CHICAGO -- The most uncomfortable part of Derrick Rose's night came early.
With the United Center crowd chanting his name, fans waving signs with adoring messages and NBA commissioner David Stern holding a microphone in one hand and motioning toward the most valuable player trophy with the other, Rose felt uneasy and out of place Wednesday night.
To Rose, attention is like a basketball. He does his best work when he's redirecting it, deflecting it and sharing it with his teammates. But this time -- on this stage -- he was on his own.
"I'm just happy it's over now and we can just ball out," Rose said of the ceremonial award presentations that placed him in front of cameras and crowds the past two days, when the only place he wanted to be after Monday's series-opening loss was back in front of the Atlanta Hawks.
But on the night that Rose was publicly presented his MVP award, the Bulls showed why he's boosted by the MVD -- the most valuable defense. And it was a marriage that worked harmoniously together in Wednesday's 86-73 victory over the Hawks to send the series to Atlanta this weekend tied 1-1.
After losing Game 1 on Monday, the Bulls responded with desperation and defensive dominance. Actually, both Rose and his supporting cast reverted to familiar roles Wednesday. One of the league's stingiest defenses avenged Monday's mulligan, when the Bulls gave up 103 points and allowed the Hawks to shoot 51 percent from the field, by drastically realigning those totals two nights later.
The Hawks' offensive numbers dropped as drastically as the temperatures sometimes do this time of year in the Windy City. Atlanta shot just 33.8 percent from the field Wednesday and was held to 73 points, 30 below Monday's output.
What are the priorities in Chicago? Here's a hint: It's D-Rose. That's right, a tone-setting defense hyphenated by Rose's ability to make plays in key stretches to close the show. And those priorities are hammered into place by league coach of the year Tom Thibodeau, whose no-nonsense, never-satisfied approach allowed his team to avoid falling into a nearly insurmountable 2-0 series deficit.
"It was better," Thibodeau said flatly when asked to describe the difference between his defense Monday and the lockdown that was executed Wednesday. "We still have some things we have to clean up. We are not going to change how we play. We have to get better. Defense and rebounding are big keys as well as low turnovers. Tonight, we had great urgency. We have to get back to it."
Wednesday's game was a microcosm of exactly what the Bulls are -- both in terms of their shortcomings and their ability to be spectacular. They are equal parts vicious and vulnerable. Rose needs that tenacious D behind him. And that D needs Rose when there seems to be few other options.
Rose continues to struggle with his shot, was just 10 of 27 from the field and had eight turnovers in Game 2. And it took every ounce of effort from the Bulls' defense to hold off Atlanta's numerous rallies in the second half. But Chicago's defense could only carry it so far, and needed every play Rose made on his way to 25 points and 10 assists.
It's a give-and-take formula that's resulted in Chicago winning 62 games and earning the No. 1 seed in the playoffs. The Bulls' defense gives them a chance to stay in just about every game, and Rose takes advantage of almost every opportunity he gets to close out an opponent with a clutch shot or key pass.
"It's what we do," said center Joakim Noah, who had 19 points and 14 rebounds to fuel Chicago's 58-39 edge on the boards. "We went out there and played with passion, played together, played hard. We've got the MVP. But we're a team."
And what makes this team go is an MVP front man who would be just as happy if he were a backup singer. Rose was at the forefront before Wednesday's game for obvious reasons. But what's most impressive about his leadership is his ability and stand with his teammates.
It was indeed difficult for him to be paraded and serenaded after the Game 1 loss. And after drawing even in the series, he maintained a business-first demeanor with a laser focus set on Game 3 Friday in Atlanta.
"We can always step up," Rose said. "We can always improve each game. We need to execute more. We're having trouble with that. On the road, things are going to change."
What won't change is the Bulls' formula for success.
"We played more aggressive and were more into them defensively," forward Luol Deng said of the turnaround between Games 1 and 2 against Atlanta. "That's the way we have to play. That's our game."
The Bulls would like the Hawks to believe that the defense that showed up on Monday was an imposter. And that Wednesday's performance was the real deal.
But there is no identity crisis with the one-two punch they'll need to regain control of this series. Rose might have been in an uncomfortable spot because of all the individual attention he received early Wednesday night.
But by the end of Game 2, there was another example of how much he benefits from this tailor-made fit.
The NBA's newly anointed MVP was complemented perfectly by the league's MVD.