Derrick Rose’s night started with a trophy presentation from Commissioner David Stern and ended with those familiar ”MVP! MVP!” chants from the crowd.
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In between, he dominated in spurts. He struggled at times, too.
In the end, all that mattered was this: The Bulls and Hawks are now tied.
Rose scored 25 points, Joakim Noah added 19 points and 14 rebounds, and Chicago beat Atlanta 86-73 in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Wednesday night to knot this series.
The top-seeded Bulls shook off a dismal performance in the opener and looked more like the team with a league-high 62 wins, building a 14-point lead and ending the game on a 9-2 run after the Hawks got within six.
Now, the series shifts to Atlanta for Games 3 and 4 Friday and Sunday, with Chicago at least in better shape after a 103-95 loss in Game 1.
Rose, meanwhile, can focus on the task at hand. The past few days were a blur for the Chicago product, with the news about his MVP breaking, the formal announcement on Tuesday and the presentation with Stern before the opening tip.
”I’m just happy that it’s over now, and we can just ball out,” Rose said.
The superstar point guard showed just why he became the youngest player to win the award – at least in the first half, when he scored 16 points.
He went cold after that and wound up hitting just 10 of 27 shots, going 1 of 8 on 3-pointers. He did convert 4 of 6 free throws after failing to get to the line in the opener, and he insisted the left ankle he sprained in the opening round against Indiana and twisted at the end of Game 1 in this series is fine.
At times, he seemed more aggressive, but the shots stopped falling.
”Shots I normally hit, they just didn’t fall tonight,” Rose said. ”The way that they’re playing me, I’m going to continue to shoot.”
The Hawks are sagging off him, daring him to hit from the outside.
To that, Rose said, ”Things are going to change.”
Noah helped pick up the slack. So did Luol Deng, who scored all but two of his 14 points in the second half and grabbed 12 rebounds in the game.
Carlos Boozer, bothered by a turf toe injury on his right foot, had eight points and 11 boards and heard it from the home crowd – something that didn’t sit well with Noah.
”Sometimes our home crowd, it’s a tough place to play,” he said. ”We have a lot of love for our crowd, but through tough times, we got to stick together.”
Noah remembers being booed as a rookie, and ”it’s tough.” Boozer, meanwhile, hasn’t been the same since he missed five games with a sprained left ankle.
”With Carlos, I think people have to understand he’s playing through an injury right now, and he’s giving us what he’s got,” Noah said. ”He’s somebody who has an unbelievable presence and he opens up a lot of things for a lot of us. I think that sometimes people are quick to bash one player, but this is a team. And we know that we need Carlos to get to where we want to go. I think Taj (Gibson) does an excellent job, but we need everybody.”
The Bulls won even though they shot just over 39 percent and were 5 of 22 on 3-pointers, because they dominated on the glass and locked down Atlanta.
The Bulls outrebounded the Hawks 58-39 after getting beaten on the boards 38-37 in Game 1 and held them to 33.8 percent shooting, after they converted just over 51 percent in the opener.
”They came out and applied pressure,” said Atlanta’s Jeff Teague, who scored 21 points without a turnover. ”They got up into us. They made every catch we got tough. They came on Joe (Johnson), double-teamed him a lot. Kind of frustrated us as a team, because he got it going the first game.”
While Teague came through with another good game filling in for the injured Kirk Hinrich, Johnson and Jamal Crawford struggled after coming up big in the opener.
Johnson saw his scoring dip from 34 points to 16. Crawford finished with just 11 after scoring 22 in Game 1, and the Hawks simply couldn’t sustain any momentum.
”This one hurt,” Johnson said. ”This was definitely a game I thought that we could have won and go home up 2-0.”
The Bulls led by as much as 14 and finally put away the Hawks in the closing minutes. With a 77-71 lead, Deng scored on a layup with just under four minutes left to start the game-ending run and Chicago hung on from there.
Rose provided the final point when he hit a free throw in the closing seconds as the fans chanted ”MVP! MVP!” – a fitting finish given the way the night began.
During the presentation, Stern told him, ”In a league of very valuable players, you are the most valuable.”
Rose thanked the crowd and said the award is ”for the city of Chicago, more than anything,” and then posed with his mom Brenda and three brothers.
Once the game started, he was sharper, at least in the early going, after an uncharacteristically passive performance in Game 1.
Plagued by slow starts in the playoffs, the Bulls led 48-37 at halftime thanks to a strong start by Rose. And they ultimately prevailed thanks to a strong effort on defense.
”We affected them into taking a lot of tough shots,” Deng said.
Notes: Asked earlier in the day if the Hawks would see more defensive pressure – particularly Teague – Coach Tom Thibodeau quipped, ”Well, some would be good.” … Thibodeau wasn’t surprised Rose was a picture of humility during his MVP speech on Tuesday, thanking just about everyone and choking up when he mentioned his family. ”He’s like that every day, and that’s the thing that’s most impressive thing about him,” Thibodeau said. ”He’s handled everything with so much class and grace. He’s got a great demeanor. He’s never satisfied. He wants the team to do well. He cares so much about his teammates. We just want him to continue doing all the things he’s doing.” … Blackhawks star Patrick Kane was seen wearing a Rose jersey. … Hinrich, the former Bulls player, has a strained right hamstring and is expected to miss the series.