Most of the time, it has been Carlos Boozer in foul trouble or just shooting badly that brings Taj Gibson into the game and jazzes up the Bulls’ attack.
In Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, however, it was Gibson in foul trouble early in the second quarter that brought Boozer back into the game, more out of desperation, it seemed, after his 0-for-5 shooting in the first quarter.
But look at that: Boozer hit four shots in a row. Inside and outside. With confidence and determination.
Boozer was nearly matching a scorching Chris Bosh, scoring nine of the Bulls last 21 points of the half. Remarkably, Boozer was turning a bad offensive start into a good game, something he rarely has been able to do, especially in the playoffs.
What’s more, Boozer was even better in the third quarter, pouring in 12 points and hitting 8 of 11 shots at one point. He would finish with 26 points and 17 rebounds, and while his defensive rotations led to some easy Miami baskets, Boozer at least gave his star a chance to do something good later.
If only the star we we’re talking about was Chris Bosh. Or LeBron James. Or Dwyane Wade.
Because Derrick Rose was not that guy Sunday.
Rose gave the Bulls 20 points, but he shot only 8 for 19 and managed only five assists, fewer than Joakim Noah.
When it mattered, Rose didn’t. He had two points in the fourth quarter, taking only two shots. He also had two assists and a steal, but committed two turnovers and two fouls.
The Heat double-teamed Rose everytime the Bulls went to the pick-and-roll. Most of the time, Rose tried to beat it with a pass, meaning the Heat accomplished their plan of getting the ball out of hands. Not enough good stuff happened after that.
It would be nice if he had more help, and it’s a lot to lay on a kid, but this is the NBA’s MVP we’re talking about. He has to own each game, or at least the fourth quarter. The Bulls have little chance otherwise. Obvious, yeah. But true. It’s not that complex. Your best players have to be your best players.
And Miami’s best players were just that. James scored 10 points in the fourth quarter on his way to 22 points, 10 assists and 6 rebounds. Chris Bosh also had 10 in the fourth quarter on his way to an unconscious 34. Wade finished with 17, and combined with James for seven points in Miami’s decisive 9-0 run in the middle of the final period.
The Bulls allowed the Heat to shoot 51 percent, a long way from their league-best 43 percent. The Heat vowed to move the ball better after Game 1 and they have. That has put greater pressure on the Bulls’ defensive rotations, but they have recovered slowly or not at all.
They also didn’t respond physically to Bosh’s big game. He made some tough shots, but nobody challenged him with the body at the rim. It might be time to dust off Kurt Thomas.
But the bigger problem is, Miami has closed the last two games. Whatever the Bulls’ defensive problems, they still also have to score. That starts with Rose.
Before Game 3, Rose declared he would be more aggressive immediately. He started 2 for 8. Before the must-win Game 4, maybe Rose will declare he would be better immediately.