MILWAUKEE -- After scoring 34 points and playing 48 minutes in a double-overtime playoff thriller, it’s pretty safe to say Derrick Rose is back, right?
Like, really back this time. Like, it's not a dream. It's not wishful thinking. He's Derrick Rose again. In the flesh.
Sure, say whatever you want, just don’t expect Rose to agree with it.
“That theory of being all the way back, I can’t think about that,” he said after the Chicago Bulls' 113-106 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday night. “Every game is going to be different. All I’m doing is preparing myself for every game and going out there and having confidence, believing in myself, believing in my craft. It’s the playoffs. You have to love it.”
Thanks to Rose's timely resurgence, the Bulls have a 3-0 lead in this first-round series, and if they can close it out Saturday -- no sure thing -- they would get a week of very needed rest before a second-round matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Not to skip steps, as Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau warns us about doing, but that's the real test for the erstwhile MVP -- the Cavs in the playoffs. Through three postseason games, however, Rose is looking very promising.
“It’s an honor to even be in the playoffs, let alone up 3-0,” Rose said.
This isn't just Rose being "humble." He's talked about being grateful to family and friends, as well as reporters, since returning at the tail end of the season after rehabbing from his late February meniscectomy. Three knee surgeries will make you appreciate relative good health.
After playing his best playoff game since, well, Game 1 of this series, Rose was more comfortable talking about what he did wrong.
For instance, the Bulls were trailing by one with 4.9 seconds left in regulation thanks to a late-game meltdown when Rose was rejected by Giannis Antetokounmpo on a layup attempt. Rose landed on the ground and stayed there for a moment, the recipient of some veteran’s rest and a foul call.
“I got up by myself and missed a god damn free throw,” Rose said. “Hopefully learn from my mistakes and work on my free throws a little more.”
Rose, it should be noted, missed one such free throw the entire game.
After his first attempt rimmed out, his second shot hit the back of the rim before falling in, tying the game and sending it to overtime.
When asked about letting loose a scream after a drive that made it 109-101 in the second overtime, Rose changed the subject and talked about losing Khris Middleton on a 3-point try during the Bucks’ regulation-ending run.
“You learn from your mistakes,” he said. “After Middleton hit that first 3, I switched on him and he hit the second one and I felt like it was my fault because I knew the play they were running and I just didn’t act on it. It led to overtime, so just learn from my mistakes.”
When Rose is tough on himself and the other team, watch out.
Rose didn’t take a shot in the first overtime period, but he led the Bulls with six points in the second one.
For the game, he hit 12 of 23 shots, including 5 of 9 from 3-point range. He added eight assists, five rebounds and three steals in 48 minutes, 13 seconds of work. The Bulls were plus-15 when he was on the floor.
Despite all the humility, Rose was cool with scoring his season high in a big playoff game, right?
“Not at all,” he said. “I could’ve had five points, no turnovers. I’m just doing whatever the game tells me to do.”
After fiddling with his game for much of the season, Rose seems to have found his rhythm. He’s averaging 24 points and eight assists in this series, shooting 47.2 percent from the field and 45.5 percent on 3-pointers.
“Those guys are really leading us,” Joakim Noah said.
In Game 2, Rose went scoreless in the first half and then scored 15 points in the second.
In this one, he scored eight, five, nine and six points, respectively, in the first four quarters. Nice and balanced.
“He’s playing at a very high level and playing as an MVP,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. “If he is making a living at the rim, he puts you in a bad situation. You have to contest his 3s and hope he misses.”
It wasn't a great game for the Bulls, and Rose said he liked that the Bucks were "forcing us to play. We're finding ways to win games."
The Bucks built an 18-point lead in the second quarter, half of which came when Rose started the frame on the bench. But then Rose led an 18-2 run to get the Bulls within four at the half. He led Chicago in scoring in the third before tailing off a little in the fourth.
But when the Bulls needed Rose at the end, he was there.
Thibodeau lauded Rose’s aggressiveness as the guard grabbed rebounds and loose balls and then took off down the court.
“When he’s coming at you with a head of steam, he’s impossible to guard,” Thibodeau said.
When Thibodeau talks like that, it feels like 2011 all over again. But a lot has happened since then, and now the Bulls have an even greater appreciation of just how fun basketball is when Derrick Rose is Derrick Rose.
“Just to see him compete like that on the court," Noah said, "it’s really special and fun to be a part of it."