Bill Smith/Chicago Bulls

Bulls get past Pistons

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By Sam Smith | 11.11.2014 | 2:01 a.m. CT

Derrick Rose was back Monday, and so was Joakim Noah, the Jake and Elwood of this Bulls band. And for the first time this season, the regular starters were all together, Pau “Opera” Gasol, Jimmy “the” Butler and Mike “Shooter” Dunleavy. It resulted in the best half of basketball for the Bulls, a 60-44 start on the way to a 102-91 victory over the Detroit Pistons, and Rose’s highest scoring regular season game in more than two years with 24 points and seven assists on a mission from Thibs.

“The offense, the defense and the rebounding were very good,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau as the Bulls moved to 6-2 with a 49-46 rebounding edge over one of the league’s best rebounding teams. “We took care of the ball. I thought for the first time having them all together, it was very good.

“In the first half, I thought (Rose with 13 points) set the tone for us,” Thibodeau added. “And certainly the way he finished was great (eight points in the last seven minutes when the Pistons cut a 19-point deficit to two with 2:43 left).

After a Pau Gasol baseline jumper (17 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks), Rose drew all five Pistons defenders into the paint and then passed out to Jimmy Butler for a wide open three. It was Butler’s fourth of the game as he finished with 19 points. Then after Josh Smith was fouled and split two free throws, Rose effectively wrapped up the victory.

After a Gasol turnover and Butler forcing a Pistons turnover. Rose isolated on the left side, drove middle and put in a short push shot for a 97-89 margin with less than a minute left. All that was left was the countdown to free Big Macs and orange whips for the home crowd with 100 points.

“It was really nice,” Gasol said with a sort of purr when asked about having the projected starting five together for the first time this season. “It was great to have everyone, a full roster on the floor, available and healthy. Now we’ve just got to keep it that way. It’s great to have (Rose) on the floor; difference maker, very explosive, gets to the hole. He’s a key player for us.”

It also was the best game of the season for Noah, who had 13 points, 14 rebounds and six assists after missing a pair of games last week with a virus and coming into the season slowly after knee surgery. The Bulls also adjusted some to get Noah the ball more to start the offense instead of being on the weak side wing, where he’d played when the season started and was somewhat unproductive.

“That was the first time we (starters) played together?” Noah questioned when told. “Cool. That’s good to know. We’ve just got to keep playing, keep getting better; good win for us.

“Derrick’s a hell of a player,” agreed Noah. “To have your best player on the court, floor general, means a lot. When he’s out on the court, he demands so much attention it opens up a lot of easy opportunities for everyone else. I think we started off the game well. We’re still a work in progress. We still have a lot of work to do, but overall rebounding was one of our issues. I think we rebounded the ball pretty well tonight.

“Like I said from the beginning,” Noah added, “I think the mindset is good. As long as we’re putting in the effort we’ll be all right. I still have a ways to go, but I’m going to get there.”

The Bulls should, as well, as long as Rose is there.

Sure, the Bulls had some nice wins last week after Rose was incapacitated four games with sprains to both ankles in the overtime loss to Cleveland. He played one game, somewhat unsteadily, against Milwaukee and then sat back down for two more.

Rose returned Monday, and it showed what the Bulls could be even if they could not sustain it throughout the second half until the close.

“He was a little winded,” Thibodeau said of Rose. “But that was to be expected.”

Rose in his return, though he declined media interviews afterward, was a highlight package as he often is when his body is functioning. He showed the speed and explosion of old earlier this season in his initial return. He makes so much possible as a result.

“It’s much easier (with Rose) as far as him getting easy buckets,” said Taj Gibson, who was vital on the boards with seven rebounds, three offensive. “He’s so fast, so quick he gets to the lane real fast. We need those easy buckets. We don’t just want to go half court, half court, half court, and run offense. He’s a lightning bolt when he’s out there. He can just slice the defense in half anytime he wants.”

