CHICAGO (CBS) – Derrick Rose sent Bulls fans a message they needed Monday:
Everything is going to be all right.
At least that is the hope, because he also managed to leave a hint of doubt by leaving the United Center before the Bulls’ locker room was open to reporters after the game.
After missing five games with a back injury, Rose returned for Monday’s matinee and looked like his normal ridiculous self as the Bulls beat the Atlanta Hawks 90-79.
Rose scored 23 points in 35 minutes and added four assists and five rebounds. More importantly, he didn’t look limited by his back and even survived two hard falls to the ground.
“His explosiveness was there,” head coach Tom Thibodeau said. “His drive to the basket was there. His conditioning is not where it usually is, but overall I was very pleased. Derrick said he felt real good out there.”
Unfortunately, Derrick didn’t tell anyone with a microphone that he felt good, leaving just the slightest bit of doubt that he didn’t finish the game 100 percent healthy.
Thibodeau, however, hinted that as long as Rose continues to feel good, he should play Wednesday against Milwaukee.
“As long as he’s painfree and he feels 100 percent then we were good with him playing,” the head coach said. “And he had to feel ready. He met all the criteria that we were looking for him to meet for him to play again so we’re good with it.”
Overall, Rose’s performance served as a sigh of relief for fans and even the Bulls organization as it appears the All Star’s back issues might not linger for the rest of the season. At the very least, Rose proved it’s something he can play through.
Of course, his performance once again reinforced how valuable he is to a team that won’t go anywhere in the playoffs without him. And that’s why the argument about whether or not to play him will persist the rest of the regular season.
At 19-13, the Hawks certainly qualify as one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference, which is why it was a welcome sight to see Rose come back and handle Atlanta relatively comfortably. But if it were up to the fans, most of them would like to see Rose only play against teams as good as or better than the Hawks and sit against teams like the Milwaukee Bucks and New Orleans Hornets, which visit the United Center later this week.
The problem with that sentiment is that head coach Tom Thibodeau insists Rose will play when healthy and it doesn’t appear that will change when the Milwaukee Bucks and New Orleans Hornets visit the United Center this week. Both teams are well below .500, but it was just a few days ago when the New Jersey Nets proved Thib’s argument that the Bulls need to take every opponent seriously.
“Who we’re playing had nothing to do with (Rose playing against the Hawks),” Thibodeau said. “He felt he was 100 percent and could go. He was cleared medically to do it and I think that’s important.”
But worried Bulls fans should at least be comforted by the way Thibodeau handled Rose’s minutes Monday. Rose got his usual break at the start of the second quarter, but he also received an extended breather late in the third quarter that extended three minutes into the fourth. The break came minutes after Rose took a second hard fall, which he braced for with his hand, otherwise he would have landed directly on his back.
With Rose on the bench for nearly six minutes, the Hawks went on an 11-5 run to get back in the game and it was only natural to wonder if he was OK. The point guard returned with 9:05 left in the game, however, and even though the Hawks managed to reduce the deficit to just five points, the Bulls remained in control throughout.
“You don’t want him to change who he is, that’s the nature of the game,” Thibodeau said about the two falls Rose took during the game. “Guys are going to be aggressive, they are going to attack. You’re always concerned about health, but a guy could get hurt in practice, they could get hurt in a shootaround. Those things happen, that’s a part of the game.”
That said, Rose’s two falls will continue to serve as a reminder that the Bulls need to be careful. Tom Thibodeau’s stone-cold face might not have changed when Rose landed on the ground, but even he had to be cringing inside.
And that cringing feeling is not likely to go away any time soon. With the season resting firmly on Rose’s questionable back, every little detail is going to be questioned and scrutinized.
You know, like Rose leaving before talking to reporters after the game.
Adam is the Sports Content Producer for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the White Sox, Blackhawks and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.