When Derrick Rose sat out 12 consecutive games due to a strained groin, the Chicago Bulls went 8-4, a stretch that consisted of highs and lows. They have shown all season long that they can win without their primary leader, with a 15-7 record in such games, but they are obviously cognizant of the fact that Rose will have to be healthy and aggressive if the team will reach the next level.
The Bulls welcomed Rose back with open arms Sunday afternoon against the New York Knicks, but, as expected, the star guard had to shake off plenty of rust and didn’t look on the same page as his teammates at times, like in the second quarter when he committed one of his game-high eight turnovers on a pass to Kyle Korver. Rose delivered a bounce pass assuming Korver was going to cut to the basket, but Korver ran to the three-point line, as he has done throughout his one and a half seasons in Chicago, and the ball sailed out of bounds.
Although Rose's teammates are thrilled to have him back in the starting lineup, they understand there will be a re-adjustment period. But they are also confident that it will be very brief.
“Guys got to make an adjustment,” Bulls forward Luol Deng told reporters after the heartbreaking 100-99 overtime loss to the Knicks. “I think we’re definitely a better team with Derrick. But we’ve just got to get more reps in together. I’ve played with Derrick for years now, and that’s not really the problem.”
Rose put up a team-high 29 points, six rebounds and four assists while shooting just 8-for-26 from the field in 39 minutes of action. He knocked down four three-pointers – all of which in the second half, including a four-point play in the fourth quarter – and 9-of-12 free throws, although his first field-goal came with 8.7 seconds left in the second frame.
Tom Thibodeau said afterward that Rose felt “great,” but the Bulls’ head coach had to be worried about Rose’s aforementioned eight turnovers. Most of Rose’s miscues came when he drove to the basket and was stripped by a Knicks player, namely rookie and Chicago native Iman Shumpert.
Still, the Bulls clearly believe Rose’s ball handling issue was a timing, not skill-related, one.
“Overall, I thought he played very well,” Thibodeau said. “Down the stretch there were some bobbles and not clean, but that will come quickly for him.”
Added Rose: “I had a lot of turnovers, just getting back into rhythm. … I didn’t really get to the lane. When I did get to the lane, I missed floaters, missing layups. Shots that I normally hit, I just wasn’t hitting them. I know that will come with time, too.”
While Rose started the contest in hopes of easing his way back into the fold, the Bulls needed him to be a hero. Obviously, many fans feel the issue last season was that the Bulls relied on Rose too much. But is it up to the rest of the Bulls to look for their own shots or have the reigning NBA MVP to do it all for them?
On Sunday, Rose missed two free throws that would have sealed the victory in regulation with the Bulls leading 91-88 and 19.2 seconds remaining. Moments later, he air-balled a step-back jumper from the right wing that would have won the game. Then, in the extra frame, Rose missed a running right-handed floater that would have sent his team home on top.
For his part, Rose blamed himself for the loss and promised to come through the next time he was in the position to lift his team to a win.
Despite his late-game struggles and shooting woes (1-for-7 in the paint) on this afternoon, Rose’s return was a successful one, as he made several explosive moves and became much more comfortable as the game wore on. His best quarter came in the third when he poured in 14 points on 4-for-8 shooting.
“I felt good,” Rose told the assembled media. “When I was out there, [I was] just getting my groove back. My wind was OK. I missed playing, just felt good to be out there.”
Extra attention for Watson: For the second straight game, C.J. Watson was hounded by an opposing guard. In Thursday’s 93-86 win over the Boston Celtics, it was Avery Bradley. On Sunday, it was Toney Douglas.
All the defensive attention seemed to get to Watson when he was called for just the second technical foul of his career – and the first since the 2009-10 season – with seven minutes, 41 seconds left in the second quarter.
Still, Watson, who has looked hobbled over the past few weeks but is continuing to gut it out, had seven of the Bulls’ 27 bench points, drained a deep three-pointer in the fourth quarter and logged 14 minutes of action. It will be interesting to see if the 6-foot-2 point guard receives time off now that Rose is back. Watson hinted last month that he would have rested had Rose been available.
Scalabrine in street clothes: With the Bulls finally healthy again, Brian Scalabrine was listed as inactive and sported a black blazer on the sidelines Sunday. Obviously, the Bulls are glad to be 100 percent, at least on paper. Point guards John Lucas III and Mike James were the only players who did not enter the game, while rookie Jimmy Butler played 22 seconds.