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Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler show Bulls what they’d been missing
At one point in their shared podium appearance after their stellar performances in Game 1, Derrick Rose leaned over to Jimmy Butler and said, “This is so awkward.” Butler laughed and replied, “Yeah, it is.”
The Bulls’ backcourt mates were referencing the formal nature of the news conference, which is different than the more casual conversations that take place at lockers after regular-season games.
But they could’ve been talking about playing together, given how infrequently it has occurred. Monday’s Game 2 will mark just the 39th time this season that Rose and Butler have started together.
Luckily for the Bulls, their production belied the paucity of the pairing.
Rose and Butler combined for 48 points and 13 assists in Game 1, delivering several momentum-changing moments.
“It’s good to have them out there,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “And they’re similar in the sense they combine the power with the speed. And they play off each other well. The more they play together, the better it will be.”
This was the season Rose’s return and Butler’s emergence as a primary scorer were going to catapult the duo into the discussion of the league’s best backcourt. Instead, Butler’s left elbow injury and Rose’s torn right meniscus kept that title in the Bay Area with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
But in lieu of that title, stacking playoff victories will have to suffice for now.
“Jimmy has had a terrific season all season long,” Thibodeau said. “For Derrick, I thought he was playing great basketball right before the All-Star break. He had to battle through the injury. We’re hopeful he can get back to that high level. Just Derrick on the floor helps our team a ton. When he’s playing well, our team goes to a different level.”
Rose curiously talked about not drawing double teams in Game 1 despite the Bucks trapping him on most every pick-and-roll. Though he still has a tendency for jump passes, Rose also has the ability to complete some of those, particularly of the cross-court variety.
That ability and drawing so much defensive attention leaves open looks for others.
“He was a little timid at first, but then he got into his rhythm and attacked the basket,” Taj Gibson said of Rose. “That’s a sight to see when he attacks the basket. That’s what we need from him. And he got Jimmy going.”
Indeed, Rose assisted on three of Butler’s eight field goals, including both of his 3-pointers.
“I always tell him to shoot the (3-pointer) because it’s something he works on all the time,” Rose said. “And when I pitched it back to him or skipped it to him a couple of times, he pulled the trigger. With our offense, when you’re open, the game will tell you to shoot. I just love the way he’s playing.”
Butler finished sixth in the regular season by averaging 7.1 free-throw attempts per game and got to the line eight times in Game 1. Rose attempted only two free throws, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Bucks attempted to be more physical in Game 2.
Bucks coach Jason Kidd employs a trapping defense adept at adjustments. Limiting Rose’s penetration likely will top his list.
“People have been physical with Derrick before,” Thibodeau said. “Derrick has a very unique skill set because he combines the power and strength with the speed and quickness. That type of stuff he handles very well. Derrick doesn’t get too high or too low.”
Neither, apparently, does Butler.
“As long as we stay healthy and everyone keeps his confidence high, I think it’s going to be tough for teams to key in on any one guy because we have so many guys who do so many things well,” Butler said. “If we just keep playing team basketball, we will continue to win.”