Chicago gave it all it had in Game 3, and it was just enough to pull out a pivotal win

Ball Don't Lie
Chicago gave it all it had in Game 3, and it was just enough to pull out a pivotal win
Chicago gave it all it had in Game 3, and it was just enough to pull out a pivotal win

Derrick Rose hasn’t exactly been himself in his team’s playoff series against the Cleveland Cavaliers. He hasn’t gotten to the line much. The runners aren’t falling. The touch hasn’t been there.

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Like any good Chicagoan knows, though – when the wind is in your face and the rotation is off, you can always bang one off the backboard.

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Watch Rose’s game-winner from Game 3 against the Cleveland Cavaliers:

We’ll go on, but that is your game story. The shot was ugly, it wasn’t called-for, it came off of a set play that was poorly executed, and it came after the referees let what looked like a foul-able amount of action from LeBron James pass without comment. Rose scored a team-high 30 points in Chicago’s 99-96 Game 3 win, pushing Chicago to a 2-1 series lead.

Of course, us cranks will remind you that Rose needed 26 shots to get to those 30 points. That he overshot his game-winner by a good foot and a half, and that he never called glass.

Derrick Rose has also endured three knee surgeries in the last three years, almost to the date in fact, and he’s had to watch as his superstar combatants (no pun intended) rose up around him. LeBron James is still burrowing through defenders, Russell Westbrook is ferociously dunking with two hands, Stephen Curry is tossing in 25-footers, and Kyrie Irving is gliding into the paint with ease. Rose, along the way, is struggling when forced to play every other day, his once-formidable runner is not falling, and it took him until deep into Game 3 to get to the free throw line for the first time in this series.

Not “game,” but “series.”

The Bulls, despite that “series” lead, remain a fatalistic bunch. Pau Gasol injured his hamstring at one point in Game 3 and sat most of the second half, head coach Tom Thibodeau told the press that he was complaining about it at halftime and that the team has no idea about his status heading into Sunday’s Game 4. He’ll have an MRI on Saturday:

Joakim Noah continues to try to stay active, and try to will his one healthy leg around, but he missed seven of eight shots in the game while looking like a shell of his former self. Jimmy Butler, meanwhile, looks like he needs an army cot to rest upon following his hounding help with LeBron on defense: James missed 17 of 25 shots and turned the ball over seven times.

James also had 14 assists, a career playoff-high, taking pinpoint advantage of Chicago’s defensive hedging while finding teammates to the literal left and right in the win. Cavs coach David Blatt only went with an eight-man rotation in the loss, but those three bench helpers (J.R. Smith, Matthew Dellavedova and James Jones) nailed 8-16 three-pointers, with Smith tying the game at 96 with ten seconds to go with a crucial three after the Chicago coaching staff declined the chance to foul while up three points.

Kyrie Irving, the Cavaliers’ second-in-command behind LeBron, had a rough night. He missed 10 of 13 shots and failed to register an assist. Following the contest, Cavs coach David Blatt defended his point guard:

“Perhaps the guys he was throwing the ball to didn’t make those shots. Look, we’re not talking about it, but Kyrie has been playing hurt. He’s showing a lot of courage, he’s giving it everything he has, he had a terrific two first games, and he’ll continue to do that. He’s playing his heart out, and I’m proud of him.”

Irving later acknowledged that he suffered a foot injury during Game 2 of his team’s first round series against Boston, but those that witnessed him drop a team-high 30 points during Cleveland’s Game 1 loss would hardly believe him. Credit also has to go to Rose, who stepped up his defensive intensity following two poor runs on that end during Games 1 and 2.

It was a rough, exhausting game.

Chicago made up for long bouts of offensive ineptitude (it continually waits until half of the shot clock has expired before launching into an actual play) with dominant work on the glass. The team still let Tristan Thompson have his usual four offensive rebounds, but the Bulls found fortune of its own by pulling in 18 offensive rebounds and out-boarding the Cavs by 15. Noah and Taj Gibson pulled in 10 combined offensive caroms, while rookie Nikola Mirotic provided 22 badly-needed minutes and ended his night with eight rebounds.

Gibson was Chicago’s best player in Game 3, doing expert work defensively while showing on perimeter stars before getting back to mind the glass. He’s never been as great a defensive rebounder as his reputation suggests, but his yeoman’s work and desperate minutes-sopping in Noah and Gasol’s absence helped Chicago circle the figurative wagons. Meanwhile, Mike Dunleavy continued to do all the right things – helping hit the glass once again while finishing with 16 points on 12 shots.

Cleveland is thin, at this point. The only thing the team’s bench offers is shooters, Irving is hurt (LeBron: "He gave us 40 minutes on one foot.") and Iman Shumpert looked a bit rattled in his first game following a groin strain. After the contest, however, LeBron James remained confident and sanguine:

“In the end they made one more play than us, and we can learn from it.”

Exactly what one can learn from defending a poor shooter shooting a 27-footer some 29 feet remains to be seen, but James’ confidence is understandable. The Bulls have to play perfect basketball just to be able to barely top a Cavs team working without Kevin Love, and what appears to be a limping Kyrie Irving. James may have tossed away too many turnovers, but he also looked unstoppable in stretches on his way toward 27 points.

James has always played better from behind, for better or worse, and if the same diligence that set Cleveland into motion during Game 2 re-appears in Game 4, then Chicago will have a loss on its hands. All the hallmarks that have dogged the Bulls all year – the lack of alacrity offensively, the moping, Joakim Noah’s worst instincts (he turned what was a sure technical free throw advantage following a James’ taunting penalty into offsetting whistles as he jawed back at his longtime rival) – were in place, and the Bulls needed a banked-in three to win at home.

Chicago, as always, still has everything it needs to win this series. All it has to do is shifts its martyrdom crown over to Cleveland’s side. Friday’s finish was a good start.

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Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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