Derrick Rose, for a night at least, is MVP again for Chicago Bulls in NBA play-offs

The Chicago Bulls kicked off their first round NBA play-offs series against the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday with a glimpse of the old, healthy Derrick Rose, who looked his fearless best in a 103-91 victory.

Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls goes for a layup on Saturday night in his team's NBA play-offs win over the Milwaukee Bucks. Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images / AFP / April 18, 2015
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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.

Rose had 23 points and seven assists in his first post-season game in three years, Jimmy Butler scored 25 points, and Chicago opened the NBA play-offs 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 three-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 play-off appearance since he tore a knee ligament in the 2012 play-off opener against Philadelphia. But if he had any thoughts about the long gap between play-off 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 host Game 2 on Monday.

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 play-off 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 play-off 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 50-32.

The Bulls won despite committing 19 turnovers. They outrebounded 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 post-season. The last time they had him for the duration of the play-offs, he capped an MVP season by leading them to the Eastern Conference finals in 2011. Chicago lost to Miami, and what happened after that is well documented.

The Bulls earned the No 1 seed for the second straight year in 2012, only to have Rose tear his ACL late in a lopsided play-off opening win over Philadelphia. A torn meniscus in his right knee early last season cut short his comeback after he sat out a year.

Without him, the Bulls were a play-off team. But they were never a serious championship threat.

Now, they’re off to a good start.

Chicago took a 60-51 lead to the locker room after getting 17 points from Butler and 12 from Rose.

The star point guard headed to the sideline to a loud ovation with 1:37 left after throwing down a hard two-handed dunk off a feed from Butler in transition and then scoring on a neat reverse layup that brought the bench to its feet.

The Bucks pulled within three early in the third, but Rose hit three three-pointers during a 15-7 response, including one that made it 77-66 with 4:33 left in the quarter.

Joakim Noah called Rose a “special player” and said, “It was special to watch him play like that. He was having a lot of fun out there on the court.”

In the other Eastern Conference contest, meanwhile, Paul Pierce beat the Raptors with a veteran mix of brains and baskets.

Pierce scored five of his 20 points in overtime, Nene had 12 points and 13 rebounds, and the Washington Wizards beat Toronto 93-86 in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series.

“It takes the pressure off us and puts it on them now,” Pierce said of winning on the road to start the series.

Pierce hit a three-pointer, his fourth of the game, to begin the extra session, further tormenting a Raptors team he eliminated with Brooklyn in last year’s play-offs, then derided this week by saying, “I don’t feel they have the `It’ that makes you worried,” in an interview with ESPN.

“He was really big,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. “I thought the three he hit to start the overtime was big.”

Bradley Beal scored 16, while John Wall and Kevin Seraphin each had 10 for the Wizards.

Amir Johnson scored 18 points and DeMar DeRozan had 15 points and 11 rebounds for the Raptors, who have yet to win the opening game of a first-round series in seven post-season appearances.

Toronto hosts Game 2 on Tuesday night.

*Associated Press

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