Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose (1) looks to a pass as Detroit Pistons guard Will Bynum guards during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game in Chicago on Wednesday, Oct. 16. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
CHICAGO – Derrick Rose's long-awaited return to the United Center, the scene of his painfully devastating ACL tear in April 28, 2012, was a smashing success Wednesday night.
The former Most Valuable Player and three-time All-Star scored 22 points in 22 minutes of play and the Chicago Bulls easily handled an over matched Detroit Pistons, 96-81.
The 25-year-old Rose sat out the entire 2012-13 season as he labored through the ordeal of having surgery, getting intense rehabilitation and dealing with the challenging mental hurdle that accompanied such horrific, career-threatening injury.
All told, his absence peeled 17 months in the calendar, making fans increasingly anxious while the media needled him about not returning soon enough.
But when Derrick finally stepped on the court during the players' introduction, all the doubts and frustrations melted like cheap makeup under the sweltering sun. There was nothing but pure love for the superstar, who got a rousing ovation from the 21,405 fans in attendance.
And Rose gave the love back through a dazzling performance that reinforced the franchise's hope of winning an NBA title.
He went to work early, drilling 2-of-3 field goals and four three throws that helped the Bulls jump to a 24-16 edge. He finished the half with 18 points and an inspired Bulls squad surged comfortably ahead, 55-34.
In a game riddled with Rose highlights, the best came in the final 1.3 seconds of the second quarter. Rose, who attacked the rim with a passion all night, dealt a killer crossover that nearly separated Pistons guard Peyton Siva from his shoes. It ended in a 3-point play that brought the arena down and chants of MVP!! MVP!!! bounced off the arena walls.
With 4:05 left in the third quarter, head coach Tom Thibodeau summoned Rose to the bench for good. By then, the Bulls had the game's outcome firmly in hand, leading 67-43.
"I surprised myself some, going to the lane, getting guys on their heels and really playing through contact. Even though I'm getting hit, I'm finding ways to get through it," Rose told an unusually large contingent of media covering a preseason game in mid-October.
The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Rose made 6-of-9 field goals, 1-of-2 threes and 9-of-10 free throws. He had some rust, which was expected given the long layoff. But he looked great overall, driving and dishing, picking-and-rolling, and escaping defenders with the ease of a fugitive eluding justice.
Most importantly, "all the tentativeness is gone," he said.
The Rose watch had seemed like an eternity, but it's all in the past now. A fading, distant memory.
Rose is back, and the Bulls and their fans have plenty to be excited about.