The Bulls had some good wins with Rose out, Mike Dunleavy with 27 points against the 76ers, Jimmy Butler high scorer over the Timberwolves and Magic. But it’s too often a chore to score, the clock running down, screen after screen after screen until someone takes a shot. With Rose, it often becomes a whoosh and time to get back on defense. It makes the game easier for everyone without having to plod through the offense and getting easier shots off Rose passes.

There were some amazing assists Monday, especially late in the first half when Rose jumped in what looked to be a cross court pass, apparently spotted Noah diving down the lane, adjusted in the air and seemed to hang and then threw a dart to Noah for a layup and 60-41 lead.

“He was confident out there and playing his style of basketball, which is good for us,” said Butler of Rose. “He’s so fast. He’s getting out in transition, getting guys layups and dunks and stepping up and making big shots. Everybody is always paying attention to him and he’s great at finding the open guy, putting them in great position to score.”

Rose came out aggressively to start the game with an early floater for a score, a pull up three and the blazing speed of a Ford Crown Victoria as Rose went full court slashing for a three-point play and early 14-7 lead. Gasol and Noah also had it going early in their best tandem scoring of the season as Gasol stepped outside a bit more for jumpers while Noah played more pick and roll and was able to get to the basket. The Bulls led 27-21 after one quarter.

The reserves kept the margin the same, though Thibodeau only used Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic in the first half and went with his main eight after that.

Rose and Noah got back in with 6:47 left in the second quarter with the Bulls leading 40-35. It was a highlight reel the rest of the quarter as Rose began to go into the post against former Bull D.J. Augustin, who had 16 points while Josh Smith led Detroit with 19.

The post action repeatedly collapsed the defense, so first Butler got a pass for a three. Then Rose posted and scored. Gasol scored on a runout pass from Rose, Rose hit a pull up three and then the fabulous pass for the Noah score. Suddenly, the Bulls bench wasn’t screaming for the clock being down to five seconds for the shot to come. The scores and shots were coming quickly and efficiently as the Bulls shot 53 percent in the half with 16 assists, five for Rose. The Bulls also held off the bigger Pistons with a 29-22 first half rebounding margin.

“He’s been highlighting the rebounding for a long time now,” Butler said of Thibodeau. “We finally decided to buy into it. And hit somebody and go get the ball.”

The Pistons with that front line size slowed the game after halftime and began to come back. The Pistons pulled within 78-70 after three and then 82-75 with about nine minutes left when Rose returned.

Rose completed a strong drive for a score to make it 84-77 and then Rose had an amazing left handed shovel pass off the drive to Noah, who was fouled and shot free throws. Though often overlooked because of his scoring game, Rose is a dynamic passer and often isn’t credited with assists because he makes so many difficult passes in tight spots that teammates are fouled going up with the ball.

Augustin played the entire fourth quarter for the erratic Brandon Jennings and got the Pistons’ offense under control. After the Bull whom Thibodeau reiterated pregame “saved last season” scored on a drive to pull Detroit within 85-81, Rose drove for another score. The speed seemed to blind the Pistons as once again Rose not only lost his man on a screen from Noah, but he blew by both the retreating Greg Monroe and an-unable-to-react Andre Drummond at the rim.

That made it 87-81 Bulls with 5:39 left. Caron Butler then got open for a three as new Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy has the team competing again. Rose then dropped off a pass to Butler for a three-point play.

“He’s always looking for the guy who is open being the point guard he is,” said Butler. “A few times I just happened to be that guy.”

And then came the late Rose passes and scores to end the game. In the crucial last seven minutes, Rose scored or assisted on 13 of the Bulls 15 points in the 15-12 sequence that held off the Pistons down the stretch of what became a game that could have gone either way.

“Feels good to have everyone back out there again,” said Gibson. “You never know what you can really do without having Derrick out there. And having him out there you saw it.”

It’s 74 games to go in the regular season. They’ve got a full roster, they’re starting to burn it up, it’s not so far anymore and the glass seems more than half filled. Time to begin hitting it.