Rose rises to occasion, thorn in Pacers' side again

by | Special to CBSSports.com
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CHICAGO -- With rare exceptions, playoff basketball isn't about what happens in the first three quarters, or even the first 3½ quarters. The team able to make more plays down the stretch usually wins.

For the second successive game, that was the Chicago Bulls -- and that has allowed them to take a commanding 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference first-round series despite performing well below peak efficiency for much of the series.

Like in Game 1 over the weekend, the Bulls shrugged off their struggles down the stretch, this time rallying for a 96-90 victory against the Indiana Pacers on Monday night at the United Center after trailing with a little more than five minutes left.

And once again, it was Derrick Rose to the rescue. The 6-3 point guard was the biggest player on the court when it mattered most, pumping in 11 of his game-high 36 points in the final 5:16 to ignite the Bulls' rally.

So far, the only difference in this series is the Bulls have Rose and the Pacers don't.

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"Big play after big play," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said of Rose. "He just kept attacking. He had a lot of pressure on him and made the right plays, right decisions."

Thibodeau was talking about crunch time because, like many of his teammates, Rose was mistake-prone before then. The official box score credited him with six turnovers, but that was the result of some favorable bookkeeping by his hometown stat crew. His true turnover number was closer to 10 than five.

"We're very happy to be [up 2-0], of course, and we won't take anything back, but our play has to be better," Rose said. "We have to be more smooth and more efficient, especially on the defensive end where we have to try harder.

"But I feel like we're gonna get things together pretty quickly."

No matter how close the games are or how fortunate the Bulls might be to win, taking a 2-0 lead in a best-of-7 series is a big deal in the NBA playoffs. In the history of the league, teams going up 2-0 have gone on to win 78.4 percent of the time. Only 14 teams have ever rallied from down 2-0 to win a series.

Despite those facts, much of the postgame news conference centered on how poorly the top-seeded Bulls played. They shot 38.6 percent from the field and committed 21 turnovers, but still managed to win.

Although Thibodeau often is his team's worst critic after a victory, he tried his best to shift the focus from the negative to the positive.

"It's the playoffs; wins are hard to come by," he said. "They're a good team. I want us to play better, I want us to improve, but you have to give them credit also.

"We're not gonna change our approach, so [Tuesday] it's back to improving and focus on the next game. That's it."

The Pacers have been lauded for putting up more fight than No. 8 seeds usually do in the playoffs -- especially Monday when they rallied in the second half despite losing starting point guard Darren Collison to a sprained left ankle in the second quarter -- but they would gladly trade all the accolades for a victory.

"It's disappointing," said Indiana forward Danny Granger, who had a team-high 19 points. "I feel like it's the sequel to the Derrick Rose show. It really just happened all over again.

"We held them to 38 percent shooting. That is usually a winning stat. We turned them over 21 times. That is usually a winning stat. The difference was offensive rebounding, which was created a lot by Derrick Rose getting in the lane."

Granger got an up-close view as he took on the challenge of guarding Rose down the stretch. With Indiana leading 78-76, Rose produced the play of the game to put the Bulls on top for good. He dribbled around Granger and past A.J. Price as he came over to help. Rose then got into the lane and finished over 7-2 center Roy Hibbert as he was fouled.

Rose converted the free throw for a 79-78 lead with 5:16 remaining. That started a run of seven consecutive points as the Bulls took command. After struggling on offense, the Bulls converted on nine of their final 12 possessions.

The Bulls know they must operate with that kind of efficiency to break through on the road, now that the series is shifting to Conseco Fieldhouse for Games 3 and 4.

"We know it's gonna be tough," Rose said. "Coach always says, 'Walk through the fire together.' "

Despite their precarious position, the Pacers have no choice but to hope a change of scenery will lead to a change on the scoreboard.

"We stand toe-to-toe with this team," Indiana coach Frank Vogel said. "I'm proud of our guys. We'll take it back to Indy and see what happens."

The Pacers, no doubt, will be better at home, but Rose believes the challenge of a hostile environment also will bring out the best of the Bulls.

"The only thing we can do is get better," he said. "We played, I think, our worst and we're blessed to get these two wins. But when we get things rolling, we're gonna be tough."

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