The first round of the NBA Playoffs have felt largely underwhelming. Sure, the Clippers and Spurs are in the midst of playing what feels like a Western Conference finals series and the first three games from the Warriors and Pelicans have been quite entertaining, even though Golden State is one win away from sweeping away New Orleans into the offseason.
For a season felt so wide open and yet seven out of the eight series in the first round appear to be over. There are not going to be any wild upsets. In fact, it looks like the only upset we’re going to get in the first round is the Wizards over the Raptors. If the Spurs beat the Clippers it’s an upset because they’re the six seed, but we all know it’s not really an upset. Technically the Grizzlies KO’ing the Blazers is an upset because of their seeds, but Memphis finished the season with a better record than Portland.
What we are witnessing this year is almost the exact opposite of last year’s playoffs. You may not remember what happened during those crazy two weeks when five Game 7s took place and if you didn’t, you for sure don’t remember the largely underwhelming second round. A thrilling six game set between the Thunder and Clippers took place, but the other three series were forgettable. (Flashback; Spurs killed the Blazers, Nets suffered a gentleman’s sweep at the hands of the Heat, Pacers stunningly reached the Eastern Conference Finals by defeating the Wizards in six.)
So while the rest of the first round feels like it’s going to be a chore to watch, besides Los Angeles-San Antonio of course, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and the guy who is holding the light is Derrick Rose.
We’ve been teased an abundant amount of times by Rose since his horrific knee injury in the 2012 playoffs that appeared to spin his career into Penny Hardaway territory, but for some reason the way he’s looked in the first three games against the Bucks feels different. For the first time in years, Rose is actually driving to the hoop consistently at a high speed and either firing bullet passes to his teammates or making the types of ridiculous contorting layups that made him famous in the first place.
He’s shooting 67% on drives in the playoffs while averaging just over nine per game, which is two more than he averaged during the regular season, per NBA.com. But it’s not just the insane layups from Rose that have given the Bulls a different vibe over the first week of the playoffs. Jimmy Butler looks like the guy who for an eight week stretch this season made the NBA world say to themselves WTF is happening. Butler is averaging 27 points, while shooting 49% from the field and he’s getting to the line 10 times per game, which is up from his total of seven per game in the regular season.
Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson look like they could use some extra gas in the tank for the next round. Noah and Gibson are banged up, along with Nikola Mirotic, while Gasol looks like his legs could be shot after playing 2,681 minutes in the regular season, his highest total since the 2010-11 season. Thibodeau is going to run Gasol right into retirement if Thibs is still in Chicago after the playoffs, which right now doesn’t look likely.
Spoiler alert: The Bulls are going to need everyone to play at a high level if they’re going to challenge the Cavaliers in the second round. It’s a…
But the beauty of what Rose has done with these continuous displays of athleticism is he’s suddenly propped Chicago back up to a point where it doesn’t feel ridiculous to discuss a scenario in which the Bulls eliminate the Cavs and advance to the conference finals. The Bulls don’t have the same aura they did when they opened the season with 11/2 odds to win the title, but they don’t feel like they’re going to be doormats for Cleveland either.
Rose is still settling for way too many threes even though he’s shooting 45% from beyond, while averaging seven per game. Those makes are fool’s gold for the former MVP because he’s still at his best when he’s penetrating, but what isn’t fool’s gold are the emotions we’re seeing from Rose.
For a guy who always seems to hide how he feels during a game, Rose is finally showing signs of enjoying himself on the basketball court and he very well should enjoy himself. After years of surgeries, rehab stints and frustration, Derrick Rose has given us a glimpse into what the future may hold.
It’s a future that holds a playoff series NBA fans were dying to see before the season started and it feels like we’re actually going to get what we want. Let’s be sure to enjoy this run from Derrick Rose as long as it lasts because who knows how long it actually will.
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