The tone of the Hawks-Bulls series has dramatically changed after Friday's Game 3. An MVP performance from the league's MVP can do that. Derrick Rose poured in a career-high 44 points, handed out seven assists and had five rebounds and the Bulls dominated the Hawks, 99-82, regaining home-court advantage in the series. The Bulls' lead is just 2-1, but momentum is squarely with the East's top seed and anything beyond five games is hard to picture at this point.
Here are four storylines that emerged from the Bulls' Game 3 smackdown:
Rose was dominant right off the bat, scoring 17 points in the first quarter with a series of eye-opening drives. When his three-point shot started falling in the second half, there was little Jeff Teague or any of the Hawks could do.
"When he's making threes, he's a tough cover," Teague said.
In addition to Rose's dominance, the Bulls were strong on the boards (47-34 advantage) and played their typically stingy defense. It added up to Chicago's most complete performance in its eight-game postseason run, one that doesn't seem likely to end any time soon.
"That was our best game," Joakim Noah said, "but I still feel like we can play better. We're not satisfied. We're trying to stay hungry."
Of the two key stretches in the game, one occurred with Rose off the floor. Chicago's bench, led by Rose's backup C.J. Watson, extended the Bulls' lead early in the second quarter and earned the unit much postgame praise. The knockout punch, however, was provided by Rose, who answered when the Hawks pulled within 11 with 8:17 to play with a crazy 8-0 run (two threes and a tough turnaround) that ended all doubt.
"When he is hitting shots like that, you have to keep feeding him the ball," Taj Gibson said. "He took us home tonight."
Rose has battled a gimpy ankle, but he said he felt 100 percent after the game.
"I got my groove back," he said. "Knocking down shots, taking the ball to the hole, trying to get to the line, getting teammates involved, rebounding, making hustle plays. That is who we are."
"All that matters is we win," Boozer said.
And while Boozer's play was encouraging, Gibson's game really gave Chicago reason for optimism moving forward. Gibson had 13 points and 11 rebounds backing up Boozer and clearly was more fluid around the basket. The tandem of Gibson and Noah combined for 15 spirit-breaking offensive rebounds, which prevented any hopes of a second-half comeback by the home team.
"I was attacking the rim and trying to be physical," Gibson said. "It is a physical game. I just had to be active."
"You just try to play your game," Teague said. "You just try to keep a consistent effort and not try to do too much."
Teague played just 10 minutes the entire series against Orlando and averaged 14 minutes per game during the regular season. Teague is averaging 42 minutes this series, many of which are against Rose, and he's averaging 17.3 points. The former Wake Forest guard may be earning himself the full-time gig for next season. In February, the Hawks traded for Hinrich, who has one year left on his contract. Hinrich started 22 of the 24 games after he joined the team, but Teague has made a strong case that he has the talent to run the team. He is in the second of a three-year deal, with the Hawks having an option on a fourth year.
"He's rushing his shot," said Hawks coach Larry Drew of Horford. "They are also taking away some of the stuff he likes to do."
Noah and Horford have not spoken off the court since the series started, and Noah is not ready to declare victory yet.
"I don't see [having the upper hand] until the series is over," Noah said. "Al is a competitor. I'm trying to make it tough on him. He has had a taste of a championship before, and I know how bad he wants it. I need to stay ready."