'Going to get better'
Bulls' loss wasn't his fault, but Derrick Rose vowed to learn from tough finish
CHICAGO -- For reasons and moments too numerous to list, this will be a season Derrick Rose will never forget. He will live within its highs and lows for the next few months in Chicago and California, and wherever else he travels. He will probably draw on the lessons he learned for the rest of his life.
One thing he will certainly never fail to recall is the timbre of coach Tom Thibodeau's voice. Because Thibodeau's voice, that raspy, throaty call to arms, was Rose's co-pilot as he made the leap.
Thibodeau, the first-year head coach, was hard on Rose in practice and during games, for his own good, and Rose appreciated it.
Thibodeau's one constant message to Rose, aside from "push the ball," was "get better every game."
Rose listened. Boy, did he listen. He got better all season and turned into the MVP, surprising us all with rapid ascent. He practiced hard and set an example for his teammates, and he pushed the ball like Michael Jordan and he finished at the rim like Michael Jordan.
No, Rose can't escape the Jordan comparisons, so why bother pretending.
But when the clock hit zero on the Bulls' season with a haunting 83-80 loss to Miami in the Eastern Conference finals Thursday, Rose couldn't do it. He had the ball in his hands, but that ball fell to earth way short of its destination.
Rose just couldn't be the hero, no matter how many shots he took. And don't sweat his 9-for-29 in Game 5.
Aside from Luol Deng, who else is there? Carlos Boozer was benched in the fourth quarter, with good reason. While Rose (25 points, eight assists, four turnovers) got the blame for trying to be the MVP, Boozer's lousy game (five points, six rebounds) was mostly ignored, for now anyway.
It's not fair, but that's Rose's life. He who wears the crown, and all that.
So in the end, the 6-foot-3 dynamo sputtered and crashed. In the last five closing periods (including Game 4's overtime), he was overshadowed and humbled. He shot 21.4 percent after the third quarter for the series, according to ESPN Stats & Info. It's safe to say LeBron James, who guarded Rose like a bloodhound, was the MVP in this series. Dwyane Wade, who wasn't pretty this series, had dominant closing stretches the last two games.
James and Wade ended the night together, happy, on the dais. Meanwhile, Rose faced the media alone, a metaphor for some, perhaps. His eyes looked glassy, his spirit as low as I've seen it.
No, you don't blame Rose for the loss, just like you don't blame him for taking that jumper at the end of regulation in Game 4, but you expect him to learn from it, dwell on it and use it as fuel for the future. That's what the great ones do.
"Everything is a learning experience," Rose said.
What can he learn?
"I'm going to get better," Rose said, ignoring specifics. "I'm not worried about that. If anything, this is going to make me hungry."
James praised Rose after the game, reiterated that Rose earned the MVP some cranks say really belongs to James now. He said this series should help Rose in the long run.
"It's going to help you," he said. "I've been in situations where I say, 'Why me?' at this point. But you have to keep working and be put in those positions, time after time after time, where if you fail, you have to be ready to take that challenge again and again and again."
Rose's career arc has made dreamers of us all, himself included. In three years, he has matured from rookie of the year to All-Star to MVP. Rose's adidas ads tell us, "Fast Don't Lie." No, but it does obscure. Rose has room to improve, but I don't think you can practice playing in these kinds of situations. You can only experience them. That goes double for his teammates. Most of them were new to this kind of situation, and it showed, as they failed to close each of the last four games.
"Experience is a great teacher," Thibodeau said. "He'll study, he'll prepare, he'll get better. I hope our team will get better.
"Sometimes you have to go through things and experience them before you understand how tough and hard -- all these games were tough, hard-fought games that came down to the end. Sometimes you have to will it, and it's a hustle play here, a hustle play there, and that's the difference. Sometimes things aren't going your way and you have to be able to navigate through that stuff. You have to continue to concentrate. You have to play with poise."
Rose missed the final shot of his MVP season, and it was a bad one. A contested 3 near the corner. It fell so short, you wonder whether it was fouled by the three Heat players in front of him.
"No," he said. "I wasn't fouled."
Rose went 2-for-9 in the fourth, continuing a trend that spelled doom for his team, which came unglued in the fourth of every loss. He looked like himself just once, with less than two minutes left, when he drove on James from the perimeter and spun into the lane for a nifty floater that made it 79-72.
On the next play, he was called for his fifth foul for tapping Wade on the elbow as he hit a 3. Then he missed a floater, and James tied it with a 3.
After James' jumper gave the Heat a lead, Rose missed a free throw that would have tied the game at 81-all with less than 30 seconds to go. He quarterbacked a botched play with Kyle Korver that led to his flustered, panic 3.
"It was me," Rose said, later adding, "I wasn't tired. I was just making dumb decisions, and it cost us this game."
When you're a star of Rose's caliber, it's always you. Guys like Boozer tip their hats, dole out credit by the spoonful after a loss.
Rose takes the blame. He already talks like a winner, and we know he works like a winner. He took his team, which came into the season with just four returning rotation players, from a prohibitive favorite in a lousy division to a dominating league power.
"What he's done for this city and what he's done for this franchise in just three years is remarkable," James said. "The sky is the limit for that guy. I mean, wow, as a fan. He's going to get better and better. Hopefully we don't have to continue to see him in the postseason."
"We will," Wade said.
"Yeah, we will," James said, with a smile.
Thanks to Rose, the expectations have been raised to the rafters at the United Center. From now until the end of his time here, he will be judged on how the season ends, when it ends.
He knows that now, if he didn't before. Lesson learned.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.