CHICAGO — This is what Bulls fans have been waiting for for three years. Playing in his first playoff game since the career-changing ACL injury in 2012, Derrick Rose needed to make a statement. He needed to send a message that he’s going to be able to carry the Bulls in the playoffs.
Message received. Rose was spectacular on Saturday, scoring 23 points on 9-for-16 shooting with 7 assists as the Bulls beat the Bucks 103-91 to take a 1-0 first-round series lead. It wasn’t just the numbers, though. It was how Rose scored his points. He took his share of threes (and actually made three of them), but he was relentless attacking the basket, which led to plenty of highlights, including this one:
And this one:
And this one:
It’s been far too long since we’ve seen this version of Rose in a game that matters, and his return to the playoff stage couldn’t have gone much better.
“It’s good to have him out there again,” head coach Tom Thibodeau said after the game. “It’s been a long process for him.”
Rose was the show in Game 1, but he had plenty of help. Jimmy Butler’s 25 points, as well as 13 off the bench from Aaron Brooks, helped lead a balanced attack that put up 103 points on the NBA’s second-best defense.
The rest of the Bulls got a major lift from having Rose back.
“It’s exciting,” said Butler. “He makes everything so much easier for everybody.”
The Bulls had the game well in hand by the fourth quarter, but Milwaukee stayed competitive in the first quarter, trailing by just one point at 30-29. But the first-quarter offense proved unsustainable.
“That first quarter was fool’s good,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd. “We’re not an offensive team. We fell into the trap of thinking we were going to outscore Chicago.”
But beyond how the teams matched up with one another, Rose’s return is what will be taken away from this game. And on that level, it was an unqualified success.
“I only had three expectations — to have fun, to have no expectations and to compete,” Rose said.
Safe to say, he checked all of the boxes.