Derrick Rose had 23 points, six assists and five rebounds in his first game back from injury, and the Chicago Bulls rolled to a 90-79 victory over the Atlanta Hawks in a President's Day matinee at the United Center.
Rose, who had missed the Bulls' previous five games with back spasms, showed very little rust. He only hit 5/9 from the free throw line, but other than that he was the same MVP we have grown accustomed to seeing.
The Hawks actually got off to the better start in this one, jumping to a 9-4 lead three minutes into the game and forcing Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau to call a quick 20 second time out.
The Bulls immediately responded to whatever Thibs said in the huddle, with Rose leading the way as the Bulls closed the quarter on a 31-8 run to lead by 18 after one period. Deng and Boozer hit layups, and Boozer added a pair of free throws before Rose drained a three to put the Bulls ahead 13-11, and the Hawks never led again.
In fact, Atlanta never got closer than 12 points as Chicago maintained their 18-point lead at the intermission. Mike James was the backup PG with Watson missing the game because of the head injury he suffered Saturday against the Nets, and James continued his outstanding play since being recalled from the D-League.
He replaced Rose with 2:52 left in the first period, and promptly hit a pair of driving layups and assisted Deng on a 17-footer, putting the Bulls up 33-17. With the way James and Watson have played lately, I'm not sure James shouldn't be the backup point guard for the immediate future.
The Hawks finally made a run in the fourth quarter, closing to within five on a Tracy McGrady jumper with just over five minutes left in the game. But John Lucas III followed with a long three-pointer, and the Bulls held to push their record to 26-8, which is percentage points behind Miami for the best record in the Eastern Conference.
Carlos Boozer had 16 points, Ronnie Brewer scored 13, and Luol Deng and Lucas chipped in with 10 each for the Bulls. Joakim Noah's game-high 16 rebounds helped lead the Bulls to a 51-41 edge on the boards.
Former Bull Jannero Pargo led the Hawks (19-13) with 19 points off the bench. Forward Josh Smith had a nice all-around game with 17 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, three blocked shots and two steals, but he made only 7/21 field goal attempts.
Joe Johnson continued to struggle against the Bulls, putting up only 12 points and four assists. The All-Star, who averages 17.7 points on 42.4% shooting for the season, has scored on 13.0 points on 35.7% shooting in three games against Chicago this season. In three games versus the Bulls last season, he averaged only 13.7 points while making less than 40% of his shots.
Whatever problem NBA Media Central was having is now fixed, so at least I can post the official box score again. I still haven't installed my audio editing software on the new computer, so no highlights yet again tonight. I should be ready to go by the Bulls' next game, which will be Wednesday when the Bucks visit the UC.