Commentary

Urgency escapes Bulls in Game 4

Rose takes blame but team defense is at fault in loss to Hawks

Updated: May 9, 2011, 3:58 PM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

ATLANTA -- Just one game after he seemingly conquered the NBA, and less than a week after he melted the coldest of hearts with an emotional MVP speech about his mother, the Derrick Rose Show got panned.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Rose
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesDerrick Rose scored 34 points but he needed 32 shots to get there in Game 4.

On TNT, NBA analyst Charles Barkley said Rose's 32 shots against the Atlanta Hawks in Game 4 of their East semifinal series were too gluttonous, even for him. But when a reporter asked Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau if his team was asking too much of Rose, the coach could barely suppress a laugh. After all, he's the guy who tells Rose to attack at every opportunity, and he took only three 3-pointers.

If Rose made more than 12 of those shots and the Bulls won, Rose would be halfway between Springfield and Vatican City right now.

"Well," Thibodeau said. "You know, when he's making the plays and he's scoring, everyone's saying how great he is. So, tonight, he was aggressive. I didn't have any problem with the way he played. ... It's a make-or-miss league. If they go down, we're talking about the great plays and how unselfish he is."

As it turned out, the critics have a point, or at least some backup. Rose was just the third player in the past 20 years to take 30 field-goal attempts and record 10 assists in a non-overtime game in the playoffs, according to ESPN research.

LeBron James did in the 2007 finals, and Kevin Johnson did it in the 1994 playoffs. Both those players' teams lost those games.

Rose had some memorable plays, but his late turnovers helped seal the team's fate, and he couldn't find Carlos Boozer, who scored 18 points -- his Bulls' playoff high -- but missed his only shot in 7:38 of playing time in the fourth.

Was the Hawks' rousing 100-88 win a harbinger for a second-round collapse for the Bulls? I doubt it.

In reality, the Bulls' problems are all easily corrected, and few people believe the Hawks can put together two more of these types of victories. Surely, Smith won't put up another 23-point, 16-rebound, eight-assist line, and the Bulls, the best fourth-quarter team of the regular season with a +187 scoring margin, won't get outscored 33-19 in that frame.

Atlanta shot 65 percent in the fourth, and scored 22 in the paint, with six points on free throws.

"A big part of it was how we finished the game," Thibodeau said. "I'm not saying we didn't fight, but they fought harder at the end."

It wasn't just about the late run by Atlanta, though. The Bulls made only 3-of-16 3-pointers, and got outscored 56-40 in the paint. Kyle Korver missed all five 3-pointers he attempted, and the bench had only 14 points. Even with Rose getting trapped and doubled, Luol Deng couldn't get going, scoring 13 on 5-for-14 shooting.

Led by Smith's near triple-double, the Hawks ate up the Bulls' interior and dominated down the stretch. Now all of a sudden, it's a 2-2 series going back to Chicago, with a return trip to Atlanta on Thursday.

Before the game, one Bull joked to me that the team didn't want to go back to Atlanta, a notorious party city in NBA circles, because "in the regular season, you can go out and have some fun here. It's all work right now."

He was joking, but after this game, there's was no laughter from the Bulls' side.

"We got our [butts] kicked," Joakim Noah said after the game. "We started feeling good about ourselves, and that's what happened."

Whether it was effort or concentration, or more likely a mixture of both, the team defense was the culprit of this loss more than Rose, but he is the MVP, and he was first in line to shoulder the blame, even though he scored 34 points and added 10 assists.

"It was a tough game, but no excuses," he said. "Put this game on me; two turnovers at the end. It was a tough game, but it's a series, first to four, and we know that."

Maybe someone should have told the Bulls this was the deciding game then, because they didn't play with any sense of urgency. After two straight solid defensive games, holding the Hawks to 73 and 82 points, Chicago let Atlanta shoot 49.4 percent and the Bulls had only a 37-36 rebounding advantage.

Smith made 8 of 22 shots, playing mostly small forward in a "big" lineup that saw Jason Collins start at center and Marvin Williams go to the bench.

Smith had been the clown of this series, poked at by analysts and booed by Hawks fans at Philips Arena.

"When people don't understand the game and don't know the game, it really doesn't faze me," Smith said.

Joe Johnson woke up after a two-game nap, scoring 24, and Horford had his best game of the series with 20 points on 9-for-11 shooting.

"There are a lot of things we have to do better," Noah said. "They made adjustment to some of the things that we did. Overall, we can come up with a better effort than that."

The Hawks moved the ball well inside and often caught the Bulls in bad switches and missed assignments.

[+] EnlargeJoakim Noah
David Dow/Getty ImagesJoakim Noah, who had six points and 11 rebounds, said the Bulls got their "[butts] kicked" in Game 4.

"Again it comes down to how hard you do it first, and then how well you execute," Thibodeau said. "So you have to look at both of those things. The way the defense is constructed, it's five guys tied together. So if one guy [is] missing his part, we're going to look bad."

Like he said, Rose did have a tough stretch late in the fourth, committing all three of his turnovers, though one was on a bad call by referee Bennett Salvatore.

Rose threw a terrible pass out of bounds with the game tied at 80-80. After he tied the game twice at 82-82 on a beautiful slithering floater, and again on a drive to make it 84-84, the momentum shifted.

Jeff Teague (12 points) drove for a layup to give the Hawks the lead and Horford scored twice inside.

Rose missed a layup, then a driving jumper, both of which could've drawn foul calls, and committed a costly turnover. Then the play of the game, as it was, happened. Trailing 90-84, Rose caught Jamal Crawford leaning into him in the act of shooting a 3. But Salvatore's inadvertent whistle erased what would have been three free throws for Rose. The Hawks won the tip and the game.

Salvatore admitted his culpability after the game for not calling the foul and blowing the inadvertent whistle, but as Thibodeau pointed out, it was just a mistake. You can't pin this one on the officials.

The Bulls had plenty of chances to win Sunday, but they played like it's a seven-game series. No urgency equals another trip to Atlanta, which means more work for the Bulls.

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.

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