He’s certainly had better games, but after struggling this regular season and missing Friday’s win in Toronto with a sore right hamstring, Derrick Rose’s 20-point outing in Saturday night’s 110-94 Bulls’ win over Indiana at the United Center was a sight for sore eyes.
And it wasn’t just the fact that it was a season-high, that the Bulls played well as a whole or even his 6-of-8 shooting from three-point range, but all of the above occurring simultaneously, especially against the rival Pacers, who entered the contest as the NBA’s lone undefeated team, that made it even better. The point guard, whose stellar preseason was beginning to look like a mirage, backed up his consistent claims that he would eventually find his rhythm, but he didn’t do it at the expense of his team.
“We were just trying to come out here and win the game. We didn’t really talk about the streak. Just something where we lost to them last time, and we were just trying to get them back,” explained Rose, who also dished out four assists in his nearly 31 minutes of play. “I was knocking down shots, so I really didn’t have to penetrate like that. Just trying to get guys open and really push the ball up the court and put pressure on them.
“Usually when we get a lead of 10 or 15 points, we kind of let teams come back. But the shots that they were giving me, they were going under screens — I don’t know why they were doing that — I was just sitting behind them and shooting them,” he continued. “All the other games that we played in, my shots weren’t falling. The only thing that changed tonight was that we saw something go in, and that’s what we needed.”
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, who has continually echoed Rose’s chorus about eventually finding his scoring touch, concurred: “I thought the first half was terrific. I thought he had great rhythm. I thought he had our team in a great rhythm. I thought his defense was very, very good. Second half, pretty good. I thought he got a little tired at the end. That’s to be expected when you’ve missed as much time as he missed.”
The Bulls went up by as much as 33 points in the fourth quarter, but after the Pacers cut it to a 20-point deficit, Thibodeau surprisingly reinserted Rose. Actually, knowing the coach, seeing the former league MVP check back into the contest shouldn’t have shocked anybody.
“Because we needed him,” Thibodeau responded, when asked for his rationale. “Nah, we talked about it before the game and talked about it at halftime. So we wanted to keep the number around 30 (minutes) and so, he was feeling good and he had a pretty good rhythm.”
[HIGHLIGHTS: Rose, Bulls end Pacers' undefeated streak]
Rose himself took it in stride.
“A little surprised, but I want the minutes,” he said about coming back into the game in the final period, with the game out of Indiana’s reach. “It’s giving me my rhythm, being out there with Kirk (Hinrich), just playing basketball and we moved the ball well this game.”
While Rose tried to shift the focus off himself, he acknowledged that his early-season struggles have affected the Bulls as a whole, making Saturday’s game somewhat of a breakthrough for him individually.
“Of course, that’s human nature. When you tend to see some positive stuff going on after being down for two or three weeks, it helps. It helps mentally, and it helps spiritually,” he said. “In the beginning of the season, that was the worst that you’ll probably ever see us play. At that time, we didn’t really have things going, and if anything, we can only get better as a team.”
As long as the Rose who came to play in Saturday’s game is back for good.