Watching Derrick Rose go right at LeBron James in the fourth quarter of Game 5 of the 2011 Eastern Conference was pure basketball magic. It’s not often when you see the reigning league MVP and the two-time league MVP going head-to-head for much of the fourth quarters in the Heat-Bulls series.
Rose unleashed his best moves and best shots. If Rose literally had a bag of tricks, he probably emptied it out in this series. However, each time Rose tried to catch fire, James was there to snuff it out. In the end, it was LeBron’s size, power and quickness that uncovered the secret to stopping the mercurial Rose.
As good as James was on offense in Game 5 – and he was pretty darn good with a game-high 28 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and two huge 3-pointers in the fourth quarter – he was even better on the defensive end, locking up Rose with a smothering man-to-man defense that would have made NFL shutdown corner Darrelle Revis proud.
“You kill the head of the snake,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said of the key to stopping the Chicago Bulls, obviously referring to Rose.
Easy for Wade to say because he was mostly a spectator when it came time to defending Rose, but his good friend and first-team All-NBA defender LeBron James took on the challenge of shutting down the 22-year-old Bulls star.
Even though Rose scored 117 points (25-point average) in the series, which the Heat ended in five grueling games, it took him 120 field goal attempts to reach that mark. It meant that nothing came easy for Rose, especially the last two games in which he was a combined 17-for-56 from the field and 3-for-17 from 3-point range.
In Game 5 Rose was 9-for-29 from the field, and James was a big reason why. James kept Rose out of the paint, forced him to shoot over his 6-foot-8, 265-pound frame, and smothered his passes. Every time Rose tried to create offense either for himself or for his teammates, James was there to take away all his options.
After the Bulls took a 77-65 lead with three minutes left in the fourth quarter, James tightened his hold on Rose and allowed the Heat to mount a comeback. Wade and James took turns in dropping baskets on the Bulls, and at the one-minute mark the game was tied at 79. Wade and James combined for 24 points in the fourth quarter.
The Bulls still had an opportunity to pull out the win, but Rose made a critical turnover thanks to great defense, again, by James as he tipped Rose’s pass when the Bulls guard tried to swing the ball to the right. James came up with the loose ball and seconds later he dropped a cold-blooded jumper over Ronnie Brewer near the top of the arc for an 81-79 Heat lead.
On the Bulls’ final possession, down by three and 16 seconds left, Rose tried to create space on the left side of the court to set up a possible game-tying 3-pointer, but he ran into Udonis Haslem and then James finished off his defensive gem with a clean block as time expired on the Bulls’ season. Game. Set. Match. Checkmate.
Derrick Rose may be the most valuable player in the NBA, but LeBron James clearly remains the best athlete in the NBA and it’s not even close.