- Melissa Isaacson, Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
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MIAMI -- If there was ever a point when it appeared Derrick Rose was enjoying a charmed postseason to cap off his MVP season, the Chicago Bulls' current situation has put a hold on such thoughts.
The Bulls' 2-1 deficit in the Eastern Conference finals feels just a little deeper after Rose's second subpar performance, a game in which the Bulls' floor leader actually seemed not to pose much of a threat in Miami's 96-85 victory Sunday night.
The most glaring statistic: Rose had no assists in the first half, only the 11th time in his career that has happened. Second-most glaring: Rose attempted only two shots in a two-point fourth quarter.
"It's definitely frustrating," said Rose, who finished with 20 points on 8-of-19 shooting, 1-of-3 from 3-point range and just 3-of-3 from the foul line. "Our will wasn't there tonight."
It's tough to say that this night reflected the cumulative effect of a season in which Rose was asked to cover for the absence of two Bulls starters and carry the team offensively. But he sure looks like he's wearing down under the strain of a team that has presented the most imposing defensive challenge to the Bulls this postseason.
While the Pacers may have bounced Rose around on his way to the basket, the Heat have, more often than not, been able to clog the middle completely due to the lack of a consistent outside threat by the Bulls.
"We have to make some jump shots," Bulls guard C.J. Watson said.
Starting guard Keith Bogans had just one 3-pointer to account for his scoring Sunday night, the same output as season-long outside threat Kyle Korver, who attempted only two shots. Reserve guard Ronnie Brewer was 2-of-6. And as a team, the Bulls were 5-of-12 from 3-point range.
"We're really trying to attack," Korver said, "but it's really clogged up in there so we have to make some adjustments to get them a little more spread out. If we miss a shot and LeBron [James] or Dwyane Wade get the rebound, it's basically like a turnover because they just get it and go on the fast break."
The Bulls actually outscored the Heat on the fast break with a 16-10 advantage. But the Heat shot 51 percent to the Bulls' 42 percent for the night, reflecting a fundamental shift in defensive dominance by Miami that began in Game 2.
"We're loading in on one side and going for steals," Rose said. "We've just got to find a way to get easier baskets."
Even with Carlos Boozer turning in his second strong offensive showing of the series with 26 points and 17 rebounds, the Bulls simply could not generate enough of an offensive threat to keep the defense honest.
"It's hard to get the ball into D-Rose's hands if we're taking the ball out of the net [on defense]," Boozer said. "So we've got to get stops, then we get it to him and we just run. Do a better job on defense, get more rebounds and then we can get back and play a little bit faster."
Like the Bulls as a whole, Rose had his moments. There just weren't enough of them to generate any momentum.
After a 4-of-12 shooting first half, Rose came out strong in the second half, scoring on a running 5-footer off the middle, triggered by a Boozer rebound off a rare miss by Chris Bosh on the other end. Rose followed with a 3-pointer to tie the game at 47 and scored again on a runner a minute later to give the Bulls their first lead since 5:43 remained in the first quarter.
But one of the greatest closers in the game (Rose's fourth-quarter heroics accounted for 22 Bulls victories during the regular season) was held to two points, attempting just two shots with three assists. Perhaps more damaging, though, were his two fourth-quarter turnovers -- one on a charge drawn by Wade and another on a bad pass picked off by James, which led to a fast-break bucket by James to extend the Heat lead to 12 points with 5:07 remaining.
"Definitely, definitely, that definitely hurt," Rose said of the offensive foul. "I was passing it to Luol [Deng] and D-Wade stepped in front. You can't get charges, not right now, and especially not toward the end of the game."
Rose continues to draw double-teams on the perimeter and on the pick-and-roll as he has throughout the playoffs, but that's clearly not the Bulls' biggest problem.
"I'm just trying to make it easy just get the ball out of my hands and try to let my teammates create for others," he said. "That's what I'm going to continue to try to do."
Without a consistent secondary threat, however, the Bulls' hopes of coming back against a team that has yet to lose at home this postseason appears to be dwindling.
"We have to make smarter decisions," said Taj Gibson, who finished with 11 points. "We had a lot of looks to the basket even when they double-teamed [Rose]. We just have to be able to finish, be stronger and have patience."
Rose pinned it on the defense.
"We let them shoot 50 percent in the playoffs. And we call ourselves a defensive team," he said. "That's definitely not going to work against a team like that."
If only it were that easy.
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.
Easy baskets have been few and far between for Derrick Rose.