CHICAGO — Through three long years of knee surgeries and recoveries, the Chicago Bulls waited for this. And when the moment arrived, here is what Derrick Rose did.
He attacked. He played like an MVP, and if he keeps it up, the Bulls will be a tough team to knock out of the NBA playoffs.
Rose had 23 points and seven assists in his first postseason game in three years, Jimmy Butler scored 25 points and Chicago opened the playoffs with a 103-91 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday night.
Rose was at his fearless best, driving hard to the rim early and mixing in three 3-pointers in the second half. He shot 9-of-16 and got serenaded with “MVP! MVP!” chants.
It was quite a night for a superstar point guard making his first playoff appearance since he tore a knee ligament in the 2012 playoff opener against Philadelphia. But if he had any thoughts about the long gap between playoff games, he kept them to himself.
“You can’t think that way when you’re on the floor and you’re in a battle,” Rose said. “When you step on the floor, all those thoughts have to be in the back of your mind. You have to have a clear mind. You’ve got to be very confident and believe in the work that you put in to get back on the floor. That’s all the things I was working on.
“I only had three goals tonight — to have fun, to have no expectations and to compete.”
Chicago hosts Game 2 tonight.
Khris Middleton scored 18 points and Zaza Pachulia had 15. Michael Carter-Williams finished with nine on 4-of-13 shooting, and the sixth-seeded Bucks came up short after jumping from 15 wins to 41 this season.
“It’s the first playoff game for a lot of people on this team,” guard Jerryd Bayless said. “There were a lot of nerves and whatnot, but we got rid of it today and have a great opportunity on Monday.”
Butler showed the form that made him an All-Star for the first time this season. He set a playoff career high for points and had six assists.
Aaron Brooks provided a spark off the bench with 13 points, and the Bulls opened the series on a winning note after fighting through injuries to finish the regular season 50-32.
The Bulls won despite committing 19 turnovers. They out-rebounded Milwaukee 52-41, with Pau Gasol grabbing 13 and Joakim Noah and rookie Nikola Mirotic 11 apiece.
The Bulls believe they are poised to make a run now that they finally have Rose playing in the postseason.