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He's not Jordanesque yet, but Rose sure is unstoppable

by | Special to CBSSports.com
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ATLANTA -- Derrick Rose had a lot less work to do after Friday night's game than one might have thought.

Asked while checking his cell phone if congratulatory messages were pouring in after the Chicago point guard scored a career-best 44 points against Atlanta, Rose said they actually weren't. Rose, you see, got wise after winning the NBA's Most Valuable Player award earlier this week.

"I just changed my number," Rose said. "I looked at my phone one time and it said I had 80 missed calls."

Rose now can focus more on the playoffs than on deleting messages. His big game helped the Bulls to a 99-82 win over the Hawks and a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

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It might be a bit extreme to call Rose's showing Jordanesque. Let's give it a few years. Still, Scottie Pippen, Michael Jordan's sidekick when the Bulls won six titles in the 1990s, sure was impressed by what he saw from Rose.

"I would go so far as saying it's the best game I've ever seen him play," said Pippen, a Hall of Famer and Bulls ambassador. "He's had some great games, but his lack of turnovers [two], his intensity, his leadership, it was all showcased [Friday]."

The fans at Philips Center would agree. Throughout the game, many of them chanted, "M-V-P, M-V-P, M-V-P."

It’s one thing for those chants to be heard on the road during the regular season. But during the second round of the playoffs in what still is a competitive series?

Then again, it's not as if Atlanta has had any MVPs. The team's last one was Bob Pettit, when the franchise was in St. Louis in 1959. One has to go back even longer, to the 1958 champion St. Louis team, to find the last time the Hawks even have won two series in one postseason.

"It's great knowing that we go to an arena, we almost got half the arena for us," Rose said.

Most of them were cheering specifically for Rose. And he didn't let them down.

Rose scored 17 points in the first quarter as the Bulls took a 29-23 lead and never looked back. For the night, Rose shot 16 of 27, including 4 of 7 from 3-point range, handed out seven assists and grabbed five rebounds in a game in which the Bulls led by as many as 22 points.

"Derrick was in an attack mode," said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. "That created easy scoring opportunities for us."

It didn't take Atlanta coach Larry Drew long to realize that. He called a timeout just 49 seconds into the game after Rose grabbed a rebound and went the length of the floor for a layup and a 4-0 lead.

The fifth-seeded Hawks, who had somehow won 103-95 at No. 1 Chicago to open the series, looked as if they were wearing snowshoes. And Drew wasn't happy.

"The first timeout I called 49 seconds into the game, I saw an energy level that right away I knew we were in trouble," Drew said. "When you play against an explosive guard like Derrick Rose you have to make the commitment of getting back and making sure you try to keep him out of the paint."

The Hawks never got the message. They fell behind by as many as 19 points in the first half and were down 56-43 at intermission.

It looked Friday as if the Bulls outfit that went an NBA-best 62-20 during the regular season is finally starting to show up in the postseason. The Bulls had plenty of struggles in a 4-1 first-round win over Indiana. Then they lost that Game 1 to an Atlanta team that had lost 15 straight conference semifinal games.

"The loss at home really stuck with us," said Rose, whose Bulls won 86-73 in Game 2 on Wednesday in Chicago. "We played with more intensity in Game 2 and carried it over."

Rose knew he had to score more on a night where Chicago's other starters managed just 21 points among them. The only other Bull to score more than a dozen points was reserve forward Taj Gibson, although nobody could complain about starting center Joakim Noah's two points since he was busy grabbing 15 rebounds and blocking five shots.

"Just attacking the whole game," said Rose, showing no signs of being bothered by a recent ankle sprain. "That was my whole process, coming in trying to attack, get myself going and get my teammates going."

Rose also got the crowd going. That happened while Hawks forward Josh Smith, a native of the Atlanta area, got booed and guard Joe Johnson, held to 10 points after averaging 25.0 points in the first two games, was a victim of disinterest.

The fans cheered some for Atlanta guard Jeff Teague, who scored 11 of his team-high 21 points in the first quarter. But soon it was mostly roars for Rose.

"Personally, I block it out," Drew said. "I don't know much it affects my players. But I make it a point that we can't allow that to affect us ... It actually should inspire our players to get them even more jacked up. Here we are at home and we're getting chants for the other team."

Rose appreciated the support he got Friday. If any of those fans want to call him, though, Rose has other things to be concerned about during the postseason.

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