ATLANTA -- Derrick Rose never forgets the bad things that happen to him on a basketball court.
It gives him the drive to be successful day in and day out. He remembers every misstep, every wrong decision and every game that didn't go his way. He wants to prove any doubters wrong. Plain and simple: Derrick Rose wants to beat you every night. And if for some reason he doesn't, and the other team gets the best of him or his team, watch out. The next time he sees that team, he'll be sure to get the job done.
The 22-year-old point guard proved that one more time on Tuesday night. After blowing a 17-point lead in an 83-80 loss on March 2 in Atlanta, Rose made sure the Bulls didn't make the same mistake twice. Chicago blitzed the Hawks from the outset and didn't let its foot off the gas this time with a 114-81 victory. Rose, who played poorly in the Bulls' loss that particular contest, finished with 30 points, 10 assists and four rebounds. He shot 6-of-8 from beyond the 3-point arc.
"We knew that after that game we all felt bad," Rose said of the March 2 game in which the Bulls struggled down the stretch. "You don't want that feeling anymore. It hurts. And one of the reasons why we lost that game is definitely because of me. Turnovers, bad decisions, everything, it was because of me. And I just tried to stay focused. My teammates did a great job of getting open, and I was finding them and they were hitting shots they normally hit."
The Bulls were hitting almost every shot they took. They shot 81 percent from the field in the second quarter and finished the game at 67 percent. For the second night in a row, they demolished a lesser opponent. Only this time, it wasn't the hapless Sacramento Kings, it was the team that occupies the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference.
"At halftime, we talked about it," Luol Deng said of the last game in Atlanta. "We've been there before. It's not the first time we had a huge lead. The main focus was really to come out the beginning of the third quarter and just play. Don't look at the score. Tonight, we didn't really play to our opponent. It was just Bulls basketball, just like we do in practice. We played defense, moved the ball and executed real well."
Just how good was the Bulls performance? Coach Tom Thibodeau, the man who spends almost every in-game moment pacing the sidelines like a nervous parent watching his kids play, spent most of the fourth quarter parked on the bench.
"I thought we came out ready to play," Thibodeau said. "We had good balance. I thought Carlos [Boozer] really got us going with his post-up early. Derrick, very aggressive; Luol, very aggressive. Great leadership from those guys. [We were] sharing the ball. It was good stuff."
It was the type of game, on the second night of a back-to-back, no less, that makes the case that the Bulls have what it takes to make the type of deep run in the postseason that everyone in Chicago is hoping for.
"We just want to be consistent with our approach," Thibodeau said. "We want to be able to count on the defense. I thought the rebounding was very good. And then if we play the right way offensively, where we push the ball up the floor, get some easy baskets, then go inside-out, share the ball, take care of the ball, and don't turn it over, we're going to be in position to win. I liked how unselfish we were. I thought the ball was hoppin'."
If the Bulls play like this down the stretch, it's hard to figure a scenario in which they don't earn the top seed in the Eastern Conference. (With Tuesday's result, they sit a half-game ahead of idle Boston in the East.) That's not what Rose is thinking about right now, though. The only thing he wants to do is get better ... and prove the next person who may have doubted the Bulls wrong.
"We know that we can get a lot better," Rose said with a straight face. "We're still not a 48-minute team, but I think we're getting pretty close."