CHICAGO -- Carlos Boozer can't believe what he has heard over the past few months. He knows Derrick Rose is getting crushed from all angles for his lackluster start after sitting out the past year and a half while recovering knee surgery -- he just can't figure out why. That's why the veteran forward took so much pride in the fact that Rose had his best game in more than 18 months in Saturday night's 110-94 drubbing of the previously undefeated Indiana Pacers.
"It's so funny, man," Boozer said. "People have so much criticism for this kid. He works his ass off every day. He's there early, he's there late, coming off a hell of a season of being hurt. And everything he does, whether it's good or bad, people got something to criticize him for."
There wasn't much to criticize Rose for in this one as the Bulls made a loud statement that they still feel like they are the best team in the Central Division. Rose, who missed Friday night's win in Toronto and was questionable coming into the contest because of a right-hamstring injury, scored 20 points and dropped in six 3-pointers as he got himself and his teammates into the type of rhythm they've been missing all season.
The fact Rose played as well as he did is much more important than any statement the Bulls could have made against a talented Pacers team that they'll be battling all year. Rose is the straw that stirs the drink in Chicago and that's why Boozer -- and his teammates -- have been so fiercely loyal to Rose as he continues to make his way back to his old form.
"[People say] 'Oh, he took so many shots,' " Boozer said. "Well, he should have got fouled on about 10 of them shots, the refs just aren't used to seeing his speed again. They'll get used to it this season.
"[People say] 'Oh, he's open for jump shots but he's missing them. Oh, he can shoot.' Come on, man. Derrick's by far one of the top five, top 10 players in the league. And by the end of the season you guys will be singing his praises left and right. But for me, I'm just proud of him, man. He did the right thing with his hamstring; hamstrings aren't something to mess with. They're tricky. He sat out, kept getting his rehab. He felt great today, tested it out before the game -- early. He got here at like 2 o'clock getting his game on and was like, 'Yeah, I can go tonight.' And boy did he go tonight. He was on fire. And when he's shooting like that, [Mike] Dunleavy's shooting like that, Jimmy [Butler], Lu [Deng]. I know it opens up a lot of stuff for me, Joakim [Noah] and Taj [Gibson] and they can't double. When you can't double ..."
... other teams, no matter how talented, are in big trouble.
Saturday's performance offered a glimpse as to how good the Bulls can be. The difference in this game, and the key the Bulls have been banking on since the regular season began, was that Rose allowed the offense to come to him. He looked comfortable in the offense, especially playing off the ball while veteran Kirk Hinrich ran the point.
"I was knocking down shots," Rose said. "I really didn't have to penetrate like that. Just trying to get guys open and really push the ball up the court and put pressure on them. They were going under screens, I don't know why they were doing that, I was just sitting behind and shooting them."
Rose and his teammates saw the Pacers' comments after their win over the Bulls earlier in the month about Chicago's era being over, but they didn't let it bother them. The Bulls always trusted in their talent. They've always believed that Rose would shake off the rust and be the player that he had always been. They're just happy to see everything coming together the way they thought it would.
"We're more in tune to what we're doing defensively," Hinrich said. "Helping each other, making second and third efforts. Offensively, making quick decisions. We seem to be playing a lot more instinctively."
They're just playing a lot better. They're trusting each other on the court and they're learning to run with Rose again. The relief that comes with winning games when they know they're supposed to is palpable.
"We were just trying to come out here and win the game," Rose said. "We really didn't talk about the streak or whatever. It was something where we lost to them last time and we were just trying to pay them back."
In the process of paying Indiana back, the Bulls were reminded of the greatest victory of the night. With a confident Rose in the fold, anything for this team seems possible. Boozer isn't sure why Rose continues to receive so much criticism, but he is certain it won't last if the former MVP continues playing the way he did Saturday night.
"Everybody's been waiting on him to come back. He's back," Boozer said. "Whatever he does, people are on him. He just got done having an injury that a lot of people -- honestly, a lot of people get hurt when they come back. I've known players where they've had a microfracture on one knee and had to get a microfracture on the other knee from compensation. Whatever it is -- my thing is he's the leader of our team.
"He's our franchise, we put a lot of pressure on him ... it's almost like, let him just hoop. Because at the end of the day he takes the whole weight of the team on his shoulders every night, brings it every night, and he's been out for a year and a half or whatever it's been. My thing is, give the kid a break, man. He's a badass, he's a star, we have his back and we support him like crazy. And when it's all said and done, you're going to hear from him before it's all over this year. I'm just proud of him, man. At the end of the day he could sit here and read all the papers you all write, read the articles and listen to all the nonsense -- and he doesn't. He hoops, he works on his game, he goes home and hangs with his son and his family and his friends, and he comes back the next day and does it all over again, and I admire him for that."