- Chris Broussard, NBA analyst
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CHICAGO -- It sounded like a cute little chant from the hometown crowd, a nice, albeit wildly exaggerated, salute to a local kid who made it. Then again, maybe it was prophetic.
Derrick Rose, the Chicago Bulls' second-year point guard, has been that good.
Continuing to lay waste to one of the league's best defensive units, Rose led the never-say-die Bulls to a wild 108-106 victory over the top-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday night at the United Center.
The Chicago native was so dominant that at one point in the third quarter the sellout crowd of 22,991 sang in unison, "M-V-P, M-V-P,'' even though the true MVP, LeBron James, was in the building.
"Don't listen to them,'' Rose said sheepishly. "Just don't listen. I almost passed out. Hopefully one day, but not this year. I'm just trying to win games right now.''
In a spectacular performance that, in a nod to how strong he's played, was only slightly better than his two previous games, Rose scored a team-high 31 points while giving out seven assists and committing zero turnovers.
"D-Rose was huge for us,'' said Joakim Noah, who had 10 points, a game-high 15 rebounds, five assists and two blocks. "His floaters were huge. They better find a way to get the ball out of his hands because he's doing his thing.''
The Bulls trail Cleveland 2-1 heading into Sunday's Game 4, and they needed every bit of Rose's brilliance to outlast James, who did everything but tape his teammates' ankles in leading a late charge that chopped a 21-point third-quarter deficit to two with four minutes to play.
James, who had 39 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists and three blocks, even guarded Rose down the stretch. After watching the Bulls' point guard make two jump shots and a one-handed floater in a span of two minutes, James told coach Mike Brown that he would cover Rose for the game's final four minutes.
Some would call that the ultimate compliment; others would call it scary. Rose?
He thought it was a blast.
"It surprised me a little bit, but it was fun,'' he said. "I was feeling good that the best player in the NBA was sticking me. So why not take a shot at him?''
One of the league's top defenders, the 6-foot-8 James immediately made it difficult for Rose, leaping to contest a 19-footer that missed the mark. James then fed Antawn Jamison for a layup that cut the Bulls' lead to two. But less than a minute later, the fearless Rose went at James again, sinking another of his one-handed floaters. On the next possession, Rose put in a fadeaway from 13 feet over James' outstretched arm.
"I just tried to get him off balance,'' Rose said. "Usually, my speed really gets people off balance.''
Rose's speed is blinding, and the Cavs' Mo Williams, while quick, is at his mercy. Cleveland tried to trap Rose to lessen the damage but he handled the double-teams deftly, often finding Kirk Hinrich for wide-open J's. Hinrich, who totaled just 13 points in the first two games, made amends in a big way Thursday, nailing all four of his 3-point attempts in scoring 27 points.
When Rose wasn't trapped, he got into the lane at will or sank midrange jumpers on his way to 20 points through the first three quarters, giving the Bulls a 79-68 advantage heading into the fourth.
That's when James went berserk, moving to point guard and posting 13 points and five assists in the final quarter alone. But Rose was nearly his equal, scoring 11 points and notching two dimes in the fourth. With Hinrich contributing nine fourth-quarter points, the Bulls were able to hold off James' charge.
For the series, Rose has been nothing but a headache for the Cavs, averaging 27.3 points and 8.3 assists.
While James, who forced Rose to shoot an airball in the final minute, was the Cavs' most effective defender against Rose, he said he doesn't expect to cover him much in Game 4.
"He does a lot of ballhandling, so as a team, we don't want to put me on him for a long period of time,'' James said. "But in a game like this, I felt like we had an opportunity to win and he was playing particularly well, so I wanted to match up on him. He's a tremendous player. But we'll see as the series goes on if I do move onto him a lot or if I don't.''
And as the years go on, we'll see if Rose indeed presents a challenge to James' stranglehold on the league's MVP award.
4hChris Broussard and Brian Windhorst