INDIANAPOLIS – This time, Derrick Rose’s look of anguish came from the heat of competition, not from trying to explain his absence.
Racing downcourt and bracing for contact from Lance Stephenson, Rose reacted incredulously when officials called him for a block early in Saturday night’s exhibition opener at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
The contact, followed by competitive fire, confirmed Rose’s return.
The Bulls’ 82-76 victory over the Pacers mattered not. Significance came in the form of Rose taking an NBA court for the first time since April 28, 2012, a span of 525 days.
Oh, how he was missed.
“It’s good for the league,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “It’s good for everybody. It’s certainly good for our team. He has put a lot of work in.”
Rose finished with 13 points on 5-for-12 shooting, three assists, two steals and four turnovers in 20 minutes, 26 seconds. He didn’t attempt a 3-pointer, and came out for good at the 7:07 mark of the third quarter.
Beyond statistics, speed stood out. As did lack of hesitation, fear, or any other worrisome signs from someone who had assured all he had recovered fully from May 2012 surgery to repair his torn left anterior cruciate ligament.
“That’s in the past,” Rose said. “I’m looking to the future.”
Rose showed rust. He came up woefully short on consecutive second-quarter free throws, and later committed back-to-back sloppy turnovers.
But there were more bursts of brilliance.
Rose had back-to-back, coast-to-coast drives in the second quarter, and a third-quarter dunk off a Pacer turnover.
“You see how he makes the game easier for everybody, and the speed at which he plays,” Thibodeau said. “Overall, I thought he played very, very well. The speed, the quickness, the power. That’s what makes him so special and unique. There’s no one like him.”
Rose’s return is why the Pacers’ media relations staff said media credentials rivaled the number for a playoff game, not preseason. It’s why NBA-TV televised the otherwise meaningless contest.
“I feel great, kind of relieved,” Rose said. “I can continue with my training, knowing that I got one game out of the way. And we’re just trying to take it one game at a time, one practice at a time, knowing the number one goal is a championship.’’
13 points, 5-for-12 shooting, 3 assists, 2 steals and 4 turnovers in 20 minutes, 26 seconds (7:02 in first, 8:31 in second, 4:53 in third)