It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t convincing. And no, it wasn’t perfect, but the Chicago Bulls are up 3-0 in it’s first round series against the Milwaukee Bucks after an exhilarating 113-106 double OT victory in Game 3 on Thursday. Winning the first three games of a series is something a championship contending team does and something that Chicago hasn’t done for a long time.
With the Game 3 win, the Bulls have won the first three games of a series for the first time since 2011 in a matchup against the Pacers. That season Chicago led the NBA in wins with 62 and Derrick Rose was named the MVP. The Bulls haven’t swept a team in the postseason since their first round triumph over the Miami Heat in 2007. Kirk Hinrich is the only remaining player from that Chicago team. For the first time since their first round win against Indiana, the Bulls are title contenders. Thursday’s game was a championship-level performance by Chicago, even if they nearly blew it at the end of regulation.
A team with championship aspirations doesn’t let a young Milwaukee team jump out to a 49-31 lead in the second quarter. A team with championship aspirations doesn’t allow the Bucks to end the game on a 11-1 run in the final 2:50 to tie the game. But a team with title hopes charges back from double digits, recollects itself in overtime, and leans on its franchise player.
About that franchise player: Derrick Rose is back. Rose torched poor Michael Carter-Williams and the Bucks all night with explosive drives, lofty floaters, and dagger jumpshot after dagger jumpshot. Rose had Milwaukee saying this all night long. The former MVP was sensational, and he has been for three games running now. Rose finished with 34 points, eight assists, five rebounds, three steals, and five massive 3-pointers. Rose’s 34 points are his most in the playoffs since 2011 and his most period since March 4th, 2012, according to ESPN Stats & Info. At some point the NBA and its fans will have to acknowledge that the Rose we came to know and love pre-injuries may be back to stay. At least for this playoff run, where he looks as energized and focused as ever. Winning in the first round is no longer an accomplishment for the Bulls.
Since Rose tore his ACL during the 2012 postseason, Chicago has fought tooth and nails just to make it out of the first round. That year the Bulls lost four of five games against the 76ers after Rose went down. The next year the Bulls upset the Nets in the first round in an epic seven game series, but only to be dismantled by the Heat in the second round. 2014 was a new low for the Bulls, falling in five games to a so-so Wizards team. What did all of those Bulls teams have in common? Rose didn’t play. Now he is, and Chicago is dangerous with him on the floor.
D-Rose, playoffs splits. D-ROOOOSSSEEE pic.twitter.com/U7BQB7xphn
— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) April 24, 2015
Chicago has been nearly unstoppable when Rose is playing so far this postseason. The Bulls are completely dominating the Bucks with Rose on the floor with a net rating of 17.6, a mark that would’ve led all players by far over the course of the regular season, per NBA.com (Curry led the league with a mark of 17.0). Chicago conversely falls apart with Rose on the bench, being outscored by 13.2 points per 100 possessions so far in this series.
The Bulls are a championship level team with a healthy Rose, and it appears that it’s safe to say he is for the first time in a long time. If you’re the Cleveland Cavaliers, who also went up 3-0 in their series against Boston on Thursday, Chicago is an imposing threat in the second round. With an invigorated Rose, relentless Jimmy Butler (he’s scored at least 24 points in every game in this series) and Pau Gasol acting as a deadly third option (instead of being miscast as the go-to guy), the Bulls finally have “more than enough” to make a long playoff run.
And this time Thibs wouldn’t be lying.