ST. LOUIS—In the second game of his comeback tour, Derrick Rose duplicated his preseason-opening stat line—13 points and three assists, to go with four rebounds, three steals and just one turnover in 23 minutes of playing time—and more importantly, the Bulls repeated the same result, beating Memphis, 106-87, Monday night at the Scottrade Center.
It wasn’t exactly a made-for-TV opening period for the Bulls, as the Grizzlies, a team that always plays them tough, got off to an 11-2 start, led by scorer Jerryd Bayless (15 points), starting in place of Chicago native Tony Allen.
Those first two points were scored by Rose—in the same fashion as his initial basket in Saturday’s preseason opener, a putback of his own miss—but the Bulls’ offense struggled at the outset of the game against Memphis’ staunch defense, now guided by rookie head coach Dave Joerger. The point guard did have a highlight moment, a coast-to-coast drive—plus the foul, though he would miss the ensuing free throw, a theme throughout the first half, as he shot 1-for-5 from the charity stripe; he bounced back to make all four of his third-quarter foul shots—but it wasn’t enough to prevent the Bulls from facing a 28-20 deficit at the end of the first quarter.
Again led by the active play of backup big man Taj Gibson (13 points), the Bulls sliced into Memphis’ lead and via a 15-4 spurt, seized the lead. The forward tandem of veteran newcomer Mike Dunleavy Jr. and rookie Erik Murphy also played their part in the de facto home team turning the tide, though All-Star power forward Zach Randolph’s foul trouble and reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol’s absence also likely had something to do with it.
But while All-Star small forward Luol Deng (13 points) also got it going offensively for the Bulls, the Grizzlies fought back behind floor general Mike Conley Jr., who was engaged in a battle with Rose on both ends, and at the intermission, the so-called visitors—St. Louis is actually a tad bit closer to Memphis—were ahead, 45-44.
After the break, Rose knocked down his first three-point attempt of his comeback and with his new starting backcourt partner, Jimmy Butler (nine points), the Bulls’ guard duo—as well as the contributions of power forward Carlos Boozer (game-high 16 points) and fill-in starting center Nazr Mohammed (team-high six rebounds and three blocked shots)—helped the team attain a double-digit advantage.
After his third “segment” of the evening, Rose exited the contest for the final time, but once again, the Bulls reserves maintained their edge, as solid defense and transition offense kept the Grizzlies at bay. With veteran Kirk Hinrich (15 points) running the show, the lead ballooned to 81-67 heading into the final stanza.
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The Bulls coasted in the fourth quarter, allowing youngsters like Murphy and first-round draft pick Tony Snell to see extensive action—second-year point guard Marquis Teague was again a late sub, replacing Hinrich down the stretch—but their defensive awareness and opportunistic fast-break offense persisted. Free-agent roster hopefuls Mike James and Dexter Pittman also got their first chances of the preseason as time wore on.
There is still some fine-tuning left to do before the Bulls depart for Brazil, but in the team’s first two exhibition contests, it’s hard not to be impressed with their brief body of work.