In what can turn out to be the Eastern Conference Finals, the Chicago Bulls and the Indiana Pacers opened their preseason schedule in a game that was mostly about Derrick Rose making his first appearance since April 2012, and not showing too many signs of rust or injury.
The scoreline (82-76 in favor of the Bulls) didn’t matter as much as Rose’s stat line, and especially the way he looked on the court. Rose scored 13 points in 20 minutes, playing like the confidence he had never left him, taking 12 shots (making five of them), although staying away from long threes, getting to the line five times. He did turn the ball over four times, but it’ll look better and more impressive, as he didn’t show any signs to worry about.
The Bulls played with most of their intended starting lineup, except for Nazr Mohammed starting in place of the injured Joakim Noah. Luol Deng seemed like he was out to impress anyone about the contract extension he deserves, or the kind of money he should make on his new deal. He finished with 15 points, but was only 4-of-16 from the field. Jimmy Butler was just as bad with his shooting, but did go the line 12 times, making nine of his shots and finishing with 11 points.
The main thing about Rose’s return was the speed he was going in. The Bulls have gotten used to a much slower pace without him running the point, and it seemed everyone was in agreement about Rose doing a bit too much on his comeback game, going a bit too fast for the rest of his teammates, leading to some communication breakdown and the turnovers. However, a lot of smiles were seen among Bulls personnel, happy that the first testing went better than expected.
Same old Derrick Rose. He looked great. That’s the way he played before the injury, and he’s back to playing like that. And for him, that’s his game. The speed, the quickness, the power to go along with it — that’s what makes him so special and unique. There’s no one like him. The speed at which he plays, you’ve got to get accustomed to. His teammates have to get used to it again, and he has to get used to it, but overall, I thought he played very, very well.
There was another comeback going on, as the Pacers got Danny Granger back from a long injury that kept him out for almost all of last season. Granger played 26 minutes and looked out of rhythm, trying to simply put up shots like a guy hoping not to get cut during training camp. He finished with only 6 points on 2-of-10 from the field, but it’s quite clear that he can be a major part of the Pacers taking the next step this season.
This is probably going to be the battle for the second best team in the Eastern conference, which made both coaches hold on their punches and try not to reveal too much so early in October. However, for both teams, the secret to success may reside in the ability of both star players, each with his own personal importance, to play like they did before their injuries.