Bulls and Rose shooting for Game 5


May 9

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I recall the time he was firing away in that playoff loss to the Boston Celtics, that nine of 30 shooting game in an 11-point loss. There was that 13 of 30 game when his Bulls lost to the Knicks in that playoff game and later in that same playoffs a wild 10-29 night in a win over the Pistons, however.

There was that 11 of 27 game in the first Finals season in the win over the 76ers and then 14 of 31 the next game, and even in the Finals a month later an 11 of 28 effort.

Yes, by now you should have figured out that was Michael Jordan, routinely taking a third or more of the Bulls shots. Why? Because that’s what the team needed.

Going into Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals Tuesday against the Atlanta Hawks back at the United Center, some of the daily playoff microscope has been focused on Derrick Rose and his 12 of 32 shooting in the Bulls’ 100-88 loss in Game 4.

An officials’ erroneous decision and a porous, inept defensive effort down the stretch had much more to do with the loss. But it’s easy to look at the box score and decide Rose isn’t being the ideal teammate. So said many of the post game commentators on the TNT national broadcast.

Too bad that he’s playing like Michael Jordan.

And don’t give me that stuff that Jordan wasn’t a point guard. What, John Paxson was? Jordan made the floor decisions for the Bulls, and he, like Rose, understood when his teammates most needed him.

Just as Rose’s teammates did again Sunday when I thought his shot selection was fine. He had three three point attempts all game, so he hardly was jacking up shots. I thought his teammates, not shooting well with Luol Deng two of 10 on threes the last two games and Kyle Korver zero of five in Game 4, were being run off shots and getting the ball back to Rose late in the shot clock. And Rose had a number of drives deep into the paint where the Hawks were allowed to go up, the so called verticality rule in the NBA now, and despite contact there was no foul call.

I thought Rose played just the right game, and, in the end, the Bulls came up short because they couldn’t stop the Hawks, who scored on six of their lasts seven possessions. The one miss was a point blank dunk.

Rose is the MVP, so he hardly needs a defense on the season. But he probably won at least two of those early games against the Pacers that could have had the Bulls knocked out in the first round. He’s averaging just under 10 points per game in the fourth quarter alone in the playoffs. Only one Bull, Luol Deng at 16.4 per game, is averaging more than 11 points per game.

It would be difficult to make the case Rose has anyone close to a Scottie Pippen at this time to truly take the offensive pressure off him, to have a big game and regular threat.

Deng has been the best, though falling off of late. He has scored at least 20 points in three of the nine playoff games and Joakim Noah has once. No one else has. Against the Hawks, Deng has one 20-point game and no other Bulls has one.

Is that because Rose is refusing to pass?

He is averaging 9.3 assists in the series for a team shooting 42.9 percent and 34 percent on threes. Rose had two assists in the fourth quarter in Game 4 against the Hawks. No other Bull had an assist.

Not to denigrate the contributions around Rose as the Bulls have had this marvelous season with a plethora of contributions and an admirable way of playing from a willing group of players. But the Bulls are getting about 13 points per game from a combination of three shooting guards over 48 minutes. It’s not like there are many places to go where other Bulls players can make a play off the dribble or beat their defender.

The defense sinks constantly and traps Rose mercilessly. They throw double and triple teams on him, quick and then big defenders, zoning the lane when he attacks.

It’s not an easy choice for Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau.

He is careful to balance offense and defense on the floor, so he generally goes with Carlos Boozer and Kyle Korver to finish games. But when they are not scoring, as they were not Sunday late, though Boozer has his best playoff game through the first three quarters, it can compromise the Bulls defense. That forces Rose into more offense than he might want. But he is very good at measuring the game and trying to provide what is needed. Which is the way things were going in Game 4. It was offense needed late since the defense had broken down.

The Hawks lineup change caused some problems, but not only because of the movement to bigger players with Jason Collins and Zaza Pachulia. Moving Josh Smith to small forward put him more in a roaming and playmaking role, this also keeping him away from a lot of bad spotup shooting, and the Bulls had difficulty with an athlete like that breaking out of the backcourt with the ball.

The Bulls, as they successfully did in their Game 3 win in Atlanta, likely will try to do that as well, though with Rose to start the game. The book always says to get up on the Hawks, and Rose pushing the ball to open the game is the best answer for the Bulls.

I didn’t get into it much in my postgame analysis given the issues late in the game. But one of the more effective players for the Bulls was Omer Asik, who had eight rebounds in fewer than 13 minutes. Also, Taj Gibson has been especially energetic. But they are Thibodeau’s defensive guys and generally trying to balance things with Noah on the floor, he’s had to go more with the offensive players.

I’d like to see Asik with Noah on occasion as the twin bigs certainly would make it difficult for the Hawks to have so many inside points, as they did in Game 4 with a 56-40 inside margin.

Yet, I do understand. It’s difficult — and risky and suggesting desperation, perhaps — to go to something you rarely used. And it’s not like you should be making major changes given you still have home court advantage and are on the verge of an unlikely trip to the conference finals doing it the way you have this season. And were tied with four minutes to go on the road with a chance to go up 3-1.

And the way the Bulls have done it this season is relying on Rose, especially down the stretch in games. It’s worked all season. It would be a mistake to do anything else. Shoot, Derrick, shoot. Be like Mike.

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