Rose does it all in return to court in win over Pacers


Oct 6

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Now do you believe him?

Now that you’ve seen Derrick Rose challenge 7-2 Roy Hibbert at the rim, get knocked down and bounce up to shoot his free throws in Saturday’s 82-76 Bulls win over the Indiana Pacers.

Now that you’ve seen him crossover George Hill, leaving Hill reaching and the entire Pacers’ defense coming at Rose and Rose pounded at the rim.

Now that you’ve seen him go full court and dunk, though two handed? Nothing fancy yet, Rose said.

And now that you’ve seen him run the wing with Kirk Hinrich and finish, double pump on a drive and put in the layup and a finger roll, score 13 points in just over 20 minutes and complain to Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau he didn’t want to leave the game.

Now will you believe Derrick Rose when he says he’s back? And maybe even, as incredulous as it may seem, as good or better than he was some 18 months ago before he suffered the ugliest of basketball injuries, a torn anterior cruciate ligament?

D Rose drives to the rim vs. Indiana

“I knew I was going to play the same way,” Rose said. “Play aggressive, make them stop me, but get out in the open floor. They (teammates) hit me in practice. If I was going to the hole they’re going to foul me the same way. I was used to it.”

“He got mad at me,” Thibodeau said about removing Rose from the game for good with 7:07 remaining in the third quarter and the Bulls ahead 50-49. “That’s when I knew we were good. Now I know things are normal.

“Like we’ve been seeing in practice,” said Thibodeau. “Hit the floor, aggressive. That’s the way he played before the injury and he’s back playing like that. For him, that’s his game, the speed, the quickness, but the power to go along with it. That’s what makes him so special and unique. There’s no one like him.”

On and off the court, really.

“The third quarter, he told me he was going to give me eight minutes,” Rose said with a laugh after a strong 16 minutes in the first half. “But he only gave me five. I was mad about the other three minutes.”

Rose was as serene and unconcerned as others were anxious and nervous. Because Rose said he knew. Not just because of the summer workouts and last week of training camp, but the 18 months of rigorous rehabilitation and preparation, the work you put in making you confident, as Thibodeau likes to say, that gave Rose confidence through an even better body.

Rose said he was measured with a 37-inch vertical when he came into the NBA. But this summer, he was charted at 42 inches during workouts. And Rose’s speed and acceleration seemed as natural as it ever was, his dashes into the Pacers’ citadel seemingly as determined and relentless as ever.

“It felt great, normal,” said Rose afterward, engulfed by a cadre of reporters and cameras equivalent to a playoff game. “That’s the way I’ve been playing in practice.”

Apprehensive? You know, like the rest of us?

“No, not at all,” Rose said with almost confusion.

He’s been asked this question almost every day for the last few weeks. So he knew everyone wanted to see for themselves. But he also knew. Just wait; just wait.

“I knew I was going to play the same way,” Rose said, boxed in by reporters closer than any Pacers really were able to get to him regularly. “Play aggressive, make them stop me, but get out in the open floor. They (teammates) hit me in practice. If I was going to the hole they’re going to foul me the same way. I was used to it. I’m used to getting hit, falling, slipping, all that stuff. I got that out of the way in training camp.”

Rose said he finally crossed that hurdle taking a shot a few days back from burly free agent Dexter Pittman, both falling in a heap and Rose bouncing up like it was 2011.

“I was just playing, just trying to get to an open spot. I’m just happy we got the win,” Rose said as anyone familiar with him knows his talk about winning every time is not much different from other great competitors, albeit less bombastic. “We fought back when we were down. The crowd was into it and it showed we can really compete.

“I’d been preparing myself for this moment for the last year and a half now,” Rose noted. “Knowing how blessed I am to be stepping back on the court, especially with these guys who are so dedicated to making this team better. I’m fortunate to be on this team and blessed to be in this organization and playing for Thibs and this coaching staff.”

Again, reporters wanted to know. The knee. Worried?

“Not at all,” Rose said. “That’s in the past. I’m just trying to look forward to the future.”

And it was a bright night for the Bulls in opening their exhibition season in Indianapolis. Though this group doesn’t really play any games for fun. The bench, with Joakim Noah having found a sport coat so he could sit on the bench, was up and into the game, cheering and hooting for three Taj Gibson blocks (along with a team high 18 points and 12 rebounds), Jimmy Butler and Kirk Hinrich outrebounding the bigger Pacers and Luol Deng blocking a fancy crossover drive from Paul George.

The Bulls with barely a center crushed the Pacers on the boards 56-38 as Deng added 15 points and Butler 11. Hinrich was in midseason junkyard dog form barking at officials, and Thibodeau used a lengthy bench that even pulled away behind Gibson’s play late along with the two rookies while the Pacers mostly closed with their starters.

Gibson was very good, perhaps better than any time in a disappointing and injury plagued 2012-13.

