Midway through Monday night's Chicago Bulls vs. Atlanta Hawks game, reports began to surface that Derrick Rose had won the 2011 NBA MVP. An hour later, Derrick Rose was limping off the court, and the Bulls had lost Game 1 to the Hawks.
Such is life in the NBA Playoffs right now, where nothing makes sense, and you're probably better off betting on the exact opposite of what you expect to happen. For instance, after that Bulls-Hawks game, was there any doubt that the Lakers would blow their game vs. Dallas?
It's just the way the playoffs have gone this week. The Grizzlies were obviously due for a letdown on a single day's rest, we said. Likewise, the Celtics were tougher than the Heat, the Hawks didn't have anyone to guard D-Rose, the Mavericks matched up horribly with the Lakers, and killing Osama makes Obama a no-brainer in 2012. That was some EXPERT ANALYSIS right there. (Damn, we just jinxed Barack).
As for the Bulls part of that equation, it's true, Monday's hiccup shouldn't scare anyone for the short term. First, because it doesn't take any advanced stats to prove the Hawks played way above their heads on Monday. As a team, Atlanta shot 43.8% from the field this season, along with 38.6% from three-point range. Monday? 51.3 and 53.8 percent, respectively.
Against the best defense in the league, Atlanta will come to back to earth.
Plus, Rose seemed mortal for what felt like the first time all year on Monday night. That'll change, too. He took 27 shots on Monday and didn't get to the free throw line once. Not once. Put that next to Game 1 of the Indy series, when he had 21 free throws and carried the Bulls in the fourth quarter. There's gotta be some middle ground between those extremes, right?
So at least as far as the Atlanta series is concerned, don't overthink this. Derrick Rose is still the guy who went out and stole the MVP this year, he's still the best player in this series (by far), and he's still the guy who inspired what's got to be the greatest NBA t-shirt of the season.
The "Rose-before-hoes" movement will not go down easy. At least not vs. the Hawks.
Rose and the Bulls may still go down, though. You can talk yourself into Monday night's game as a fluke, but that argument begins and ends on Atlanta's end. It's hard to imagine the Hawks looking that good for three wins, hence, the Bulls will still win the series. Simple, makes sense.
But if we're talking about the Bulls, then it gets more complicated. Watching them slog it out with Indiana for five games and then Atlanta Monday night, you have to wonder whether they can hit another level. Specifically, when every other team turns on an extra gear for the playoffs, does Chicago have anywhere to go?
For all the parity floating around the NBA right now, part of the reason the playoffs have been so surprising is that teams have just plain, gotten better. They've hit that extra gear.
The Celtics did it in Games 3 and 4 of the Knicks series, ending that series earlier than expected. The Hornets did it against the Lakers, extending that series longer than anyone expected. The Heat did it in Game 1 against the Celtics. The Thunder did it against the Nuggets. Meanwhile, the Spurs couldn't quite get there, while the Grizzlies have come out of nowhere and looked like a full-fledged juggernaut against everyone.
And then there's Chicago, which just looks... Flat. Like how the Spurs didn't have anything left for the playoffs after playing themselves into a one-seed, you get the feeling that while everyone else in the playoffs is hitting another level at this point, the Bulls have sorta maxed out here.
If nothing else, it's a testament to Rose's MVP regular season. While everyone else paced themselves over the course of a long season, Rose had the Bulls going full tilt the entire time. It helped set the Bulls apart from the field during the regular season. Now, do they just keep sprinting?
I'm not saying they can't, or that it won't work vs. Atlanta, but if you're looking to explain how the Bulls have gone from a force of nature (in the regular season) to laboring favorites (in the playoffs), Rose's MVP isn't necessarily a coincidence. He earned it in fair-and-square because he took the Bulls to another level during the regular season. For that reason alone, he was most valuable. But as everyone else hits that same gear now, maybe that's why the Bulls don't look quite as impressive.
And I love the Bulls, and picked them to go to the Finals this year. It just hasn't really clicked so far in the playoffs. Chicago hasn't really gotten worse, but the rest of the league's gotten better, and suddenly the Bulls don't look like such a juggernaut. The defense hasn't been as good, the offense looks more one-dimensional than ever, and at some point, it's going to catch up to them.
Derrick Rose worked his ass off all year to win the one seed for the Bulls, and it earned them cupcakes against the Pacers and Hawks. It's why Rose deserved the MVP, and why they'll probably survive and make it to the conference finals regardless. But once they get there, against teams they dominated during the second half of the season, it sure seems like the regular season's best player and the East's best team could be in for a surprise.
In these playoffs, what else would you expect?