While it might not be a familiar occurrence going forward, Derrick Rose joined his teammates and coaches on the bench for the first time this season as the Bulls fell 97-92 to the Indiana Pacers.
Rose, dressed in a sports coat and slacks, could be seen giving his teammates and coaches his observations and was brought to his feet several times throughout the spirited effort from his teammates.
The appearance only increases speculation on his possible return to the rotation, but coach Tom Thibodeau downplayed any significance in Rose taking in the game on the sidelines.
“We talked about it from the beginning. The reason he’s been in back is because he’s been working in back,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “There’s stuff that he’s been doing back there and now he’s not doing that as much. He’s doing more before the games, so that part’s taken care of. It’s the next step. He may not even be out there all the time. If he wants to come out, great. If he doesn’t, that’s fine, too. Again, his focus has to be on the rehab. The team has to focus on our improvement and our next game. So at some point, he’ll be ready to go.”
As for the Bulls (34-26), they missed two opportunities to tie the game in regulation. Marco Belinelli missed a three-pointer that went out of bounds off of Indiana and Vladimir Radmanovic couldn’t corral a loose ball as David West came up with the steal and sealed the game with two free throws with two seconds remaining.
Jimmy Butler finished with a career-high 20 points in the losing effort, whose production was tied by Belinelli. Joakim Noah collected his 30th double-double of the season with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
David West led Indiana with 31 points.
The win gives the Central Division-leading Pacers (38-22) their third straight victory over the Bulls and assures they’ll win the season series for the first time since the 2003-04 season.
Already shorthanded without Richard Hamilton (back) and Taj Gibson (knee), Kirk Hinrich would wake up prior to the contest with a sore toe on his right foot that left him unable to compete and force him to miss his 16th game of the season.
“We have more than enough in that locker room,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Those guys are all capable of doing well. We played from behind most of the night, and it's important to play with a lead. We got to come out with more fire to start the game, more intensity; the level of intensity has to be a lot higher."
The Bulls found themselves down 13 early and Thibodeau went with lightly used reserves Vladimir Radmanovic and Nazr Mohammed as catalyst. Along with Marquis Teague, Belinelli and Jimmy Butler, the unusual lineup helped cut the deficit to seven entering the half.
“We were flat,” acknowledged Thibodeau. “Those guys got us back into it, so we rode them,”
The Bulls would battle back and tie the game twice in the second half. After a pair of George Hill free throws, a West basket and a split trip to the line for Hill; Butler’s three-pointer with 19 seconds remaining closed the Bulls deficit to 95-92. Hill would miss his next two free throws, which gave way to the final failed sequences.
Never happy with a defeat, the Bulls had to take solace in the way they competed despite the numerous variables against them against a team that’s no longer viewed as the little brother in the Central Division back yard.
“Guys did a great job, especially in the second quarter, of keeping us in the game,” said Luol Deng, who finished with 15 points. “I thought that they kind of got it going for us. Indiana came out, got a big lead and they did a great job.
“It’s tough, but we’ve been there many times. We’ve had a lot of victories where we come from behind and we rally. I thought we played really hard tonight, just couldn’t come up with it,” he continued. “I mean, we lost. You always acknowledge the great things that we did out there, but at the end of the day, we’ve got to find a way to get that win. It’s tough every time you lose.”