Rose's wizardry reaches its limit
A slow start and a hobbled superstar were too much for the Bulls to overcome
INDIANAPOLIS -- The tattoo that graces Derrick Rose's left shoulder is of a wizard palming a basketball with the pseudo nickname, "Poohdini."
Aside from the obvious confusion -- Harry Houdini being a real-life magician, not a storybook wizard with a pointy cap -- it's a fitting reminder the kid called Pooh is a wizard/magician with the basketball.
Once again, the Pacers had an early lead, and once again Carlos Boozer had a controversial performance. Boozer (15 points, 13 rebounds, four assists and four turnovers) figured heavily into the game's outcome, and not in a positive way.
With the Pacers in the middle of a massive implosion having squandered a 13-point lead with two minutes left, a potential tying 3-pointer wound up in Boozer's hands in the corner with three seconds left.
That he missed was no surprise either. He hadn't attempted a 3-pointer since 2007, and hadn't made one since his rookie year in 2003, and the Pacers got the rebound and closed it out.
"They did a good job on defense, I just happened to be the one that was open in the corner," Boozer said. "I tried to give it a chance but it was a little short."
Joakim Noah -- who drove and converted a tremendous three-point play on the Bulls' previous possession and had his best game of the series with 21 points and 14 rebounds -- was the triggerman for that possession off an inbounds pass. With his top options taken out by the Pacers, he hit a driving Luol Deng, who passed to the corner for Boozer. The Bulls had a timeout left; it never should have come to Boozer playing hero in the corner.
"I caught the ball at the elbow, I was supposed to set a backscreen for Lu, and try to get a handoff for Derrick," Noah said. "Dahntay Jones played it well and denied it, and I didn't feel comfortable with the dribble handoff. My second option was Lu for a 3, but that was denied as well. I tried to throw it to Lu, and go pick-and-roll and open something up. We got the shot in the corner for Carlos, obviously trying to get the ball to Derrick in that position. Mental mistake in that position; gotta call timeout. We didn't do that, so you live and you learn."
"We lost the game way before that," Rose said. "And I think everybody knows that."
The Bulls trailed at halftime for the fourth straight game, this time by 16, and it's obvious these slow starts are hurting this team.
Chicago had 11 of its 12 turnovers in the first half and hit just three of 20 3-pointers. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau looked furious after the game, giving short, clipped answers.
"We gave them too much of a cushion," Boozer said. "Any time you give up a 14-, 15-, 16-point lead, especially when they're at home, it's tough to come back."
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"At the end of the game, when things got going, it seemed pretty easy," Rose said. "But what we have to do is do at the beginning of the game what we did at the end of the game."
In a momentum-halting play earlier, Boozer got a technical foul late in the third quarter. The Bulls had just cut an 18-point deficit to 57-48 on a Boozer dunk over Roy Hibbert with four-plus minutes left, but Boozer got hit with a technical for jawing at Hibbert after the play. Danny Granger hit the foul shot and then scored on a layup to make it 60-48. The funny part, Hibbert never heard the offending words.
"I don't really know what he said, it was too loud in there," Hibbert said. "Your guess is as good as mine."
When asked about the play, Boozer said, "Which tech? I feel like I get a technical all the time. I wouldn't have given it to myself, but I'm not the referee. That's the game."
Rose's left ankle, not Boozer's ill-advised jumper or technical, not another slow start, was almost the story of the game.
After converting on a layup, Rose landed awkwardly on it late in the first quarter and went to the locker room. But, true to form, he eschewed an X-ray, tied his shoes up tight, and quickly returned to the court, dodging the biggest freakout in Chicago since they enacted Prohibition.
Forget the drama over a 3-1 lead, any injury to Rose and the Bulls might as well forfeit. It's sad, but it's true.
"I just wanted to come back out quick," Rose said. "I didn't want to sit down. They were trying to sit me down. I was just trying to come back and just keep playing. Usually when you twist your ankle as a guard, you can easily go back in there and play. My thing was just keep it moving and hurry back."
He re-entered the game early in the second quarter. Rose got that X-ray after the game, and he said it was just a sprain. He refused to blame his bum ankle on another poor shooting performance.
"No excuses, playoffs," he said. "I've sprained my ankle a million times. I just wasn't able to hit shots."
That's true. For the second straight game, Rose had an inefficient night offensively.
Rose scored 15 points but hit just 6-of-22 shots and 1-of-9 3-point shots, missing his last eight. He was noticeably tentative after the injury and took only four free throws all game. He still managed 10 assists, all in the second half, where he picked up three of his four steals, including one that turned into a dunk that made it 84-81 with just less than 40 seconds left.
After the game, Rose limped off the press conference stage. If the Bulls could have closed this one out, he would have gotten some extra rest as Atlanta and Orlando slug out what looks like it will be a long series. After four hard-fought games, Rose, and everyone else, just wants to close the door in this series. No more escape acts, just an easy win.
"I think we're very confident," Rose said. "We just got to ball out, but from the beginning of the game."
The Bulls were bound to run out of magic, and it happened in Saturday's Game 4 loss.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.