Derrick Rose’s buzzer-beating three-pointer lifts Bulls

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Derrick Rose celebrates with Joakim Noah (right) and Taj Gibson after making the game-winning three-pointer to beat the Cavaliers in Game 3 on Friday at the United Center. | Nam Y. Huh/AP

With a fist pump and a scream, Tom Thibodeau was once again witnessing greatness.

It’s been a few years. Three to be exact. There’s been a few knee surgeries along the way. Three to be exact.

But when Derrick Rose banked in a three-pointer as the horn went off in Friday’s 99-96 Bulls win, Thibodeau’s initial reaction was punching at the air and bellowing out a scream of excitement.

With good reason.

Not only did the Game 3 win put the Bulls up 2-1 in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series, but it was a reminder of what a one-time MVP was still capable of.

“That’s his greatness,’’ Thibodeau said. “There’s not many like him. As a matter of fact, there’s not any like him. The combined speed, the quickness, the power. He’s shaking the rust off, so the more he plays, the more comfortable he becomes, the better rhythm he has.’’

The entire fourth quarter was all about that.

Sure, Rose was only 4-for-10 in the final 12 minutes, but he made it to the free throw line six times — making five — and handed out two assists. And then after J.R. Smith tied the game with a three-pointer of his own, Rose answered.

“I wasn’t open [initially on the inbound] and I just ran towards the ball,’’ Rose said, walking through the play once again. “Mike [Dunleavy] threw me the ball, drove right and when I released the ball I felt it was a good shot. It hit glass and went in.’’

Not bad for an inbound play that had just three seconds on the clock, and had Dunleavy close to a five-second call when he couldn’t find an open man.

To Rose’s credit, he ran back towards Dunleavy to accept the inbounds pass, and then did what Rose used to do before three knee surgeries put his career on hold for almost three seasons.

“I don’t mean to sound cocky but those are the shots that you want to take as a player that’s in my position, and I’m just thankful and grateful that my teammates gave me the ball,’’ Rose said. “They believed in me down the stretch. Kept giving me the ball, kept encouraging me to play the way I usually play, and no, I did not call glass.’’

Rose scored 14 of his 30 points in the final quarter, and finished the game with seven rebounds and seven assists.

A feel-good game for a guy that needed a feel-good moment again? Dunleavy hoped so, but then again Game 4 is coming fast on Sunday, so back pats will have to wait.

“Hey, we’ll take a win any way we can get it, but to not have to go into overtime, for [Rose] to bail us out like that, it’s huge,’’ Dunleavy said. “Happy for him because all the stuff you see him go through, but enjoy it for a few minutes, and we’ve got to bounce back and do it again on Sunday.

“Great story. Hopefully it’s just the beginning.’’

As far as the Cavaliers, their “Big Two’’ of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving didn’t have it on Friday. Yes, James finished with 27 points, 14 assists and eight rebounds, but shot 8-for-25 and had seven turnovers. As for Irving, Rose dominated him in their much-hyped series showdown, as the guard was 3-for-13 with just 11 points and no assists.

The only bad news for the Bulls was Pau Gasol leaving the game with a strained left hamstring, and unable to return.

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Email: jcowley@suntimes.com

Twitter: @suntimes_hoops

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