It might not have been #TheReturn promised this time last year, but to the Chicago Bulls fans in attendance for Wednesday night's preseason matchup with the Detroit Pistons, that much didn't seem to matter. Only one thing counted, really: For the first time in 537 days, Derrick Rose took the floor for a game at the United Center. And Chicagoans seemed pretty excited about that, right from the opening introductions:
The energy and excitement continued through a strong first quarter that saw the 2010-11 NBA Most Valuable Player score eight points in eight minutes against Detroit's defense, repeatedly working to get to the basket en route to five first-quarter free throws. It held through the end of the first half, when Rose singled up on second-round draft pick Peyton Siva — welcome to the NBA, rook — and went to work, mixing up the freshman before courting contact and finishing with a flourish:
In fact, the adulation persisted throughout a 96-81 win that Rose finished with a game-high 22 points (in just 22 minutes) on 6 for 9 shooting, a 9 for 10 mark from the charity stripe, two rebounds, two assists and a block.
As homecomings go, it was a pretty sensational one for the Chicago native and former Simeon High standout ... and given how long it's been in coming, it must have felt pretty good to the 24-year-old star.
Not that you'd know it by looking at him, though, as Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau told reporters, including K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: "Derrick is the same every day. He has a poker face." (To put it mildly.)
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The ice-grill reflects Rose's previously stated intent to "try not to let my emotions play a part in the game" upon his return, but after the game, he did share one interesting internal response he felt:
"I surprised myself some, going to the lane, getting guys on their heels and really playing through contact," Rose said. "Even though I'm getting hit, I'm finding ways to get through it." [...]
"He was aggressive throughout," Thibodeau said. "Basically, we've been seeing that in practice all along. You're starting to see him find some rhythm too, which is good. The moves, the power, the explosion, the change of direction — that has been there all along. Now he has better balance to what he's doing."
Better balance, and any jitters (admitted or otherwise) associated with the first game back in front of the hometown fans put squarely behind him. In the eyes of his coach, his teammates, Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks and most other observers, Rose looked just about as good as he had before he went down ... although, as Bulls.com's Sam Smith reports, the point guard himself thinks that might be underselling it:
“I think I’m way more explosive now,” Rose reiterated. “I think I can take contact a little bit better. And as far as jumping, I think I can jump even higher. They tested my vertical. It increased it by five inches. I just didn’t show it yet because there’s no need to.” [...]
“I’ve still got to knock some rust off, get my feet under me for my jump shot,” said Rose. “That’s it."
That's pretty exciting news for Chicago fans, and an even bitterer pill to swallow for opposing Eastern Conference coaches.
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