Once he arrived, he certainly seemed in tune. Or at least close.
Rose, who missed most of the preseason because of pain in his right ankle, waved to his mom in the crowd and blew her a kiss before the opening tip. He then showed some of the explosiveness that carried him to the Rookie of the Year award last season.
“I was geeked up in the car listening to the music, just getting ready for the game,” Rose said. “I was ready.”
Was the ankle an issue?
“Not at all,” said Rose, who played 33 minutes.
He penetrated and delivered some dizzying spin moves that drew roars from the crowd, showing few signs of the pain that had bothered him the past few weeks even if there’s still some rust to scrape away.
“Derrick is one of my favorite players,” said Chicago’s Luol Deng(notes), who had 17 points and nine rebounds. “Not just athletically, but he really reads the game well, finding guys. The team fits him real well. It starts with him, and he’s just doing a good job of finding everybody and penetrating.”
As for his own performance? Deng said, “I’m happy. It was one game.”
It was a good start for Deng, who missed the final 22 games last season and then the playoffs. Kirk Hinrich(notes) added 14 points, and Tyrus Thomas(notes) scored his 13 in the second half. Joakim Noah(notes) chipped in with 10 points and 10 rebounds, and the Bulls held advantages on the glass (52-44) and in second-chance points (22-13). There was also a big disparity in offensive rebounds, with Chicago grabbing 15 compared to eight for the Spurs.
“Just one of those nights we couldn’t make a shot, and on top of that, they brought a lot of energy to the table,” Duncan said.
Besides that dominant effort from their big man, the Spurs were simply flat after opening with an easy win over New Orleans on Wednesday.
Manu Ginobili(notes) scored 12 but was just 3 for 11. Tony Parker(notes) had eight points and three assists after leaving Wednesday’s game following a hard fall in the third quarter, and Richard Jefferson(notes) was off target again after a rough debut. He shot 3 for 9 and scored nine after going 1 for 7 against the Hornets.
“They were more aggressive—loose balls, board, the whole deal,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.
The Bulls led by one at halftime after Hinrich hit a 3-pointer with just under a second left and then took control in the third, outscoring the Spurs 27-18 to go up 74-64.
Thomas started a 14-4 run midway through the third with a jumper and delivered and later dunked over Richard Jefferson on an alley-oop from Brad Miller(notes), howling and burying a free throw to complete the three-point play. Hinrich then capped the run with a 7-footer that made it 72-58 with 2:19 left in the quarter.
Bulls players came down through the crowd during pregame introductions, high-fiving fans as they made their way to the court, and the good vibe didn’t end there. Chicago has higher expectations after pushing Boston to seven games in a thrilling first-round playoff series last season, and that largely hinges on the health of Rose.
He passed the first test and so did the Bulls. Now, they’re facing another one Friday when they visit the Celtics. This time they will have to contend with Kevin Garnett(notes), who was injured and missed that series.
More important to the Bulls is this: Rose is getting better.
“In the game, I really didn’t feel it,” Rose said.
NOTES: Neither team shot well from 3-point range, with the Spurs going 4 for 21 and the Bulls hitting 3 of 16. … Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro has a fan in Popovich. “What Vinny does is he takes it seriously and works his (butt) off,” Popovich said. “In the summertime, he didn’t just go on vacation. He talked to a lot of us. He wanted to discuss basketball. He wanted to know how we do things here and there. And why we do this and why we do that.”