ATLANTA (AP) - When Derrick Rose spotted the slightest of openings, he flew into the lane, a blur who made everyone else appear to be standing still.
When the defender took a step back, hoping to cut off Rose's path to the hoop, he would launch a jumper that usually hit nothing but net.
It was that kind of night for the MVP.
The Hawks never had a chance.
Rose sliced up Atlanta for a career-high 44 points as the top-seeded Chicago Bulls seized control of the Eastern Conference semifinals with their best performance of the postseason, romping to a 99-82 victory over the Hawks in Game 3 Friday night.
``Derrick was in attack mode,' coach Tom Thibodeau said. ``When he's not dancing with the ball and he's attacking, he's impossible to stop.'
You'll get no argument from the Hawks.
``He's tough to cover anyway,' said Jeff Teague, who had the futile task of trying to guard Rose much of the night. ``But when his jump shot is falling, he's the MVP.'
The Bulls lead the series 2-1, putting Atlanta in must-win position heading into Game 4 Sunday night.
Rose was dominant from the opening tip, slashing into the lane for a basket that prompted Atlanta to call a timeout before the game was a minute old. He finished off the Hawks midway through the fourth with back-to-back 3-pointers, hopping down the court, serenaded by chants of ``MVP! MVP!' from a hefty contingent of Bulls fans.
``Just attacking the whole game,' Rose said. ``That was my whole thought process.'
Teague was about the only highlight for Atlanta, scoring 21 points. That wasn't nearly enough against the D-Rose onslaught. He made 16 of 27 shots from the field, including four 3s. He dished out seven assists, grabbed five rebounds, came up with a steal - heck, he even blocked a shot.
``Of course, I love the award,' Rose said. ``But I'm glad to get that over with and just focus on basketball.'
After struggling to put away Indiana in the opening round and losing at home in the opener of this series, the Bulls finally resembled the team that won 62 games during the regular season.
While everyone will point to Rose's performance, the Chicago bench played a key role in a decisive second-quarter spurt. And everyone chipped in rebounding, leading the Bulls to a 47-34 edge that included 18 offensive boards. Joakim Noah led the way with 15 rebounds, plus five blocks.
``Hustle plays,' Rose called 'em.
``That's who we are as a team,' he added.
The Hawks hadn't played a home playoff game of this magnitude since 1997, when this same scenario presented itself after Atlanta split the first two games in Chicago against the Michael Jordan-led Bulls in the East semifinals.
That one didn't work out too well for the Hawks, who promptly lost both games at the old Omni and were finished off in Game 5 back in ChiTown. Judging by the way things went Friday night, this series could be headed toward a similar result.
``They completely beat us up,' coach Larry Drew said. ``My big guys did not show up.'
Most noticeably, Al Horford had another miserable game. With Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford getting doubled every time they touch the ball, the Hawks need more from their All-Star center. He had just 10 points and is shooting less than 40 percent in the series.
``For us to win,' Johnson said, ``we've got to get Al back on track.'
Thibodeau, of course, knows Rose is the key to his team. He had played well in the first two games, despite a sprained left ankle, but the coach wanted him to be more aggressive. The dynamic guard sure took that message to heart right from the opening tip, throwing a damper on a raucous sellout crowd. A virtual one-man team in the first quarter, he scored 17 points to push the Bulls to a 29-23 lead.
Teague, who wouldn't have been playing much if not for an injury to Kirk Hinrich, kept up his strong play from the first two games. He scored 11 of Atlanta's first 17 points but couldn't keep the Hawks in it all by himself.
And, boy, he sure could've used some help at the defensive end trying to guard Rose. Teague, who did a respectable job on the Bulls star in Chicago, was left standing in his tracks over and over, unable to keep Rose from doing pretty much whatever he wanted.
Chicago turned to its bench at the start of the second quarter, and those guys really delivered. Ronnie Brewer stole the ball from Jamal Crawford on the opening possession. C.J. Watson scored on a layup, then connected on a jumper to quickly push the lead into double figures for the first time while the starters rested. Taj Gibson chipped in with a block, stuffing Marvin Williams on a drive to the hoop.
After the Hawks seemed to weather the storm, Kyle Korver responded like he does so often: A 3-pointer that sparked a 19-6 run to stun the home crowd and force Drew to call two more timeouts in a futile bid to slow the Bulls. Even though some of the starters returned, it was the backups who kept delivering, scoring 12 points during that span.
The Atlanta fans had plenty of chances to boo, and much of their wrath was directed at Josh Smith.
The enigmatic hometown player did some good work on the inside with 17 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks. But he kept insisting on putting up outside jumpers that clanked off the rim time after time. When they did, the crowd screamed in disgust.
Smith was hardly the biggest problem, though. Johnson was held to 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting. Crawford managed only seven. It was those two who dominated Game 1. They'd better get it going again, or Atlanta's season will be done in a few days.
``It seemed like I was buried in the corner all night,' Johnson said. ``We didn't do anything to get the ball to our scorers.'
NOTES: Rose's previous career high, in either the regular season or playoffs, was 42 points. ... Rose was the only Chicago starter in double figures. Gibson had 13 points, while Korver added 11. ... All five Atlanta starters scored at least 10 points.
Paul Newberry can be reached at http://twitter.com/pnewberry1963
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