'It really wasn't me'
Despite leading Bulls in points and assists, Derrick Rose deflected credit for Game 1 win
CHICAGO -- When things go bad, some guys refuse to take the blame. Derrick Rose is not one of those guys.
He takes the blame when things go bad, and he refuses the credit when they go right.
"It really wasn't me," Rose said after another starry performance Sunday night. "It was defense. Our defense opened up everything."
Rose had no problem taking responsibility earlier in the night. At halftime of the team's Eastern Conference finals opener, the Bulls had a locker room chat about the team's eight turnovers, four of which belonged to Rose.
"He took it personally," Ronnie Brewer said.
So Rose spoke up and took the blame. He told his teammates he would do better in the second half.
"It was me," Rose said after the Bulls' 103-82 thumping of the Heat. "Careless turnovers. You can't do that against this team. When they get in the open court, they're too dangerous. With me, taking care of the ball, I'm the point guard. I got to do way better. In the second half, I think I did a good job of making sure my turnovers went down."
Forget the awards and speeches and regular season dominance, superstar reputations are burnished in the playoffs, where the stars are expected to shoulder the load.
Rose has done that so far, leading all playoff scorers at nearly 29 points per game.
So it was no surprise the Most Valuable Team Player took care of the ball in the second half and the Bulls took care of the Miami Heat in an unexpected blowout that ended with 22,000 fans chanting "overrated "-- and presumably not at Juwan Howard and Eddie House.
Rose scored 28 points, added six assists and committed zero turnovers in the second half. But despite those gaudy numbers, it's accepted that he wasn't Sunday's MVP. That was either the Tom Thibodeau-inspired team defense, the 19-6 edge in offensive rebounds that led to 31 second-chance points, or the energetic play of the self-styled "Bench Mob."
But this is a superstars league, and playing against a team built solely on that philosophy, the team-first Rose continues to be the lede of the story and leader on -- and off -- the floor.
For Miami's big three, Chris Bosh opened some eyes with a very efficient 30-point game, but for once, seemingly, his teammates didn't step up. LeBron James went 5-for-15 and scored 15 points, and Dwyane Wade did only slightly better, going 7-for-17 for 18 points.
While James and Wade struggled against the Bulls' team defense that denied them penetration for much of the game, Rose hit the big shots and had a steadying effect on his team as it took a confidence-infusing 1-0 lead in this much-awaited series pitting 99 percent of the basketball-watching world against Miami.
"For us, we go as he goes," Brewer said. "So whenever he plays well, we play well. Tonight, he didn't have to shoot the ball and do as much as he did in the past because we were getting defensive stops and guys were making plays."
Rose hit 10 of 22 shots, hit three 3-pointers against a sagging defense, and scored 16 in the second half. Beloved by his teammates, Rose carried this team all season, earning all of his accolades in full. He didn't need to apologize for a handful of turnovers, especially with the game tied at 48-48, but he did anyway.
"We talked about that in the locker room at half," Gibson said. "He stepped up and said, 'My bad, everybody, for the turnovers,' even though he shouldn't have did that. But that's what leaders do. He did that and he stepped up big in the second half."
Rose scored 10 points in the third quarter as the Bulls erased a small deficit and took a nine-point lead that would only grow in the fourth. The Bulls went 30 straight possessions without a turnover, and had only one in the entire second half. Rose stopped trying to throw the perfect cross-court pass and just ran the offense. Soon enough, everyone was making the extra pass.
He hit a 3 to open the third, and then with the Bulls trailing 58-57, the Bulls got two offensive rebounds culminating in another Rose 3. Two minutes later, he hit two free throws to make it 65-58 and dished to Joakim Noah to make it a nine-point game with five minutes to play in the third, and later broke a three-minute scoring drought with a floater.
He certainly backed up his halftime promise.
"I think that's his strength," Joakim Noah said. "He's a passionate player but he's very steady. He's as steady as they come. He never gets too high, he never gets too low. He's just focused on the next play."
It's not hard to understand the reasoning behind the Heat being series favorites, and why people were down on the Bulls after two lackluster series -- well, by their regular-season standards anyway. A regular season sweep doesn't mean too much in May.
But the Bulls won Sunday night thanks to the power of repetition. All those two-hour practices, all those back-to-back games paid off.
It"s a pretty simple formula, when you get down to it. Defense, rebounding, depth and Derrick.
The Bulls showed the world how you beat the Heat in the playoffs, a team effort led by a team superstar.
"He"s been doing it all season, this is nothing new," Carlos Boozer said. "D-Rose has grown up in front of our eyes this season and he's been the guy from training camp until now. That"s why he's the MVP."
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.