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NBA -- It's definitely playoffs time


PhilBoxing.com




CHICAGO -- On Saturday evening (Sunday Manila time), the Chicago Bulls started their quest to the NBA Finals by matching up against their first round opponent, the Milwaukee Bucks.

An early season favorite to make it out of the Eastern Conference, the Bulls enjoyed home court advantage, as the United Center promoted the Bulls "See Red Swag" campaign, resulting in a crowd streaked with red-clad fans cheering wildly every time any Bulls player scored, blocked, or stole the ball.

The crowd's enthusiasm definitely helped the Bulls to victory, surpassing the century mark, 103-91, to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-7 series.

The fireworks started with buzzer-beaters by the Bulls. Guard Aaron Brooks ignited the crowd at the end of the first quarter when he hit a 25-foot 3-pointer bank shot right as time expired, putting the Bulls ahead, 30-29. Forward Tony Snell continued the show when he hit a shot-clock buzzer beater just before the 11 minute mark in the second quarter to put the Bulls up, 32-29.

The Bulls also showed sparks of hustle on the defensive end of the court in the second quarter, as they grabbed 4 offensive rebounds in a row, capped off with a layup by Brooks, putting the Bulls up by 5. However, the intensity between the two teams overflowed when just past the 6 minute mark, Bulls forward Taj Gibson attempted to fight off three defenders, elbowed Bucks guard O.J. Mayo, and ended up receiving a Flagrant 1 foul.

With two minutes left in the half, Bulls superstar guard Derrick Rose set the crowd on fire when he stole the ball, passed it to fellow All-Star Jimmy Butler, who then threw a long pass downcourt back to Rose, who then made a monstrous two-hand dunk. This was followed by a Rose 2-foot driving reverse lay-up 20 seconds later, with the Bulls leading at the half, 60-51.

After a death-defying halftime performance of vertical chair-stacking acrobatics by The Amazing Sladek, the Bulls continued their dominance with outstanding scoring from their guards. Rose recorded 23 points including 11 in the third quarter and finished the game on 9-16 shooting, including 3-7 from three. He also contributed seven assists. Butler ended his evening with his playoff-carrer-high 25 points, with 17 coming in the first half. Butler also was the game-leader by making seven free throws.

Rose also reminded the crowd why he is the superstar that he is by draining two 3-pointers from well beyond the 3-point arc and prompting the crowd to start cheering "MVP! MVP!" The excitement continued when Gibson sank a two-hand put-back dunk off of a falling pass from Pau Gasol.

After the game, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau commented the both Rose and Butler got off to a great start. He also noted how the team played "unselfishly" and trusted the pass. Thibodeau was asked multiple questions regarding Rose's health and play of the evening. When asked whether this was as good as he's seen Rose play since coming back from his most recent leg injury, Thibodeau responded that most of the recent games Rose has played since coming back have been "very helpful and gave him more confidence. He's had setbacks through the course of the season, and he's bounced back everytime. Usually takes him a few games and then he takes off."

When Rose and Butler appeared together for their post-game press conferences, both were complimentary of each other's performances. Rose felt Butler was "huge" during this game. "I always tell him to shoot the trey because it's something he works on all the time. I love the way he's playing right now."

Likewise, Butler responded that it's "exciting" to have Rose back on the floor. "He makes everything easier for everybody. I don't have to do much whenever he has the ball. I just have to spot up and make shots. You have to get out on transition. That's what he does well for our team. He takes the pressure off of everybody."

Rose especially mentioned his teammates for their understanding regarding his recent injury. "I'm grateful to be playing with my teammates. They allow me to play the way I normally play. It's an honor; I'm really fortunate because I think anywhere else it wouldn't be the same. They give me motivation; they're pushing me. It feels good."

Chicago came into Saturday's game having closed out the regular season winning its last four games and winning its last seven games at the United Center, including Wednesday against the Atlanta Hawks. Chicago also boasted 11 of its 14 players having playoff experience: Aaron Brooks, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy, Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson, Kirk Hinrich, Nazr Mohammed, Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose, E'Twaun Moore, and Tony Snell. This year marked the first trip to the NBA Playoffs for rookies Camron Baristow, Doug McDermott, and Nikola Mirotic.

Saturday's game also marked Chicago's seventh straight trip to the postseason, making it the third longest in the NBA behind the San Antonio Spurs (18th) and the Atlanta Hawks (8th). This is Milwaukee's first playoffs appearance since 2013.

The series continues with Game 2 Monday night when the Bulls host the Bucks at the United Center.


Click here to view a list of other articles written by Kristy Gonowon.


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