ATLANTA – Derrick Rose walked slowly out of the arena Saturday, large packs of ice wrapped around both knees.
After perhaps the best game of an already dynamic career, the Bulls star had no big plans for an off day in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Grab some dinner. Hang out with teammates. Watch the championship bout between Manny Pacquiao and Shane Mosley.
"Pacquiao," Rose said quickly. "I think everybody's got Pacquiao."
Speaking of guys on top of their game, Rose turned what had been a close series clearly in Chicago's favor with his one-man beatdown of the Atlanta Hawks in Game 3. Rose knocked down jumpers. He was a blur darting into the lane. He was simply unstoppable, going for a career-high 44 points in the 99-82 victory Friday night.
The top-seeded Bulls, who shockingly lost at home in the series opener, are back in control with a 2-1 lead. And the Hawks better come up with a way to slow down the league's youngest MVP just a bit, or their season isn't going to last much longer.
"He started making outside shots," said Atlanta guard Jeff Teague, who spent much of the night trying to guard Rose and still looked a bit shell-shocked the next day. "When he's making outside shots like that, it's tough to cover him."
After watching the game tape, Hawks coach Larry Drew said he's not concerned about Rose scoring so many points. After all, he's put up 27 shots in each of the first three games, so he's going to have big numbers just by sheer volume. But Drew said his team made it way too easy for Rose to slash into the lane, starting with Chicago's second possession of the game.
"He went coast to coast against four guys for an uncontested layup," Drew said. "He's a phenomenal player. I'll give credit where credit is due. But still, we have to be better at defending him and not just letting him get into the paint and score so easily."
That, of course, is easy to draw up on a chalkboard. Try guarding Rose at game speed, when he's dashing around the court so fast that everyone else appears to be in slow motion. He burned the Hawks for five layups, a dunk and a pair of running jumpers from in close.
"He's probably the fastest guy in the league getting from end to end," Teague said. "You've got to get three guys back to stop him in transition."
When Rose is hitting outside jumpers like he was in Game 3, though, the other team is almost helpless. Of his 16 baskets, four came from beyond the arc. Three others were in the 18- to 21-foot range. When Teague got in Rose's face, the Chicago star dribbled right past him. When Teague backed off, Rose took the open jumper — and usually made it.
Look for the Hawks to come at Rose with some defensive alignments he hasn't seen in this series. Perhaps some full-court pressure. Surely more trapping and double teams. Whether that makes much difference remains to be seen, but they clearly can't stick with the same plan.
"We've got to try to figure out a new defense," Teague said. "I don't think we changed anything up during the course of the game. I'm sure next game, we'll add different coverages and different schemes if he gets on a roll like that. ... We have to. You can't guard him the same way three games straight. He's the MVP. He's going to start picking you apart."
Drew said his team has to get much more physical against Rose in Game 4 Sunday night. A bump here, a shove there. Knock him around a bit and hope it gets him out of his rhythm.
Then again, the Hawks need to do that against everyone. They've been manhandled on the boards the last two games, outrebounded 105-73. The Bulls are working harder and seemingly getting every loose ball.
The most distressing stat for Drew: His starters were called for only one foul — total — in the first half.
"You're not going to win many games if you don't play physical and get some fouls," he said. "I'm not saying hurt people. But you've got to get physical fouls. It's the playoffs."
That's not an issue for the Bulls. After getting burned by Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford in Game 1 (they combined for 56 points on 20-of-34 shooting), Chicago has doubled those two almost every time they touch the ball. The result: Johnson is 11 of 27 for 26 points over the last two contests, Crawford 5 of 17 for 18 points.
Johnson was clearly frustrated after Game 3. He got few good looks at the basket, which he blamed on the offensive plays the Hawks were running, and he's not too thrilled about Drew encouraging him to look for the open man when he's doubled.
"They want me to give it up, but we can't win like that," said Johnson, who averaged a team-high 18.2 points during the regular season. "We've got to start doing what got us here."
Drew shot right back Saturday, saying it's up to Johnson to cope with the extra attention.
"A lot of key players get double teams. They play out of double teams," Drew said. "A lot of playing out of double teams is not necessarily trying to beat the double team, but making plays. You have to show a willingness to give the ball up and trust your teammates. If you continue to try to beat the double team by yourself, you're playing into the opposition's hands."
Rose has sure embraced the starring role.
But it's his work behind the scenes that impresses his coach.
"Derrick is always trying to do better," Tom Thibodeau said. "He's an extremely confident guy, and he gets a lot of that from his preparation. He stays late, studies hard, and it always shows up in how he plays the game."
Paul Newberry can be reached at http://twitter.com/pnewberry1963