CHICAGO — Derrick Rose played his first game at the United Center in almost nine months on Saturday, when the USA Basketball team took on the squad from Brazil in an exhibition contest.
Team USA cruised to a 95-78 victory, and while getting the win was nice, the focal point of the evening was Rose’s return, at least initially.
The building was legitimately sold out, and the fans seemed to be there for none other reason than to cheer their hometown hero. But they were also treated to a series of dazzling highlights from his teammates.
Rose did look a bit rusty; whether it was due to the nerves of being back on his home floor for the first time in so long, or simply the excitement brought by his first real competition over that same span, he definitely didn’t dominate the way he’s capable of. He did, however, manage to give the fans what they wanted on two separate occasions.
Even if Rose has changed his game as he recently proclaimed, his signature speed was as prominent as ever. He went the length of the floor in the blink of an eye and finished with a floater off the glass to beat the halftime buzzer, and then midway through the third, he used a devastating crossover that was followed by a hard-charging burst, which allowed him to convert an acrobatic finish at the basket.
Those are the types of plays that we know Rose is capable of, and the other ones, which included a missed breakaway dunk in the second quarter and at least a few errant passes, should become less frequent as time goes on.
“He’s shaking some rust off,” USA Basketball assistant and Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said afterward. “But his explosiveness was back.”
With the game well out of hand and just over five minutes left in the fourth quarter, the fans began a loud chant of “We want Rose!” Mike Krzyzewski complied almost immediately, and when Rose bounced up and jogged to the scorers table, the place went nuts.
“I didn’t react to the crowd,” Krzyzewski said with a smile. “I would never do that.”
While all eyes were on Rose in Chicago as expected, Anthony Davis made it impossible not to notice just how dominant he can be against the far less athletic international competition.
Davis flew around the basket for several highlight-worthy slam dunks, and flew into the stands head over heels trying to save a loose ball. He finished with a game-high 20 points, and you can just see how his being on the floor should be a complete game-changer for the USA team once tournament play begins for real in a few short weeks.
“Ant played great man,” Rose said afterward. “That’s what we need — blocking shots, rebounding, diving for the ball out of bounds. We didn’t know how he was going to play with the bigs they have because he’s kind of smaller than they are weight-wise. But he came out here and hooped.”
James Harden finished with 18 points, and his personal highlights included a step-back three off the dribble over a defender, and of course, scoring more than once on slashing drives to the basket. Stephen Curry hit some shots early, the most impressive of which involved some extremely nifty ball-handling to shake his defender before he effortlessly splashed a long three home.
Team USA started a lineup that consisted of Rose, Curry, Davis, Harden and Kenneth Faried, whose activity and effort remained consistent; his chances continue to improve as far as making the final roster. DeMarcus Cousins didn’t play due to injury, and DeMar DeRozan, Andre Drummond and Gordon Hayward received the always-dreaded DNP-CDs.
Getting the victory was nice, and it was one successful step on this summer’s travels for Team USA. But for Rose, his initial experience returning to his home floor was far more important, and an achievement all by itself — even if he downplayed it after the night was finished.
“I’ve been preparing for this for a long time,” Rose said. “If this was a couple of weeks ago, I probably would’ve been emotional. But right now, it feels great. We won the game.”