball."

That's bad news for Atlanta and good news for Bulls fans.

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.