Great teams’ waters are most still when the atmosphere is at the height of anarchy, and if the Bulls wanted to get pushed, the Milwaukee Bucks had no problem playing with reckless abandon for 58 minutes—forcing the Bulls to a momentum-filled, emotional contest.
The Bulls had no issues rebounding from an 18-point first half deficit, but buckled under the weight of an eight-point lead with 1:43 left, and it took two overtimes to take a 3-0 series lead against the pesky and game Bucks, with a 113-106 win at the BMO Bradley Center.
Look no further than the man who once hit a game-winner in the building in a previous life, Derrick Rose. Whether it was scintillating left-to-right drives to the basket or one of his five 3-pointers, he seemed to hammer home the school of thought that the Bulls need to rest to gear up for their anticipated 12-round bout with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“He’s playing at a very high level and playing as an MVP,” said Bucks coach Jason Kidd after witnessing Rose’s tour de force showing. “You look at how he can control the game from shooting ball from behind the arc very well.”
After splitting a pair of free throws with 4.9 seconds left in regulation that could’ve put the Bulls up one, he flexed his defensive muscles on Michael Carter-Williams in the second overtime, repeatedly stopping him as the Bucks went scoreless for the first three minutes.
“Defensively, we wish we could’ve did that in regulation,” Rose said. “In overtime we made sure we talked to each other. Communication is so big for our defense because we help so much and force people to shoot the ball.”
[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]
Then he put the Bucks away doing what he does best: attacking the basket. After driving the lane for a layup to put the Bulls up eight, the demure 26-year old yelled out as the Bucks called timeout.
He rebounded his own miss on the next possession, scoring on another layup, sending the Bucks’ fans back home, visions of grandeur clearly erased.
“We’re playing against a very hungry team, a young, hungry team,” Rose said. “They’re pushing us. Defensively they’re great. We’re finding ways to win games.”
In 47 pressure-packed minutes, Rose scored 34 points with eight assists and five rebounds while Jimmy Butler scored 24 in 53 minutes of play, reversing the trend from Game 2, where Butler took over late.
That wasn’t the case early on, as the Bulls seemed overwhelmed by the Bucks’ energy and execution. Quality possessions were nowhere to be found, as they looked lost on offense and confused on defense. Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo was relentless in his drives early, getting to the ball quicker than any of the Bulls.
His jumpers in transition were matched by forays to the basket where he merely turns into Reed Richards from the “Fantastic Four”—including a transition layup and foul where it looked like he barely had control of the ball, helping the Bucks to a 22-4 run, part of his 23-point performance.
“We got beat to the ball, beat in transition, and we got in a big hole,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I thought they were the aggressors to start the game.”
But the Ambien soon wore off, and the Bulls realized they had a golden opportunity in front of them if they could stay within striking distance. An 18-4 run put the Bulls down by four at the half, giving them new life, but the emotional swings were just beginning.
“I thought the ball pressure got better, we made our run to give ourselves a chance to get back in it,” Thibodeau said.
Mike Dunleavy kept taking advantage of his limited opportunities, hitting four triples in the place he most called home, a handful of the 14 3-pointers the Bulls hit at a 42-percent clip—shots they had to take, even without Nikola Mirotic on the floor because the Bucks were giving them to the Bulls, daring them to beat them from beyond 20 feet.
And before you knew it, panic turned to patience, evidenced by methodically moving the ball around before Noah found Taj Gibson for a reverse layup before the shot clock expired early in the fourth.
The next possession, Noah hit Gibson again, except Tony Snell was wide open, eagerly waiting for a wing triple that put the Bulls up seven, before the Bucks gamely cut the lead to two courtesy of back-to-back triples from Khris Middleton with 55.6 seconds left.
After Middleton hit another jumper, this one over Joakim Noah, Rose took on three defenders before getting fouled with 4.9 seconds left.
He made one of two free throws before Middleton’s triple banged off the rim, giving the Bulls extra basketball and a test they would soon pass—although they’d much rather learn this lesson in 10 fewer minutes.