It wasn’t as flashy as Friday night’s 32-point performance, but Derrick Rose added another chapter to The Return with a 24-point outing in the Bulls’ 105-84 win over the Milwaukee Bucks.
Rose entered the United Center having scored 54 points in his last 53 minutes, a number he likely won’t maintain in the regular season but was a testament to just how dominant he has been in his first games back from ACL surgery and rehab.
And it didn’t take long for him to get going. Through five minutes, he had tallied six points and three assists in helping the Bulls to a double-digit lead in the early going that they wouldn’t surrender the rest of the night. Rose was his usual flashy self, receiving outlet passes on the sideline and zooming up to full speed in a matter of a few dribbles, darting between defenders in the lane and finishing through contact at the basket.
Though his points-per-minute pace went down – he scored his 24 points in 28 minutes – the former MVP’s mentality is still as competitive as ever.
“For me, I think I’m not getting enough,” Rose said when asked about his point total. “I wanted to go back in the game but (Thibodeau), he didn’t call my name so I can’t get mad at it. They’ve been managing my minutes great, so I can’t complain.”
And though Rose again looked like the player who has averaged 21 points and almost seven assists during his career, the perfectionist said he still hasn’t shown of all his moves.
“I still haven’t shot my floater yet, I think I’ve shot one floater," Rose said. "Just little things I normally do, I just have to get used to playing again and get the feel for the game. I’m not holding back anything, it’s just that moment didn’t come up yet. For me I’m getting my feet under my jump shot and they’re flowing.”
His jumper has been excellent, and so has his aggressiveness. The biggest concern/question mark regarding how Rose would play when he stepped on the court was whether he would still attack the basket the same way. Monday night he went to the free-throw line 11 times (making 10), something he acknowledged has been part of his improvements.
“I think that I’m getting to the line more. I’m finally contacting a little bit more, I’m getting comfortable with it,” he said. “My previous years, I was kind of shying away from it and now I think that I’m getting used to getting hit.”
That versatility of both inside and outside play – he connected on 2-of-3 3-pointers – as well as up-tempo and half court paces has impressed head coach Tom Thibodeau, who said his point guard’s balance is making the Bulls a threat and allowing him to use more combinations when Rose is in.
“He’s got a great balance to his game right now. If you back up on him he doesn’t hesitate to pull up. If you go up on him he’ll go back, he’s pushing the ball, he’s in attack mode right from the start, he’s making a lot of good plays. He’s pushing himself, which I liked to see,” Thibodeau said. “And you can not underestimate how hard he’s practicing right now. He’s practicing at a very high level. And when you practice well, you play well.”
Though few can doubt that Rose is “back” to his old form, he admitted there’s still rust he needs to shake off. Though his rehabilitation, summer workouts and training-camp practices were all done at a high speed, Rose said he’s still working back into the flow of game speed.
“I still have a long way to go. I just have to get in a groove. I think I had four turnovers tonight, so just get them down and make bad decisions. Of course we had some downtime [late in the game] which comes from fatigue, but we push ourselves to be a 48-minute team.”
Rose also said that his quick start hasn’t been surprising to him because of all the hard work he put in during the offseason. The same goes for Thibodeau, who said he knew before the preseason began that Rose would be the player the public is now seeing.
“I’m happy but at the same time I’m confident in myself,” Rose said. “I knew how hard I worked to be in the position I’m in right now. It’s probably surprising to a lot of people because they heard I’ve been working out but didn’t know, and I hope I’m showing them.”
Rose has two preseason tilts remaining before he and the Bulls travel to Miami for their regular-season opener against the two-time defending champion Heat. While some players, including Nazr Mohammed and Taj Gibson, joked Monday that they’re ready for the preseason to be over, Rose said that just being back out on the court is enough for him, whether the games count or not.
“I’m loving every moment, every second, I’m loving it,” he said. “I’m back playing the sport I love. So for me, if feels like a new start.”