NEW YORK—The satisfaction wasn't as evident, the emotion wasn't as heavy for Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah as they beat their old mates for the second time in as many meetings this season.
The overwhelming feelings of validation were replaced by simple relief after 48 minutes of basketball, following 48 hours of uncertainty, controversy and in some ways disappointment.
They spent little time relishing in beating the Bulls again and even less time reveling in their own personal performances that harkened back to days gone by.
Noah's two best performances of the year have happened to come against his former employer, while Rose likely put together his best two stretches of basketball in back-to-back nights.
But with Noah battling his body, the Knicks battling losing and Rose battling something he probably can't explain internally, there wasn't much satisfaction.
Relief came when the night was over without incident to add to an already heavy time period, where Rose mysteriously disappeared without notifying anyone, getting on a plane to Chicago to be with his family the night of a game on Monday.
"Before the game there was more concern than anything," Noah said. "(When) we found out he was all right, we were relieved. He had a family issue. The way it happened, it is what it is and we move on."
Rose, given a chance to backpedal before the game, to say he wished he would have done something differently, refused to be backed into a corner by the media or anybody else.
"No. Family before anything. Family over everything," Rose said with the straightest of faces.
Rose was pointing to this season before last season began, believing he was revving himself up to become the best version this new edition of Derrick Rose could manage, after three knee surgeries, starts and stops, stops and starts.
He boldly proclaimed he was looking forward to free agency two years before hitting it, a no-no in the eyes of the public.
But likely numb to the criticism because he had to be, Rose never took the easiest path with the public, never walked the line that was presented to him because he acquiescing to anyone who doesn't truly know him doesn't matter to him.
It's what made him so accessible and fan-friendly his first few years in the league, when he was the perceived antidote to the NBA's top villain at the time, LeBron James.
It's what is making him so fascinating to observe and so difficult to draw an actual conclusion on to date, because he's not the same naïve-to-the-NBA person he was before wrecking his knee the first time five years ago.
"I just feel that Derrick has grown into his own," former teammate Taj Gibson said. "He doesn't really care what people think anymore. Some players go out and just say things because they know fans want to hear. He's coming at you real and telling you how he feels because that kid's been through a lot.
"Hurting both knees, having the whole Chicago thing on his back from time to time, for heavy games, big games. I've been around him for a long time and I'm proud of him. You're going to take some critical hits sometimes but he's just being himself."
One wonders if the numbness Rose had to arm himself with—which one would think served him well to get through the dangerous pitfalls of growing up in Chicago—has come back to haunt him in a way nobody could imagine.
What if Rose's joy of basketball, the simplicity of it, has been extinguished before it ever had a chance to develop, and we're just noticing it now?
Being the baby boy whose family dreams laid on from the time it was clear he was blessed with an athletic ability beyond his years, one wonders if it became a job so early he never got a chance to love the game, but loved the conditional affection that came his way.
It happens to many, but only a select few make it through the minefields to get to this level, and only Rose was the one to earn the MVP at the youngest age in NBA history, for the franchise he grew up watching.
Perhaps it put a pressure on him he would never be able to live up to—or at the least, a pressure his body was never built to carry.
So rehabbing and enduring the frailty of basketball perhaps caused him to detach, and last year he had to point to this year because he magically believed everything would fall into place because he had nothing else to lean on, because he was so numb to the small victories he already achieved.
"I think I'm a smarter player," Rose said. "Of course I can get a lot better with my turnovers, but I think I've been reading everything right. We're putting in pick-and-roll here and there. We have to run a lot more, but constantly pushing the ball and telling my teammates to run with me. But I think I've been playing alright.''
What if his personal battles have left him so drained, the game is no longer fun and that being dominant was what made the game fun—which leads to pointing at the imaginary pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
So disappearing could've been the realization that what he thought could never be and he's adjusting to new expectations of a new reality—his own and nobody else's—that he had to get away and hit the reset button, albeit under less than ideal circumstances.
"Derrick's always been pretty dull with things like that," said Noah, his closest teammate. "Pretty straight faced. He's dealt with the media for awhile now. Damn media."
But because he's kept so many at a distance for so long, we're only left to speculate. And perhaps he's speculating, too.