The NBA’s Most Valuable Player attempted two shots in the fourth quarter Sunday.
Let that marinate: Two shots for Bulls guard Derrick Rose in 12 minutes of one of the most important games of his young career.
In back-to-back games, the Heat’s defense has dominated Rose and his Bulls in a close final period in the Eastern Conference finals. Rose attempted four shots in the fourth quarter of Game 2 and made none. It might be the difference in the series. Sunday’s loss gave Chicago its first consecutive defeats since early February.
Rose built his MVP résumé this season on strong efforts in the fourth quarters of games. More specifically, his fourth quarters against the Heat during the regular season helped him win the award. What has been the key to containing the youngest MVP in league history?
“I don’t know,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Monday, a practice day for the Heat and an off day for the Bulls. “It’s a whole lot easier said than done.”
Spoelstra played coy Monday for obvious reasons. With a 2-1 advantage in the best-of-7 series, the Heat can take a commanding lead Tuesday with a win at AmericanAirlines Arena.
“He’s a great player,” Spoelstra said. “He’s an MVP player. [Rose] will have opportunities on every single possession.”
But he has not. Chicago’s Rose is wilting. Forward LeBron James, the MVP the two seasons before Rose won the award, said Monday that the Heat is playing its best defense of the season. That defense begins with stopping Rose, and the game plan for limiting him will remain the same Tuesday.
‘head of the snake’
“He’s the head of the snake,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. “We understand as he [goes], they go. If we can slow him a little bit then that’s what we want to do.”
The Heat has used a mixture of double teams and traps to contain Rose on the perimeter. When he penetrates the lane, the Heat’s help defenders have been quick to close off angles to the rim and force difficult shots.
“We’re just trying to keep him out of the paint,” Heat reserve Mario Chalmers said.
For much of Sunday’s game, guards Chalmers and Mike Bibby served as the Heat’s first line of defense against Rose. In the fourth quarter, the Heat went with Wade and James as on-the-ball defenders and limited Rose to just one shot in the paint.
“We just have to keep bodies in front of him and be athletic,” Spoelstra said.
Said Wade: “Our only job is to make sure when he comes to the basket to make it tough on him. We’re just trying to put bodies in front of him.”
Wade added that the Heat has used different defenders against Rose in an attempt to “wear him down” for late-game scenarios. It has worked. Rose was 1 of 6 from the field in the fourth quarters of Games 2 and 3. On Monday, Chris Bosh called Wade the perfect one-on-one defender against Rose for late-game scenarios.
“Dwyane can gap him a little bit more and give him a little more space because he can time his jumper a little better — because Dwyane’s bigger and he’s just as quick and just as fast as [Rose] is,” Bosh said. “When Dwyane is motivated to stop somebody, he does a pretty good job.”
He’s on his own
Rose didn’t receive much help offensively late in the previous two games of the series. Chicago reserve forward Taj Gibson (17 points) has outscored the rest of the Bulls combined (13 points) in the fourth quarters of the Heat’s back-to-back wins. In that fact, Wade said he and James can relate to Rose and his plight.
“That’s the reason why we’re playing together,” Wade said. “After so many years of that, you want to do something else.”