“Last year was a lot of ups and downs and injuries, a lot of different stuff going on,” said Gibson. “Thibs said not to worry about the outside stuff and just play, and it’s been great since I was in L.A. working out with Derrick a lot. My confidence is good.”

Butler also was impressive, his weak side rebounding catching the Pacers napping and getting to the free throw line a dozen times with his driving. But even Rose said he talked to Butler about shooting more since both Rose and Butler were mostly driving and not spreading the court well enough.

“I told Jimmy we’re labeled as drivers,” Rose related. “Driving is easy to us. When we’re able to knock down shots and have guys close to us and we can get around them it’s going to make our job easier.”

The Bulls didn’t go to Carlos Boozer much as he had two points on one of five shots, his offense most likely to suffer with Rose’s return. The Bulls went into the post more with Deng. The Pacers put Hibbert on Boozer as Boozer is known to have trouble with size while the Pacers offense zeroed in on going at Boozer. But the Bulls defense was stout for so early as they got good help and rebounding, the Pacers shooting 32.9 percent.

Deng goes in for a lay up against the Pacers

“Honestly, the game was so much easier,” Deng said of playing with Rose again. “It’s just an easier game. He’s out there in transition and it’s just exciting the be back playing with him.”

Though Mike Dunleavy was just one of four shooting, he showed his basketball intelligence making good passes off the dribble for three assists. Thibodeau used rookies Erik Murphy and Tony Snell almost 20 minutes each. Neither did much as Snell’s shot was considerably off. Marquis Teague made a brief late appearance while the free agents didn’t play. The Bulls moved on to St. Louis to play the Grizzlies Monday.

It likely won’t be as crowded, especially among media, as more national basketball reporters came to the game than anytime in the last several years for the Bulls.

Though everyone had been told, no one had seen for themselves since April 2012. And, after all, this was Derrick Rose, the 2011 MVP and one of the great young stars of the game if not all of sports. Even sitting out an entire season, Rose’s jersey remained among the top selling in the world. And before halftime a strong contingent of Bulls fans were chanting “MVP” for Rose. Just like old times.

Rose started with the regular group other than Noah, out with a minor groin strain.

Rose played the first 7:02 and left with two points on one of four shooting and the Bulls trailing 17-15. He’d made his one basket on a drive on a fast break. No fancy stuff, but hard play. Thibodeau, as expected, said Rose had some issues with timing and rust, though I thought he was in control and his four turnovers weren’t that major (except to Thibodeau).

The Bulls closed the first quarter with Butler, Gibson and Hinrich making big defensive plays and leading 23-19.

Rose returned with 8:31 left in the second quarter and the Pacers back ahead 27-23.

Rose immediately had a fast break layup running with Hinrich and finishing with a double pump, added a hanging driving score around the turnovers and a finger roll and helped the Bulls to a 44-41 halftime lead. Rose ended the half with 11 points on four of 10 shooting, mostly inside and mostly leaving the Pacers players reaching and grasping.

“Last year when he came back and started practicing with us he didn’t have the explosiveness,” said Deng. “I saw this (not until) coming into training camp. He looked great tonight.”

The Pacers also were getting their former All-Star, Danny Granger, back from knee surgery. He would finish with six points on two of 10 shooting while looking tentative.

Then to open the second half, Rose converted a steal into a fast break and slam dunk, two handed and somewhat conservative but with no problem getting into the air.

Rose then left with 7:07 left in the third and the Bulls ahead 50-49, wrapping his knees in ice packs but removing them later as he sat and watched the fourth quarter. The Pacers exploded for 11 straight to take a 60-50 lead after Rose went out. But the Bulls got back within 64-58 after three and without playing any starters in the fourth, the Bulls behind eight Gibson’s eight points and holding Indiana to 12.5 percent shooting pulled away for the victory.

Which is what really made Rose happy. Really!

“If anything we got the win,” said Rose. “I know it’s preseason, but I haven’t played in a competitive game, not in an NBA game, in a long time. For us to get this win makes me feel good and makes the team feel good for the work we put in. It’s a blessing to be back on the court with the guys who put in the work all year. I’m just trying to take it one game at a time and stay focused on the No.1 goal this year, and that’s to contend for a championship.

“My wind was good,” Rose said as he seemed not to labor at anything. “I was able to push the ball the way I wanted to, put pressure on the defense. It kind of surprised me. I did not get winded the whole time I was out there. I’m going to continue to push the ball and I’m going to continue to fill the lanes as fast as I can.

“I wasn’t thinking about (being hit and going down). It probably was you all,” Rose laughed to reporters. “For me, I knew I hit the ground multiple times. My job is to continue to attack the hole and just get used to it. I’m not slowing down. I don’t care who’s in the hole. If they’re going to foul me hard, I’m just going to get back up and continue to go hard at them That’s what I’m trying to get used to.”

It may take the rest of us a little longer. But it’s nice to have that first one out of the way.

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