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Gibson, Gasol lead Bulls past Jabari Parker’s Bucks; Derrick Rose plays 31 minutes

MILWAUKEE – Tom Thibodeau is no stranger to defending the toughness of Derrick Rose.

“That’s what bothered me about that,’’ the Bulls coach said last September, when the topic was presented to him. “People who have been around Derrick, I think our real fans have an appreciation for him. I think the people who criticized him, they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.’’

So there he was on Wednesday, again being asked about a growing number of critics who feel like Rose is soft.

And while Thibodeau definitely had his point guard’s back, it wasn’t with the pit bull ferocity that he displayed at this point last season.

“Whether it’s the MVP year, and everyone praising him like there was no room for improvement, or whether it’s criticism, it’s all the same,’’

Thibodeau said prior to the 95-86 win over the Milwaukee Bucks. “You’ve got to put that aside. You really only answer to yourself. Only you know how much you’re putting into each and every day. Once you’ve determined you’re giving all that you have, that’s all you can do, and you should be fine with that.

“And he’s strong-minded. This comeback’s not going to be easy, and he knows that, understands that. He’s just got to keep grinding away. It will work out.’’

That slow comeback at least took some strides against Milwaukee, as Rose and his two sprained ankles, went from “questionable’’ earlier in the day, to starting and actually producing in the win.

He was by no means the guy that had 18 points in the first half against Cleveland before the ankles crumbled, but his 13 points – 10 of which were scored in the first half – were the footnote to the seven assists and two steals he registered.

Yes, he was limping at times, and yes, the usual spring down the court was more like a casual job, but Rose was at least playing. All the speculation of communication – or there lack of – could at least be tabled for another night.

Rose put in 32 minutes of work, and in Thibodeau’s world, that’s the best thing he can do.

“He’s got to play,’’ Thibodeau said of the drama that’s surrounded Rose the last few games. “And he’s done a good job of getting himself ready. He’s handled everything well. Sprained ankles, that’s part of the game, it happens. You deal with it.

“I think we tend to try and read into it, and there’s nothing to read into. It is what it is.’’

It was a step forward.

Especially late, when Rose irritant Brandon Knight, like he did all night, tried to test Rose’s ankles by attacking the rim. Knight missed the layup, and with 1:17 left and the Bucks within six, Rose went right back at him with his most explosive move of the game. He was fouled, made both free throws, and stretched the lead to eight.

The Bulls (4-1) were led by Taj Gibson’s 23 points and Pau Gasol’s 22, but all eyes were on Rose.

“He’ll get back [to what he was],’’ Thibodeau said. “It’s going to take time. You can’t miss the amount of time that he’s missed and get it all back right away. I think everyone has to be patient. There’s going to be ups, there’s going to be downs.

“It will work out.’’