- Melissa Isaacson, Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- If Chicago Bulls fans were chanting "M-V-P" on this night, the Atlanta Hawks didn't hear it. And as news leaked out that Derrick Rose had, indeed, won the award, the timing was unfortunate.
But with his left ankle apparently reinjured in the final two seconds of his team's 103-95 loss in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Monday night at the United Center, Rose didn't look like he felt anything but the ache of a painful loss.
Rose stepped awkwardly on Hawks guard Jamal Crawford's foot and turned his ankle at the close of the game. And before undergoing X-rays on the same ankle he sprained in Game 4 of the Bulls' first-round series against Indiana, Rose stood before a group of reporters, dressed in his street clothes and wearing both Givenchy tennis shoes, and insisted he was fine.
"I'm good, I'll get treatment, there are no excuses right now," said Rose, who officially is listed as day-to-day with a sprained ankle. "You've got to play through injuries. Everybody probably has injuries right now, [especially] through the playoffs, but they're fighting through it.
"The game was kind of crazy, but I should be all right."
His team should be so lucky.
Starting the game in a nine-point hole and failing to score its first field goal until a driving jumper by Luol Deng made it 11-2, five minutes and 15 seconds into the first quarter, the Bulls lacked energy both offensively and defensively. And for once, Rose was unable to rescue them.
Rose was 0-for-7 in the first quarter and 2-for-10 at halftime, including 1-of-4 from 3-point range. And while he found his teammates with 10 assists on the night and rallied a bit offensively in the fourth on 5-of-9 shooting to finish with a team-high 24 points, this was not a typical Rose performance.
So let down by his starting unit early was Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, that he actually sat Rose for more than half of the second quarter.
"Coach always says play with an edge. It wasn't there tonight," said Rose, characteristically tougher on himself than anyone else could be. "We've just got to look at film and go over some things and try to be sharp."
The prevailing thought going into the game was that with former teammate and Hawks floor leader Kirk Hinrich sidelined indefinitely with a hamstring injury, Rose would have a big night against Hinrich's inexperienced replacement, Jeff Teague.
But Teague, with some help from the 6-foot-5 Crawford, more than held his own on both ends of the court.
"He was phenomenal and played like a seasoned vet," Atlanta coach Larry Drew said of Teague, who finished with 10 points and five assists. "With his aggressiveness and attack state and ability to get into the paint, he played like a kid who has played a lot of minutes for me [rather than 13.8 minutes per game during the regular season]. He stepped up big under pressure, in the playoffs and playing against the MVP of the league.
"As soon as he stepped into the locker room, I gave him the game ball."
The the Bulls shot only 16 free throws on the night (the Hawks shot 20) and Rose did not go to the line once. That was as shocking to Rose as it was to those who watched him average 12 trips per game in the first round, 52-of-60 in five games combined.
Asked if he could remember the last time he failed to shoot a free throw in a game, Rose responded, "Probably my rookie year or something like that."
In fact, it has happened four times this season alone, the Bulls' going 3-1 in those games. But it is certainly not something Rose or the Bulls want to repeat, and not something Thibodeau is treating lightly.
"It was huge," Thibodeau said. "We have to take a look at that. I thought there were situations in which we settled. We have to attack more, sustain our spacing, go to our second and third options and keep the ball moving."
If Rose was still bothered by the ankle Monday, we will likely never know. But whether he will be able to drive to the basket aggressively, as he will need to do in Game 2 on Wednesday, has to be a real concern for the Bulls as they proceed without the home-court advantage.
"I think our approach to the game has to be different," Rose said. "People are going to have to be prepared. [Atlanta] came out and shot [51 percent], and we have to get to them little bit more. ... We have to come with the approach that we want to win the game, play more aggressive. Our intensity has to be up and we should be OK."
As the team readied to announce Tuesday that Rose has been named the NBA's Most Valuable Player, Rose -- you can be sure -- is not much interested right now. The last time the Bulls lost to the Hawks -- an 83-80 defeat in Atlanta on March 2 -- they responded nine days later with an 18-point victory over Atlanta during which Rose scored 34 points; and 11 days later in Atlanta with a 36-point win behind Rose's 30 points.
But if Monday night was another proverbial wake-up call, Rose is not naive enough to think that's enough.
"I just hope we don't wake up too late, " he said.
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.
1dMatt Walks, ESPN.com