INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.—It was a storybook night for Derrick Rose in his first game back, as he showed some rust, but overall, no ill effects in his comeback outing. And by the way, the Bulls won their preseason opener, defeating the Central Division rival Pacers, 82-76, Saturday evening at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
The Bulls’ first five points were tallied by a South Side Chicago native: Nazr Mohammed, who started in place of sidelined All-Star center Joakim Noah.
Rose (13 points, three assists, two steals), the focus of everyone’s attention, touched the ball on the visitors’ second possession, receiving a huge ovation from the crowd, then scored his first points since April 28, 2012, on a putback of his own missed drive at the 8:47 mark of the opening period. His teammates weren’t as reliant on the former league MVP in the first quarter and while he clearly displayed some rust, he moved well, though his numbers — two points on 1-for-4 shooting and an assist in 7:02 of action before being replaced by veteran floor general Kirk Hinrich — were nothing spectacular.
[GIF: Rose scores first points in return for Bulls]
The most impressive player for the guests was third-year shooting guard Jimmy Butler (11 points, six rebounds), who was extremely aggressive and scored six points in the stanza. For the Pacers, who got back their own prominent player from injury — Danny Granger, who missed the majority of last season with a knee injury, and came off the bench in his return — center Roy Hibbert was the offensive focal point, but at the end of one, they trailed the Bulls, 23-19.
The second quarter saw backup big man Taj Gibson (team-high 18 points, 12 rebounds, three blocked shots) shine, as the bulked-up reserve’s performance from the end of the first quarter carried over to the second, and he showcased an assertive, yet polished offensive game.
Upon Rose’s re-entry into the contest, the Chicago native apparently got over whatever opening-night jitters he may or may not have had at the outset seemed to have dissipated. His trademark explosiveness manifested itself in the open court, as he exploded past everybody on the floor, teammates included, for back-to-back fast-break layups to thrill both the audience and the Bulls bench.
All-Star small forward Luol Deng (15 points, eight rebounds), after a slow start, also found his groove, getting to the line frequently and helping out on the glass, similar to his partner on the wing, Butler. While the likes of veteran power forward David West — who could be seen occasionally jawing with the injured Noah, serving as a de facto assistant coach — helped keep the hosts close, at the intermission, the Bulls held a 44-41 advantage.
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After the break, Rose threw down the first dunk of his comeback outing with 9:28 left in the third quarter, his final bucket of the evening, as Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau pulled him from the contest with 7:07 remaining in the frame with 20 minutes of playing time under his belt.
Indiana took advantage and as Pacers All-Star small forward Paul George, after a quiet first half, started to get it going offensively, the pendulum swung in the direction of the home team, who seized the lead and built a comfortable cushion. At the conclusion of three periods of play, the Bulls were behind, 64-58.
A reserve group that included rookies Tony Snell and Erik Murphy, veteran newcomer Mike Dunleavy Jr. and holdovers Gibson and Hinrich brought the Bulls back in the fourth quarter, starting the final stanza on a 12-1 run to regain the lead.
Indiana went back to its regulars as the game entered its stretch run, as Pacers head coach Frank Vogel promised before the contest, but the Bulls, with Gibson leading the way, managed to hold on to their edge, making Rose’s return dovetail nicely with a win in their preseason opener.