CHICAGO -- The fans got what they came for Saturday night: Chicago native Anthony Davis tearing the roof off the joint.
OK, I'm told most paid for vintage Derrick Rose in The Return, Part Whatever. They got a taste of that too.
It wasn’t quite the D-Rose Tent Revival at the United Center during Team USA’s 95-78 exhibition win over Brazil, but the man the fans came to see put on a few classic moves to let the hometown crowd know he’s baaaaaaack.
That’s seven a’s, one for each point he scored. It was the best damn seven-point performance Chicago has seen in some time -- because Rose was actually back in live game action.
Rose, who got a small cut above his eye in the first half, was pleased with his night and explained that his mission was “playing hard on defense, taking shots when I have the shots and letting the game come to me.”
It was all part of “a process,” Rose said, as he primes for the FIBA World Cup next month and (knock on wood) another return season for the Chicago Bulls.
He did all those things: play defense, push the ball, shoot when he had a good look. But I can speak for everyone in attendance when I write it was just good to see Rose play basketball in person again. He can have rust, lint, asbestos, whatever. But he played basketball in Chicago, and the normalcy of it -- Rose fitting in -- was welcomed.
“I think everybody’s excited,” Rose said. “It was cool, but I can’t get big-headed about it. Just gotta keep poised.”
Big head or not, Rose said he is used to the applause. But he also said he would have trouble sleeping Saturday night. All part of a process, I guess.
As for highlights, there was a burst and a floater to end the first half, a blocked shot, a nasty drive to the basket that ended with him splitting free throws, a killer crossover and a switching-hands, MJ-homage basket in the third quarter.
And, um, well, I saw him yell at Stephen Curry on defense once. There’s that veteran leadership. This city eats that stuff up.
Rose played under control throughout his 24 minutes, 11 seconds, and maybe those surgically repaired knees are too strong now because on a breakaway in the first quarter he soared quite high and missed a dunk.
“That’s my second missed dunk,” Rose said with a chuckle. “I missed one in practice too. I just got to get used to holding the ball a different way when I dunk.”
Rose said the Team USA balls are a little slicker than the NBA ones, though I’m sure Bulls coach and USA assistant Tom Thibodeau would tell him a good craftsman never blames his tools.
Of his crossover move against guard Raul Neto, which ended in a layup over Anderson Varejao, Rose said, “It was just a play. I guess people want me to do it every time. I just saw an opening, and I went for it.”
Well, we -- I mean they -- do want to see that every time Rose touches the ball. But he went on to explain in detail how he knew he had Neto cooked.
“I just read how he was defending me,” Rose said. “When I came off the pick, it looked like he was confused, and I saw he didn’t have control of his feet a little bit. I look at all those things as an offensive player. And the big was on the other side of the lane, so when I came off [the pick] it was like I had the whole lane to myself.”
While Rose’s humble quotes are very popular in these parts, hearing Derrick talk basketball strategy is music to my ears. Because, in case you forgot, Rose is pretty spectacular when he's on the floor.
Rose was the only player who went to the postgame stage, as the others waded through the mix zone. But it was Davis, in his first professional game at the United Center, who stole the show with his 20 points and five blocked shots. He didn’t have the fame coming out of Perspectives Charter School as a late bloomer, but after this tournament the New Orleans Pelican star will have an international stage.
“Tom didn’t want to start him,” USA coach Mike Krzyzewski joked with a chuckling Thibs by his side in the postgame media session.
But Davis will never hear cheers like the kind Rose gets when he plays at the United Center. It was heartening to experience that jubilation again.
About an hour before this exhibition game began, Rose walked out of the home locker room to ready for the tilt. It was the only quiet he would hear from then on. Seconds later, he went to the floor to warm up, and the cheers began.
As he shot, a citizen’s army of cell phone cameras snapped every movement. When he was introduced with the team -- the last player to be announced, of course -- the fans erupted with MVP chants. When he joined Varejao to welcome the fans before the game, Rose got a standing ovation.
“That was huge, man,” Rose said. “I’m surprised I didn’t get nervous up there.”
With 5:20 left in the game, fans started chanting for Rose’s return. At that exact moment, Coach K brought Rose back in to raucous applause, though the Chicago native laughed at the insinuation.
“I didn’t react to the crowd,” Krzyzewski said. “I would never do that.”
I guess he also wouldn't have heard the Bulls braintrust yelling, “Noooo!” when Rose checked back in. You know, if that was their reaction.
But Rose finished up the game and lived to talk about it afterward. Now he and Team USA travel to New York City for more exhibition games. Spain and the World Cup are on the horizon.
Davis aside, the U.S. team is thin in the frontcourt. Spain, with Rose’s new Bulls teammate Pau Gasol and his beefy brother Marc, will be a handful for this group should they meet in the finals.
But let’s be clear, no one in Chicago cares much about Team USA’s fortunes. We -- I mean they -- just want Rose to end this national team sojourn healthy and primed for a big season, just like when he played for the U.S. in 2010. He won the MVP trophy that season.
It felt like old times for Rose on Saturday night. And I can speak for an entire city -- heck, the entire NBA fan base -- when I say, let the old times roll.