Derrick Rose has been waiting a long time for a chance at a game-winning shot like he had at the end of Game 3. It just didn’t go down quite the way he probably imagined.
With the Chicago Bulls’ series against the Cleveland Cavaliers tied at 1-1, and Game 3 in Chicago tied at 96, the Bulls called upon Rose to deliver in a meaningful playoff crunch-time for the first time in years. The hometown kid delivered, for better and worse, hitting an absurd three-point bank shot at the buzzer to give Chicago a 99-96 win and a 2-1 advantage in the series:
Rose’s unorthodox game-winner was an appropriate cap to a game in which both teams struggled to convert open looks, shooting less than 40 percent for the game. The Bulls point guard was not immune to the struggles, and if he had missed, he could have just as easily been the scapegoat rather than the GOAT, considering he was 3-9 with a turnover and a blocked shot in the fourth quarter before his game-winner. But Rose delivered when it really mattered, and after the Bulls allowed J.R. Smith, in his first game back from suspension, to bomb a long three-pointer to tie the game at 96 with just 10 seconds remaining, he saved the game for Chicago.
“Saved” is the keyword here, since it would have been a disaster for the Bulls to lose this game. Without Kevin Love, the Cavaliers have been relying more than ever on LeBron James and Kyrie Irving to carry the scoring load, and during Game 3, the pair struggled to do so. Chicago had to take advantage.
While LeBron dished out a playoff career-high 14 assists, his positives pretty much ended there. He shot 8-25 and had seven turnovers, including missing a layup down the stretch that would have given Cleveland a lead with less than 30 seconds to go. Irving, for his part, totally disappeared, notching another one of his infamous zero-assist efforts and scoring 11 points on 13 shots. Both of them were terrible, and yet Chicago still almost lost the game. That’s why Rose’s bank felt more like a save, and his team will have a chance to take a commanding 3-1 lead at the United Center on Sunday.
In Game 3, Smith returned in Chicago, and he delivered in a big way, scoring 14 points with four three-pointers, nine and three of which, respectively, came during a clutch performance in the fourth quarter. All three of the treys from the mercurial shooting guard were to tie the game: at 82, at 91 and finally at 96 before Rose answered with one of his own to end it. Obviously, Smith’s contributions weren’t enough to get his team a win, but he showed why they’ve been missing him in big way, in terms of shot-making, depth and general swagger.
He doesn’t/they don’t call him J.R. Swish for nothing. Smith wasn’t the only guy to get in on the action for the first time in Game 3, however.
Nikola, Unchained. — For the first time this series, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau finally untethered Nikola Mirotic from the bench, allowing the stretch 4 the opportunity to get in a rhythm and find his game before yanking him with a short leash, as he has done recently.
And it worked! Before the series, we thought Mirotic would be an X-factor, and he showed why in Game 3, spacing the floor to open things up for Chicago’s offense and getting his own as well, pouring in 12 points on six shots, thanks to his uncanny ability to get to the free throw line, which had been missing during the Bulls’ first eight games of the postseason.
Until his fifth foul in the fourth quarter, though, when Mirotic had to take a seat, he was ridiculously effective. He notched a team-high +19 and even played some admirable defense. It would be a shame to see him riding the pine for any significant amount of time for the rest of the series, as he’s one of Chicago’s only big men who brings any kind of two-way game to the table. His presence will really force Cleveland to adjust its defense going forward, and it could be one of those moves that changes the complexion of the series.