Pacers head coach Frank Vogel summed it up best: “Same old Derrick Rose I remember before the injury. He’s special.”
It was just a preseason game, but in the Bulls’ 103-98 victory Friday night over the Pacers at the United Center, Rose put on a show, a vintage, MVP season-like performance. It wasn’t just his 32 points, but the way he did it: 9-for-15 from the field, 4-for-7 from three-point range and 10-for-13 from the free-throw line, not to mention nine assists, in 31 minutes of play, the most action he’s seen in the preseason thus far.
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But even those numbers don’t convey the point guard’s impact. With Vogel and Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau both seemingly striking a tacit agreement to treat the second exhibition matchup between the two divisional opponents like a playoff series, Rose, along with other regulars from both squads, played down the stretch of the tight-knit contest.
That’s when he showed that not only were his skills back, but his killer instinct and ability to close out games hadn’t gone anywhere either. Rose scored 10 points in the final 3:44 of the contest
“It felt good being out there. I’m just happy [Thibodeau] gave me the opportunity and that we won the game. I would’ve been hurt if we would’ve lost this game tonight with us having to fight back,” Rose explained. “That’s the way I’ve been playing in practice. I’m not holding back, whatever shot you give me, I’m taking, no matter if I miss it three or four times. With our offense, you have to take the open shots that you get or we’re going to be very stagnant. For me, I think I work hard. So the shots that I’m taking, I’m not going to miss them all game.”
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“That was the game plan. If they don’t double-team me or get the ball out of my hand, it’s going to be tough. But for me, it’s really driving those last four minutes and trying to get to the line and slow the game down,” he said of the Bulls’ late-game strategy. “Really attack. I think they had Hibbert in the pick and roll, really attack his legs and pull people in. I think at that time, we had Tony, Murph, Lu and Taj out there and just trying to draw guys in so guys have a comfortable shot, where they’re walking into their shots.”
Vogel noted that compared to last season’s feisty, yet undermanned bunch, the Bulls’ end-of-game philosophy was like night and day.
“Dramatically different,” the coach said. “He’s got the ball in his hands every possession and he’s special. You’ll never find me shy of respect for Derrick Rose.”
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Rose’s outside jumper and playmaking ability, perhaps the only two aspects of his game that he hasn’t fully demonstrated in the preseason yet, were also on full display against Indiana, one of the league’s top defensive squads. Although Thibodeau wasn’t happy with the Bulls’ performance as a whole, he had to credit the way Rose played, especially in those areas.
“His confidence is just growing and growing with each game. You can see his timing is coming around. The explosion has been there from the start and we’ve seen it the entire training camp and practices, and in the games, each game you can see his timing is coming around,” he explained. “He’s got a good rhythm on his jump shot now. Attacking, taking contact. But he made some great passes, too. We’re not making shots yet, but those are shots I’m confident we’ll knock down.”
Rose’s teammates were even more enthusiastic about the former league MVP offering up a signature outing so early in his return. Taj Gibson believes that Rose’s game has been furthered by the Bulls’ intense practice sessions at the Berto Center during training camp.
[WATCH -- Rose: We're hungry right now, we're trying to win every game]
“It was great because you look at late in the game, the screen-and-roll tip, the bigs have to guard him, and he’s so fast and versatile in the one-on-one, teams really have to lock in on him. But he was just on fire today. He’s feeling better and better. I think he had an even better performance than the last game,” explained the backup big man, who is also having an outstanding exhibition campaign. “He’s healthy. He feels healthy. He’s taking good looks. We challenge him in practice. Practice isn’t a walk in the park. I’ll tell you that right now. Practice, he understands that we go hard and we’re throwing different bodies toward him every day in practice. You’ve got veterans like Mike James, you’ve got Marquis, you’ve got Kirk Hinrich. Everybody’s challenging and he’s making them better at the same time, so I’m not surprised at all.”
All-Star small forward Luol Deng, the beneficiary of many of Rose’s passes — he scored 22 points, including 3-for-4 on threes — chimed in: “It’s great. Derrick works so hard.
“It’s a lot of attention, but he does a good job of just working on his game and staying with his game. He knows what he can do. He came back slowly. A lot of guys would’ve come back and tried to show everything,” he added. “He’s just letting the game come to him. When you work so hard, you can’t really go wrong. He’s been setting a good example for everybody. He’s coming in early and doing his job and when he’s doing that, you have no choice but to do the same thing."
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And just as Vogel had the simplest, most accurate explanation for Rose’s success, Rose himself described the reason why he’s been able to approach his previous form so quickly in his comeback campaign in a succinct manner: “God is good.
“I’ve been working hard, super hard. I think I’m one of the hardest working guys in the league, if not the hardest,” he elaborated, for those who aren’t fans of him taking a religious tact when asked for explanations. “During the summer, I worked out three times a day and really concentrating on everything that I’m doing and taking care of my body. So, just trying to make the game easy and trying to do anything individually to help my team. “
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In the end, his modesty and matter-of-fact way of stating things after a jaw-dropping night of swash-buckling drives, long-range marksmanship and thread-the-needle passing after a year of not witnessing it in person bring only one thing to mind: same old Derrick Rose.