Who cares if it was the pesky Philadelphia 76ers giving the Bulls 48 minutes of run, when nobody who bought a ticket to the festivities expected it to be difficult, because they came to see a revival.
The Derrick Rose revival.
And as the crowd roared his name after cat-quick, brainless drives to the basket resulted in vintage Rose results, it was like he never left for six weeks or even two years.
After Rose took two hard dribbles with a spin to the basket for a layup with 1:00 left, he reminded everyone his eyes were never an issue, whipping a bullet pass to Taj Gibson for a dunk to effectively seal matters Saturday night, with a 114-107 win at the United Center.
“I thought he played terrific,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I thought he played well in a lot of areas, he made a few great hustle plays. You can tell he is feeling good out there.”
If his first two games were the warm-up to his home return, he delivered on call with 22 points, eight assists, six rebounds and zero turnovers in 28 minutes of play, his first fourth-quarter appearance since his injury.
“I’m just happy to be playing again, excited and we’re winning games,” Rose said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
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He made eight of his 19 shots, being far more definitive on his drives to the basket late, after settling for five triples that came up short.
“The shots I missed, I felt they were good shots, in and out. I just gotta get my feet under me a little more for my jump shots,” Rose said. “But it comes with playing basketball.”
Tony Snell and Nikola Mirotic carried the sluggish Bulls early in the fourth, combining for five triples as the 76ers kept fighting back despite their already-underwhelming roster having just nine players available.
But they couldn’t keep up their execution as the Bulls had to keep pace with the Toronto Raptors, who won in Miami minutes before the Bulls game went final. Seemingly every time the Bulls were ready to put them away, a couple of their 41 3-point attempts would fall and they’d be right back in the Bulls’ faces.
It gave the Bulls time to experiment with lineups, as Thibodeau subbed offense for defense down the stretch, a tactic in the past he’d been reticent to do.
“It allows us to have Niko, Taj and Pau on the floor together,” he said. “Then when we sub, we can go more by what the game needs. They all need a good chunk of time.”
The game needed a lot at different points, especially with the Bulls struggling for efficiency, shooting just 38 percent at the half and actually trailing by one—being kept off life support by 21 trips to the foul line.
Gasol got going in the third with 14 of his 23 points, but they still couldn’t hide from the 76ers, who played hard and executed longer than anyone thought possible.
“We just took the circumstance and made it work as best we could,” 76ers coach Brett Brown said. “We went into the game against the Chicago Bulls, as good a defensive team as they are…with no point guards. To have the guys respond the way they did, I cannot ask more from them.”
It was almost enough, until Snell got going, scoring 11 in the fourth in place of Kirk Hinrich. Hinrich’s hyper-extended left knee gave him trouble again, and his status for Monday’s game in Brooklyn is unknown.
“I thought it was something I can manage through, but I guess I couldn’t,” he said.
The supporting pieces set the stage, but the night belonged to Rose, who showed what he can give when he’s playing in the final 12.
Devastating drives to the basket.
Commanding attention from defenses, leading to opportunities all over the floor.
And a confidence that this Bulls team can compete with the best, even if they let the league’s worst stick around for far too long.
"Just wanting it. Pushing myself," Rose said. "Last game just pushing the ball, turning it over. But (I'm) getting in a rhythm of attacking and getting used to having the ball in my hands in certain situations."
Robert Covington scored 22 for the 76ers, and veteran guard Jason Richardson hit four triples on his way to 19 points, as the Bulls’ ugly habit of inconsistent second quarters reared its ugly head yet again, as it did in Miami and Orlando recently.
And although it wasn’t Rose to the rescue, it was the kid from Chicago who put the finishing touches on a win that came tougher than expected, but was necessary nonetheless.