By his own admission, Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose failed to make the big plays in the fourth quarter of Sunday afternoon's 97-93 loss to his team's arch rival Miami Heat when he missed two crucial free throws and then left a 14-foot floater short late in the fourth quarter. In his mind, those two sequences cost his team a victory despite the fact that they were without both Luol Deng (thigh, wrist) and C.J. Watson (wrist). After the game, Rose shouldered all of the blame for the defeat and vowed he would not come up short in critical situations like that in the future.
Before the reigning NBA MVP and the Bulls dismantled the Washington Wizards 98-88 on Monday night in the second game of a season-long, nine-game road trip, a disgusted, confident Rose echoed his statements from the night before. This time, though, he felt that he not only let down his teammates and coaching staff, but also the entire city of Chicago, his hometown, which he obviously holds dear to his heart.
"If anything, I'm just hurt for, not only me, but the city of Chicago. Knowing that how big that game was, not only to me and the organization, but to the city and our fans all over," Rose told reporters. "That's a rivalry there. You had your best player up there [with] the opportunity to take the lead. And I didn't come through. The only thing I can do is hope [my teammates] stick with me, and I promise I won't let them down again.
"I know if I get in that position again, which I am, that it'll be a different outcome."
Of course, Rose and the Bulls would never find themselves in that position again if they could have things go exactly the way they have planned on a nightly basis. Case in point on Monday, the 6-foot-3 star had his third straight game of 30 or more points, dropping 35 to go along with eight assists, three blocks and two steals in almost 41 minutes. The Bulls led all night and by as many as 22 points.
Yes, the Wizards made a brief run in the fourth quarter, cutting Chicago's lead to eight with just under seven minutes to play. But given the way Rose was rolling, the lowly home team had almost no chance of truly getting back into the game.
On Sunday, Rose was not able to find his groove early against the Heat, as he picked up two fouls that occurred under five minutes into the game. However, after declaring beforehand that he would "go crazy" against the Wizards, the two-time All-Star came out of the gates with a vengeance and racked up 13 points and three assists in the first quarter, after which the Bulls held a 10-point lead they would never relinquish. Similar to the tilt against Miami, Rose feasted in the paint, where he made 5-of-7 shots (including floaters). And following a 12-for-14 performance from the free throw line Sunday, he made 14-of-15 versus the Wizards.
"When I woke up this morning, [Sunday's] game was out of my mind," Rose told the assembled media after the game. "I just wanted to come out here, play aggressive."
If Bulls fans had any fears about the way their franchise cornerstone would perform on Monday after a tough loss in Sunday's rematch of the Eastern Conference finals, Rose erased them all in the opening frame, when he had three acrobatic finishes that dazzled the Verizon Center crowd, which even showered him with MVP chants near the end.
As usual, he made a proclamation and lived up to it. The Bulls knew how important the first stanza was for them, because they were playing on the second night of a back-to-back set and had fallen in heartbreaking fashion to a Heat squad they wanted badly to beat. Once again, their leader helped them get on track from the outset and never look back.
"He set the tone," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "He's been doing that. I think he's feeling a lot better. When he comes out [like that], it's his will. He imposes his will on everybody. He made us very aggressive. I thought, as a team, everybody did a good job of being ready to play, which I thought would be critical for this game. Playing from a lead was so important for us because we had to withstand that rush at the end. Because we had that cushion, it allowed us to take the hit and still be able to finish the game and win."
Added Carlos Boozer: "We had talked before the game [about] everybody getting ready, not having a let down from being disappointed from [Sunday's] loss and get ready for tonight. And I thought we did a great job of starting out the game. We got out to a great cushion. We had a 20-point lead and that gave us an opportunity to withstand their run."
While Rose was more than willing to take the fall, the heat, for Sunday's game, he simply did not receive much help from his teammates, especially when it mattered most. Aside from Rose, no Bull scored more than 11 points in an offensive effort that included a scoring drought for nearly four minutes in the fourth quarter. However, the Bulls' supporting cast stepped up against Washington, and two players in particular made big impacts in crunch time: Joakim Noah and Boozer.
The much-maligned front-court duo combined for 32 points, 21 rebounds and eight assists -- seven of which by Noah. With the Wizards trapping Rose in both the full- and half-court offense throughout the game, either when he dribbled the ball up the court or came off pick-and-roll sets, Thibodeau had faith in Noah to be the facilitator, which the 6-foot-11 center has done in the past and seems comfortable in that role thanks to his more than capable passing ability.
He dished out four dimes in the fourth quarter alone, finding Boozer for three layups during the Bulls' 8-2 run to take a 94-80 lead with just under three minutes left. Noah ended up with 14 points and 13 rebounds while shooting 5-for-6 from the field and knocking down all four of his foul shots. Although he got off to a slow start this season, he's now averaging 8.5 points and 9.3 boards in 22 games.
"At the end of the game, they put two on D. Rose because he was out of control, to say the least," Boozer explained. "And Joakim made great plays, he's a great playmaker. They doubled D. Rose, we got the ball to Joakim and let him do his thing ... and we just played off Joakim at that point."
Fortunately for the Bulls, Noah has appeared to have found his way on both ends of the court and has now strung together seven games in a row in which he has looked like the player who put up double-doubles on a consistent basis early last campaign.
"Joakim did a good job making plays in the fourth quarter," Thibodeau said. "The value of Jo is: Some teams try to early blitz Derrick on the high pick-and-roll, and Jo's very good in the middle of the floor with his decision-making, his ability to put it down and create easy offense for us."
On this night, Kyle Korver, starting in place of an injured Rip Hamilton, was one of Rose's favorite targets. The veteran sharpshooter poured in 17 points, 11 of which in the second, and made five three-pointers in nearly 45 minutes of action. Rose has raved about and trusted in Korver's shooting ability a lot over the past couple years, and Heat forward LeBron James called Korver "the best shooter in the gym" after Sunday's game.
Korver has been streaky with his three-point shot this year, but everyone knows he can light it up with the best of shooters when he gets in rhythm. He was in one for most of Monday night and Rose looked for him plenty of times in transition.
"He was great," Thibodeau said of Korver. "He was great ... I thought he battled. I thought his defense was excellent. And hitting threes, that's huge. It spreads the floor. The three-point shot for Derrick is critical. It opens up the floor."
The Bulls didn't need Rose to be a fourth-quarter hero against the Wizards, but they certainly will down the line -- and he knows and is prepared for it. The 23-year-old holds himself to high standards and for him, Sunday's late-game showing was both shocking and unacceptable. But he responded exactly the way he declared he would.
"I think of my legacy," he told reporters before the game. "I want people to think of me as being a clutch player. Someone that that always comes through the majority of the time when they're on the court. [Sunday] it hurt me a little bit, but I know it will help me in the long run."