With just three preseason games remaining for the Bulls, everything seems to be returning to normal.
If you exclude Jimmy Butler missing his second straight game with a left knee contusion and Joakim Noah being shut down for a week to rehab his strained groin, Friday night’s 103-98 win over the Indiana Pacers had all the elements that most have become accustomed to over the years.
There was Derrick Rose: playing a preseason high of 31:26, finishing with the highest output so far in his early return; 32 points, 10 points in the final 5:50 of play. He finished shooting 9-for-15 from the field, four-for-seven from 3 and 10-for-13 from the line, while handing out nine assists. He still says he has rust to knock off, but in the last two games, he has 54 points in 53 minutes.
“It felt good being out there,” Rose said of closing his first game since returning. “I’m just happy (coach Tom Thibodeau) gave me the opportunity and that we won the game.
“It felt good, but at the same time I didn’t want to rush anything. He put me back in the game and I told him I would be ready… so playing that extra four-five minutes – just trying to keep knocking rust off every night. “
Luol Deng contributed 22 points and Taj Gibson finished with 13 in a game that was anything but another preseason affair.
“It felt like a playoff game, it really did. They were cheap-shotting,” Gibson said. “I’m in pain right now and I was kind of mad: Thibs said we’ve got practice. I was like, ‘Thibs.’ But it was crazy, the way guys were flying. Bodies were just going left and right. Thibs was yelling, their coach was yelling. The refs had a heart attack because they probably though it was a walk in the park, but they were really getting screamed on by Thibs every play down. But it was a great game.”
The Bulls battled back from a 12-point deficit after Indiana got off to a hot start to begin the game, shooting 57 percent in the first half and limiting the Bulls to just 34 percent to hold a 50-43 advantage at the half.
The Bulls regained control on Mike Dunleavy’s sweeping layup that made the game 60-59 with 6:18 remaining. Indiana had their chances, but missed four of five of their free in the closing minutes when they had chances to take the lead or close the deficit to one. Rose’s two free throws with 58 seconds remaining to extend the Bulls lead to 100-95 were the icer.
“His confidence is just growing and growing with each game,” Thibodeau said. “You can see his timing is coming around. The explosion has been there from the start and we’ve seen it the entire training camp and practices, and in the games. Each game you can see his timing is coming around. He’s got a good rhythm on his jump shot now. Attacking, taking contact. But he made some great passes, too. We’re not making shots yet, but those are shots I’m confident we’ll knock down.”
Rose paced himself during his first two games, but it’s clear now that he’s taking whatever the defenses are giving him, just like in years past.
“God is good. Like I said, I’ve been working hard, super hard,” he said. “I think I’m one of the hardest working guys in the league, if not the hardest. During the summer, I worked out three times a day and really concentrating on everything that I’m doing and taking care of my body. So, just trying to make the game easy and trying to do anything individually to help my team.”