By Cody Westerlund–
MILWAUKEE (CBS) – In a wild game that saw the Chicago both manage to rally from an 18-point second-quarter deficit and blow an eight-point lead with less than 90 seconds left in regulation, the Bulls staved off the Bucks for a 113-106 double-overtime win on Thursday night at the Bradley Center that gave them a 3-0 lead in the Eastern Conference first-round playoff series.
Here are the observations and notes of the night.
1. The question came late Thursday night in the bowels of the Bradley Center, as if it was preordained, and Bulls point guard Derrick Rose shot it down.
Are you all the way back to your old self?
“That theory on being all the way back, I can’t think about that,” Rose said. “Every game is going to be different. All I’m doing is preparing myself for every game and going out there and having confidence and believing in myself and believing in my craft, to go out there and compete. It’s the playoffs. You have to love it.”
Such questions tend to follow every time Rose shines, as he did so again Thursday. Leading all scorers with 34 points on 12-of-23 shooting while adding eight assists against three turnovers, Rose was the steady, guiding force that Chicago needed.
“Derrick’s starting to pick up speed, so that’s a good sign,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said.
“I like the way he’s playing. He’s doing a lot of different things. He scored the ball, he made plays tonight, he rebounded the ball. Just in general, the playmaking when he’s on the floor puts a lot of pressure on people and opens things up.”
After Chicago blew a late lead and trailed 95-94, Rose drove to the hoop and was fouled with 4.9 seconds left in regulation. With the game hanging in the balance, he missed the first free throw, then rattled the second one in to force overtime.
2. While Rose was understandably all the talk afterward — this marks the first year since 2011 that he’s been healthy for multiple playoff games – he’s only part of the biggest Bulls postseason storyline.
Chicago’s backcourt is dominating.
While Rose is averaging 24.0 points on 47 percent shooting and 8.0 assists in the first three games, Jimmy Butler has complemented him with 26.7 points per game on 49 percent shooting.
On Thursday, Butler added 24 points – including the go-ahead dunk after a steal early in the second overtime – and Tony Snell added 16 off the bench. In addition, the Bulls shot 14-of-33 on 3-pointers.
Rose has taken notice of this, as he recently expressed appreciation in having an All-Star in Butler as a running mate, which he didn’t have back in 2010-’11.
For his part, Butler’s happy to play Robin to Rose’s Batman.
“It means a lot I think Derrick is a helluva player, and I think he can take over the game at any point in time,” Butler said. “I just try to play my role and do whatever it does to help us win. Playing with Derrick, he makes everything easier for everybody.”
3. With each passing game, it seems more and more like the Bulls’ championship aspirations rest in the hands of Rose and Butler.
The reasoning for that is multi-faceted. The obvious one – they’re really good. And secondly, Joakim Noah continues to struggle offensively, which has a trickle-down effect.
On Thursday, Noah had just two points on 1-of-5 shooting in nearly 46 minutes of action, and he hasn’t scored in double figures since mid-March.
While the Bulls need Noah’s defense and rebounding, his failure to be an offensive threat puts more pressure on Rose and Butler. Noah’s a poor jump shooter, so he doesn’t do it much, but now he’s struggling to finish around the rim as well.
The Bucks continue to run double teams at Pau Gasol, and Thursday they randomly jumped others with a second defender as well. They can get away with it because Noah’s not a threat.
This will be worth monitoring moving forward to the second round, when Chicago will likely face Cleveland. There’s little margin of error against the high-scoring Cavaliers, so Noah will have to contribute more or at least be a big force on the offensive glass to justify big minutes.
4. With 44 seconds left in the first overtime, the Bulls rebounded a Bucks miss with the score tied at 101-101. On the ensuing possession, Chicago showed no urgency.
With the shot clock reaching single digits, the ball ended up in Pau Gasol’s hands in the corner. He passed to Butler, who fired up a wayward 3-pointer just before the shot clock horn.
It was an awful sequence for the Bulls. Gasol shouldn’t be expected to create from the corner late in the shot clock, and they bypassed a chance at a two-for-one.
“I like the two-for-one in certain situations,” Thibodeau said. “It makes sense, but the way the game was going, you know, I didn’t feel good about getting two bad shots. I thought we could settle down and get a good shot in that situation. I did think about it, but I didn’t like it in that setting.”
While you can see Thibodeau’s reasoning, it also remains puzzling, considering the Bulls dinked around and got themselves a “bad” shot anyway. In this case, it would’ve made more sense to quickly put Rose in a high screen-and-roll and attack immediately.
5. Bulls reserve forward Nikola Mirotic missed Game 3 because of a strained quadriceps and knee soreness. His status for Saturday’s Game 4 is uncertain.
“Where we are in the series, that’s not as important as his health,” Thibodeau said. “If he’s healthy enough to play, I want him to play. If he’s not, I don’t want him to play. He’s making good, steady progress.”
In his first game back from a hyperextended left knee, reserve Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich played just six-plus minutes. That was in part because Snell played so well.
Butler played 53:01, while Rose clocked 48:13 of playing time. Butler admitted he was “just a little” tired. Rose told Thibodeau he felt “great,” the coach said.
“There’s not really any restrictions on anyone other than play well,” Thibodeau said. “If you play well, you’re going to play. If you’re not playing well, you’ll probably play less.”
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for CBSChicago.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.