CHICAGO -- After watching Derrick Rose torch his team to the tune of 32 points in 31 minutes Friday night, Indiana Pacers head coach Frank Vogel spoke for all 21,783 people in attendance at the United Center when the topic of the former MVP came up during his postgame remarks.
"Same old Derrick Rose that I remember before the injury," Vogel said. "He's special."
That might be the best word to sum up Rose's performance given the circumstances. Forget the fact that Rose put up 32 points, 9 assists and 4 rebounds in a preseason game. It's the fact that he did all that in just his fourth professional game in a year and a half. The funny part is that Vogel, Rose's own teammates and Rose himself don't seem surprised by the fact that the 25-year-old has returned to form so quickly. While many around the country will be surprised that Rose is having the same success he did before the injury, Rose took the performance in stride.
"God is good, man. God is good," Rose said. "I've been working hard, man. Super hard. I think that I'm one of the hardest-working guys in the league, if not the hardest. During the summer, I work out three times a day and really concentrating on everything I'm doing and really taking care of my body, so I'm just trying to make the game easy and just trying to do anything individually to help my team."
The key for Rose and the Bulls is that, for the first time in almost a year and a half, Rose actually closed a game. He played the final 5:50 and did all the things the Bulls needed him to do down the stretch -- knocking down big shots along the way.
"You can tell his confidence is just growing and growing," Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said. "His timing is coming around. His explosion has been there since the beginning. We have seen it the entire training camp and practices. Each game he has his timing on his jump shot, he is taking contact and he has made some great passes, too. His missed shots -- I'm confident he will eventually knock down."
Rose's presence not only gives the Bulls confidence they can win any game, it also provides them with a crucial component that was missing last season -- a finisher at the end of the game. Nate Robinson played that role for the Bulls a couple times during the playoffs, but they didn't have a consistent star they could lean on when times got tough late. Now they do -- again.
"We got our closer back, Derrick," Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. "He took over late, and it was great."
Rose took over in a game that felt nothing like a preseason contest. He was one of many starters who stayed in all the way until the end. It was a great experience for a player who hasn't had many of them over the past 18 months.
"It felt like a playoff game," Gibson said. "It really did. They were cheap-shottin'. I'm in pain right now But it was crazy the way the guys were flying. Bodies were just going left and right. [Thibodeau] was yelling, their coach was yelling. The refs had a heart attack. They probably thought it was a walk in the park but they were really getting screamed on by Thibs every play down. But it was a great game."
Most of all, it was a reminder. A reminder for both Rose and all the fans who doubted his return that he is ready to dominate games again. For the Bulls, it was a reminder that with Rose back on the floor, anything is possible.
"It felt good being out there," Rose said. "But I'm just happy [Thibodeau] gave me the opportunity and that we won the game. I would have been hurt if we would have lost this game tonight with us coming back and having to fight back almost the entire game."