In a series philosophically centered on defense, yet won to this point by well-timed scoring flurries, the Bulls finally closed one out Tom Thibodeau’s way. They got stops.
Chicago stole the ball four times in the second overtime of Game 3 to seize a 113-106 win Thursday, edging a fast-learning Milwaukee team determined not to roll over on its home floor. Though it ended with a whimper, the game itself was packed with twists, turns and a combined 28 turnovers. It should say a lot that a 25-point breakout from Giannis Antetokounmpo, who also added 12 rebounds, felt like somewhat of an afterthought by the time the game was finished.
The headline: the Derrick Rose revival tour swaggered its way up I-94, to the tune of 34 points on 12-on-23 shooting, 5-of-9 from deep and eight assists. “The theory of being all the way back, I can’t think about that,” Rose said, although he sure looked the part. “All I’m doing is preparing myself for every game, going out there with a confidence, believing in myself and believing in my craft.”
Jimmy Butler, the other en-vogue postseason Bulls guard added a less-efficient but still critical 24 points. Pau Gasol gave Chicago a big lift with 17 points and 14 rebounds. Coupled with timely shooting from Tony Snell and Mike Dunleavy (16 and 12 points, respectively), Chicago pulled out a game that all but sealed Milwaukee's fate on a night when it was without injured bench ace Nikola Mirotic.
The game flowed quickly, tied after one quarter before a stagnant Bulls offense dug itself an 18-point hole with 4:54 left in the first half. By halftime, somehow it was a four-point game, after an 18-5 run showcased Chicago’s balanced explosiveness.
Chicago finally pulled away in the fourth following five third-quarter lead changes. Down by 10 with 2:51 remaining, the Bucks kept pushing with Khris Middleton, the star of the series for Milwaukee, draining consecutive threes and hitting another jumper from the foul line to hand the Bucks a one-point lead. But Derrick Rose, back in “attack mode,” as coach Thibodeau would later classify it, drove hard to the rim, got fouled and lay on the baseline for what felt like an uncomfortably long time.
Rose said he was just maximizing his in-game rest, but lamented what happened next: “I missed a g--damn free throw.” The point guard split the pair that would've put the Bulls up one with 4.9 seconds left. Middleton, who had made his last three shots, missed a game-winner as time expired to send things to overtime.
From there, it was a grind, each team managing only six points in the first overtime. Chicago scored off turnovers on the opening two possessions of the second overtime with Butler snagging an Antetokounmpo pass in the lane and Rose capitalizing on a Carter-Williams bobble. Chicago never looked back. The most alarming numbers for the Bulls were the minute totals: 53 for Butler, 48 for Rose, 45 for Noah and 41 for Gasol. Rose’s total raised perhaps the biggest concern on a night where his importance to the flow of Chicago’s offense was evident.
“If [Derrick] needs a blow we’re going to take him out, but in the playoffs there’s not restrictions on anyone other than play well,” Thibodeau said. “You’re playing well, you’re going to play. In Derrick’s case, he needs rest, we’ll rest him. He’s playing great, he’s moving great, we’ll just go from there.”
Credit the Bucks, who competed for the nearly three-hour game and again pushed the Bulls to the brink, and this time for all four quarters. “We had a great chance to win the game twice,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. “The effort was there the whole night, guys played their heart out, gave us a chance to win against a very elite team.”
[daily_cut.NBA]“This whole series is valuable,” Kidd added. “Every second. This is important stuff for our guys.” He’s coached his team up through three games and has kept them focused, even as they have fallen into what is likely an insurmountable hole. In a pivotal game, Milwaukee threw the whole bag of tricks at Chicago and put itself in multiple positions to win, aggressively trapping on defense and running small down the stretch with Antetokounmpo at the four.
Milwaukee gambled on packing the paint and it backfired, as their opponents shot 42.4% from three-point range. “What can you do when they’re hitting threes like that?” Bucks guard Michael Carter-Williams said. “They made shots. Sometimes you just got to shake their hands.”
Throughout the series, the Bucks have simply been unable to manage stops while scoring effectively at the same time, Game 3's brief second-quarter flash notwithstanding. Their spirits appeared high at the podium, and this is a team that has proven their worth for the future, even with three straight losses. The Bulls and Bucks will get just one day off before Saturday’s Game 4, which could prove to be a battle of attrition. Even as their fans begin to gaze toward Cleveland, Chicago should know exactly what to expect.
“We’re playing a hungry young team,” Rose said. “They’re pushing us. it was a great example tonight, how hard they played. Defensively they were great, and forcing us to play. We’re finding ways to win the games, and that’s why you've got to love the playoffs. Every game is going to be different.”