Lower the volume -- of criticism
Fans shouldn't worry about Derrick Rose's shot total, just his teammates' production
DEERFIELD, Ill. -- Playoff losses are toxic. Ask any team who has ever had one. Ask any NBA champion. If every postseason victory turns a team into the '65 Boston Celtics, then each loss exposes fatal flaws, uncovers horrifying vulnerabilities and reveals the obvious, undeniable truth about why these guys could not possibly win the title.
Until they win again.
Hey, it's what we do. It was even worse when they still played best-of-five series. But each game is still momentous. A loss in Game 1 sets an ominous tone. Any loss at home is disastrous. And a loss when your superstar has a less-than-stellar game and no one picks up the slack? Well, it can only mean that your hopelessly one-dimensional team has no chance of going all the way.
Such is the debate with the Chicago Bulls today after Derrick Rose apparently had a terribly disappointing 34 points and 10 assists in his team's 100-88 loss to the Atlanta Hawks in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. Do the Bulls need more balanced scoring than they received on Sunday? Of course. If Kyle Korver (1-of-8 on Sunday, including 0-for-5 from 3-point range) doesn't hit a least three or four open 3-pointers, and his defense continues to be porous, his contribution is severely limited.
Then there's Luol Deng, who was 3-of-7 for seven points, one assist and four rebounds in Sunday's first quarter, and a combined 2-of-7 for six points, three rebounds and one assist in the final three. For the night, he was 2-of-2 from the foul line.
But then, Deng was a similarly idle 3-of-10 for seven points, six rebounds in Game 3 on Friday and the Bulls won by 17.
Of course, Rose scored 44 points that night, and his performance was deemed magical and not "selfish" as one noted analyst analyzed Sunday. Interestingly, Rose, with 27 shots Friday, attempted just five more on Sunday.
The same analyst -- and unimaginative bloggers Monday -- compared Rose to Russell Westbrook, whose team features Kevin Durant and is currently trailing in its conference semifinal 2-1. One genius said the playoffs have been "difficult to watch" with "chuckers" like Rose and Westbrook at point guard.
Rose was accused of ignoring the red-hot Korver and Deng.
Actually, that's what Rose needed in Game 4. But selfish? Rose? The same guy once criticized for not taking over in critical situations? The same player who in this postseason was held accountable for not driving to the hoop enough? If you don't want the league's most valuable player taking over in the critical stages of a game when you clearly need him, who exactly is going to do it?
"Those are the shots that presented themselves," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "Most of them were very good shots. Some were at the end of the shot clock that he had to take and I thought he had pretty good penetration."
Rose faced more trapping in Game 4 than he had before in this series, but Taj Gibson said there's no reason to question their leader's decision-making now. "We're not going to change anything," Gibson said.
Clearly, what Rose did not do Sunday that he has done so many times in the past, was win the game. He had three turnovers late -- one of which could hardly be blamed on him when the official admitted his no-foul/inadvertent whistle was a mistake.
Is 32 shots a little high for anyone? On most occasions, yes. But not when the team's 3-point specialist is stone cold, and the second-best offensive player on the team doesn't look like he wants the ball, much less wants to shoot it.
"It's definitely not a good number," Rose said. "I was just missing shots. Looking at film, I missed a ton of lay-ups, lay-ups I don't normally miss. And I wasn't taking a whole bunch of crazy shots or a whole bunch of jump shots.
"So my confidence is still high. My teammates, they still trust in me. And I have confidence to take those shots, so I'm going to continue to."
The Bulls did not lose Game 4 because they didn't have balanced scoring. They lost because their defense looked like it took a break to peruse the concession stand late in the fourth quarter and never came back.
The Bulls allowed the Hawks to shoot 49.4 percent for the game and score 100 points. The Bulls allowed an opponent to score 100 points or more just 17 times all season and were 5-12 in those games.
If that wasn't bad enough, during the Hawks' 16-4 run in the final four and a half minutes of the game, the first 10 points came off three layups and a dunk.
When Thibodeau was asked by a TNT reporter during a timeout about his concerns on offense, he talked about only his team's defense. Defensive rotations anyone?
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"When you defend and rebound, it puts you in the open floor, which allows you to play with pace and get easy scores. So that's something we have to do," Thibodeau said. "At 84-84, they had a run to close the game where we didn't. We have to drive the ball with more force, post with more force, try to get to the line."
In other words, Rose has to drive with more force and get to the line more. And if there's a rally to be staged or a game-winning shot to be made, guess who will do that too.
Gibson said the Bulls are under "pressure" to win Game 5 at the United Center.
"Not at all," he said. "If anything, all of us are anxious right now because I think we know we can be so much better."
It's the attitude of a guy you want to take 32 shots.
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.