From swaggering to staggering
Heat are giving MVP Derrick Rose an education in the hard knocks of late playoff series
MIAMI -- This will be the game Derrick Rose sees in his sleep and in the gym this summer and every time he's looking for a little extra motivation.
For a while there, as Rose was committing his seventh turnover and Dwyane Wade scored a layup on the other end and the Miami Heat's giveaway towels came raining down in American Airlines Arena with time running out in overtime Tuesday, you wondered how Rose would take it, how he and his team would respond.
In the short-term, it gave the Heat a six-point lead with 1:01 remaining, prompted James to rub Wade's head in celebration and did nothing to enhance the Chicago Bulls' chances in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals.
Beyond that, we won't know for sure until Game 5 on Thursday. Or perhaps not until next season or the season after that. We may never know exactly when Rose will reach down and retrieve this nightmarish night for his own purposes.
But you suspect he will.
"Tonight definitely it was on me," Rose said after Miami's 101-93 victory in overtime brought the Heat to within one win of the NBA Finals. "I had two opportunities to end the game and I couldn't do it. Too many turnovers. Really, it was my fault but I'm going to learn from it."
Like the game itself, which had 14 lead changes that included an 11-point advantage by the Bulls and a nine-point lead by the Heat (both in the first half), there are a variety of ways to interpret Rose's night.
There were his two straight two-handed jams -- the second a three-point play -- as part of an 18-7 Bulls run to finish a wildly swinging first half with a two-point lead.
There was his crossover dribble at its best and Rose's drive past three defenders with 3:49 left in the third quarter to increase the Bulls' lead to eight. And his 3-pointer with 24.2 seconds left in the third to give the Bulls a five-point edge.
But there was also his 2-of-9 first quarter as the Bulls failed to score for the final 4:22 of the period. And a first half in which he was just 4-of-14 and failed to hit a 3-pointer in five attempts.
And then, with the lead see-sawing in the fourth quarter and Bulls fans looking for Rose to take control, there was the 6-foot-8 James looking to do the very same thing as he imposed his will on the Bulls' 6-3 point guard.
"I take pride defensively," James said. "It doesn't matter who it is, if it's Derrick Rose or Luol [Deng], whatever it takes for myself and our team. And if that means me playing extensive minutes guarding D-Rose, then I'll do it. I don't have a problem with that."
Rose would have to agree.
With the score tied at 85 and eight seconds left in regulation, the Bulls spread the floor as he took the ball on the right side and drove right on James. But instead of trying to go past him, Rose pulled up from 17 feet and let go an off-balance jumper that fell short of the rim.
"We wanted to get the last shot of the game, give him space to get to the spot and he missed," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "But listen, Derrick Rose, I wouldn't want to have any other guy. I'm with that guy all the way. I have great belief in him."
Rose was 1-for-5 in the fourth quarter and 0-for-3 in overtime, finishing 8-of-27 for 23 points in 48 and a half minutes of play. He lost the ball on a drive as the Bulls staggered through consecutive sloppy possessions in the fourth. He had his shot blocked by James as the shot clock expired in overtime. And he fouled James, who flexed his muscles, stared down Joakim Noah and generally dominated with 35 points.
"With a player like that, you just try to keep him out of the paint as best you can," James said. "He was attacking our defense a lot, getting to the free-throw line. The last shot all you could do is contest. There are not too many guys that are going to block his shot on the jump shot. I just tried to make it tough on him."
In the Bulls' past three games, the first time they have lost three straight all season, Rose has shot a combined 2-for-13 in the fourth quarter and overtime. You want the reason the Bulls are not executing down the stretch? Start with the fact that Rose has been thoroughly stifled by the Heat's defense.
"They're not letting Derrick make a play," Noah said. "They're trying to get the ball out of his hands and we have to do a better job with that."
While the Heat shot a torrid 32-of-38 from the foul line, including James' 13-of-13, the Bulls were just 17-of-22, including Rose's 6-of-7. His miss would have given the Bulls the lead with 1:10 left in regulation.
If the Bulls are to survive beyond Game 5 at the United Center, Rose will clearly have to return to a level of play he displayed in Game 1 against the Heat, and a level of dominance we saw consistently before that.
As part of his continuing playoff education, the pressure only mounts from here.
"It makes you play harder, I know that," Rose said. "As a basketball player, I know if you want to be great, you're going to want pressure."
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.