Derrick Rose (1) needs help from Carlos Boozer (5) and others at the end of games, so that the Miami Heat defense can’t clamp down so hard on him. | Marc Serota~Getty Images
CLOSING IN ON ROSE
Derrick Rose has been a dominant closer all season, earning the Bulls the NBA’s best regular-season record and himself the league’s MVP award. Led by LeBron James, though, the Heat’s defense has shut the door on Rose. He has shot only 2-for-14 in the fourth quarter of the last three games, all losses (including overtime in Game 4).
Updated: October 16, 2011 12:16AM
The pattern has emerged. And it’s not encouraging for the Bulls.
Three times, they have taken the Miami Heat to the final minutes. And three times, they have come up short.
But the Bulls, down 3-1 in the Eastern Conference finals, are sticking together and vowing to reverse the trend at the United Center tonight.
‘‘We have a group of guys that are going to keep on fighting,’’ forward Luol Deng said after practice Wednesday at the Berto Center. ‘‘There’s no quit in us. It’s going to come down to the end of the game again. You’re going to get knocked down. You have to keep on fighting. At the end, it’s who’s still standing. You could make a case that we’re on our way down. But we’re not laying down yet.’’
The biggest problem is that the Heat has clamped down on Derrick Rose at the end of games. And unlike the Heat, which can turn to Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh if the Bulls load up on LeBron James, the Bulls haven’t shown a second option, let alone a third, at crunch time.
Rose has gone 2-for-14 in the fourth quarter and overtime of the Bulls’ first three-game losing streak this season. James has spearheaded the late defense on Rose, who’s having trouble driving to the basket through all that attention.
After guard Ronnie Brewer drew a charging foul from James, Rose opted for a 17-foot jumper as time ran out in regulation of Game 4 Tuesday night. It wouldn’t fall. That sent the game into overtime, where the Bulls fell 101-93.
‘‘That’s his shot,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. ‘‘If he sees an opening where he can drive, we want him to drive. But if he wants to pull up, he’s made that shot all year. If it goes in, we’re all praising him. If it doesn’t, everyone wants to criticize him.
‘‘But that goes with the territory. The thing I love is he has the courage to take and the ability to make. And so, I trust him.’’
That trust is well-placed. Who else should be taking the last shot for the Bulls? But the lack of a second option has allowed James and the Heat to lock down on Rose.
And the Bulls’ 6-3, 190-pound point guard acknowledged that the 6-8, 250-pound James is a formidable obstacle.
‘‘It’s hard where a guy, he’s running at top speed, he can easily catch up with you,’’ Rose said after Game 4. ‘‘I was trying to hit my teammates at first, get easy baskets. . . . [Then] I tried to take things myself, go to the hole and just try to get fouled. But it’s extremely hard when a 6-8 guy can easily defend you.’’
If James is getting into Rose’s head, it wouldn’t be surprising. But Rose is the player who got the Bulls this far. And Thibodeau expects his star to be ready to give it another try — with a more favorable result — at the end of Game 5.
‘‘That’s what he’s done all year,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘This isn’t something new he’s dealing with.
‘‘He knows what he has to do. He’s going to be fine.’’
If anyone can bounce back, it’s Rose. But it’s a daunting task because Miami also has put Wade and others on him — different looks, fresh bodies, you name it. And the Bulls haven’t found a way to ease the burden on their best player.
‘‘We have great respect for what [Rose] is capable of,’’ Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. ‘‘That speed and explosiveness and his ability to get into the smallest creases of your defense and break it down, it really makes it tough.
‘‘What we’ve tried to do is get bodies in front of him and protect the paint.
‘‘It’s a lot easier said than done. Ultimately, we want to try to put different guys on him, different looks. Great players require that.’’
For all the hoopla about Miami’s offensive potential when the James gang banded together this season, it’s the Heat’s defense that has the Bulls on the brink of elimination.