His numbers were modest11 points on 5-for-9 shooting and eight assists in 32 minutes of playbut Derrick Roses return to the court was triumphant. Not just because the Bulls won, but for the first time in a long time, things felt normal again.
It was good, man. Spirits up just being out there, just getting a lot of love from the fans. It brought me up, even times where I felt down, the All-Star point guard said afterwards, as he answered mostly basketball-related questions from the media, instead of the injury inquiries that hes dealt with for the majority of the season. I just love the game, just being on the courtjust being with my teammates, reallyjust being out there, having the ball in my hands, it was an unbelievable feeling.
Roses playing status, in the Bulls third-to-last game of the regular season, leaked shortly before the contest against the visiting defending-champion Mavericks, began, but Rose knew hed play well in advance.
Rose decided hed play in the morning. But you know me, I dont like jinxing myself, he said. When I got here, I got a lot of treatment, went out there, shot a little bit.
Now, Rose still isnt 100 percent and he wasnt his typically explosive self, but some of that was by design and considering the fact that teammates Rip Hamilton and fellow All-Star Luol Deng had it going offensively, his usual exploits werent needed.
Rose felt a little bit of pain, but during the game, I was just trying to pace myself. Tried not to do anything to reinjure it. Trying to take the game easy, but play smart, Rose explained. Throbbing a little bit, but the great thing about it, we got the win. Got a couple days off, get treatment, stay off my feet and hopefully its going to get better, day by day.
Got to the lane a little bit during this game, but my confidence wasnt that high driving the ball and hopefully in the next couple of days, its going to get better and youll see me back to my usual self, driving to the hole, trying to get fouled, putting a lot of pressure on the defense, he continued. My conditioning is great. I wasnt that tired when I was out there. I didnt push the ball like that, so walking the ball up, seeing whos open, throwing the ball up to Lu and Rip so they could bring the ball up, try to attack. It took a lot off me.
I missed a couple shots, missed a couple threes, jumpshots, but shots that I normally hit, shots that I normally take. Lu and Rip played their butts, knocking down shots, playing defense, rebounding the ball and just trying to make it hard on the other team.
Added Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau: He looked good, taking everything into consideration. I think he played a very controlled-type game. He was taking care of the ball, running the offense and just trying to get a feel for being out there again. I thought it was a very good first step. Overall, I thought he played very well.
Rose also understands that its a process and he wont play at the MVP level of last season immediately, though hes confident he will continually improve at this late juncture of the season, as the Bulls attempt to clinch the Eastern Conferences top playoff seed and home-court advantage throughout the postseason.
When the opportunity comes, I know that Ill be totally healthy. I will, but until then, just try to make the game easy. We were going to do whatever it takes to win this game. Today, it was me passing the ball, getting guys open, putting them in situations where they could make the right play, he said. We still have to win out. The next one after this is Indiana. Were taking it one game at a time, not worried about any other team, just what were trying to here and were trying to win every game.
We want it, but if we dont get it, theres no excuses. We just cant stop playing because we dont get the No. 1 seed. Our biggest concern is trying to win out, taking it game by game. Were not trying to overlook any other team, Rose continued. Were playing against some good teams and towards the end of the season, people are trying to play hard against us, no matter what their record is. Theyre coming out playing hard and theyre NBA teams, so they can beat you any given night.