With Jimmy Butler's return to the lineup after sitting out the last three games, Wednesday night's game against the Thunder marked the debut of the much ballyhooed Butler/Derrick Rose starting backcourt. And while things started rather sloppily, the game turned into quite the entertaining affair, with Rose once again playing closer to lead the Bulls to a 104-95 victory.
Rose finished with 26 points and six assists on the night, knocking down three fourth-quarter treys to help overcome a seven-point deficit in the final frame. Rose did cool off a bit overall in relation to a few of his other ridiculous preseason performances, shooting 6-of-15 from the field and missing a few bunnies he usually makes. There's still clearly some rust on that mid-range game, and he's still searching to get back his trademark floater.
However, there was obviously plenty to like about Rose's game besides his closing ability. He got to the rim at will, went 10-of-10 from the line and continued to push the tempo as much as possible. And while he was a bit out of control at times (five turnovers), the pressure he put on the defense with his speed helped make things easier for his teammates. There was also this (via @cjzero):
Luol Deng overcame a slow shooting start to finish with 20 points and 10 rebounds while shooting 8-of-15 from the field. Deng had seven of those points in the fourth quarter, including a clutch corner three off a nice pass from Rose. Carlos Boozer also tallied a double-double, scoring 20 points and grabbing 14 rebounds.
Butler didn't seem to be bothered much by his knee bruise (there was a slight scare, but he shook it off), knocking down several jumpers early as well as finishing some tough buckets around the rim. He had 11 points in the first half and finished the game with 12 points in 32 minutes.
Watching Rose and Butler together was fun, and we saw some glimpses of how dynamic they'll be in transition. It's really great to have another athlete to run with Rose on the break, and with how much Derrick is looking to push the ball, Butler will be a huge weapon.
Things really got fun during a stretch in the second quarter, when the Bulls went small with a lineup of Rose/Butler/Dunleavy/Deng/Gibson. It's a grouping I've been intrigued to see, and quite frankly, they blitzed Oklahoma City. They played with a ton of pace, and with Dunleavy spacing the floor knocking down a couple of threes, the Bulls jumped out to an 11-point halftime lead.
Kevin Durant and the Thunder offense got things going in the second half, taking advantage of the defensively putrid frontcourt of Boozer and Nazr Mohammed to get back in the game. Boozer had a truly Boozerian game, as he was extremely productive yet was able to provide many head scratching moments. He's going to kill me this year.
The Thunder appeared to take control of the game in the fourth, but Scott Brooks called off the dogs and had Durant sit the final eight minutes. Meanwhile, Tom Thibodeau went with his regulars, with Rose winding up at 35 minutes. I'm sure Thibs will take some heat for that, but I don't mind Rose playing that many minutes as he gets back into game shape. Deng playing 36 minutes on the other hand? Probably not necessary.
Other than that, not much else to say. The rookies and Marquis Teague were completely underwhelming, while Gibson had his first poor shooting game of the preseason, going 3-of-9. But whatever. The story here is Rose once again playing the closer, something the Bulls lacked so often last season. It's really great to have that back.