Rose and Bulls getting reacquainted

Star guard not old self yet, but he's getting there as he proved hitting game-winner vs. Knicks

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Derrick Rose on his game-winning shot, Bulls' win over the Knicks on Thursday.

After Derrick Rose hit his second straight 3-pointer in the third quarter Thursday night against the Knicks, he took a deep breath before heading to the Bulls bench for a timeout.

A city exhaled with him.

The sequence said everything's going to be OK, Chicago. So breathe.

Anybody still anxious about The Return later found relief in a game-winning, one-handed floater Rose hit from the baseline over 7-footer Tyson Chandler with 5.7 seconds left in a dramatic 82-81 victory. Rose's sore neck really might hurt now after carrying the Bulls on his back on the last possession for the first time in 18 months.

"It felt good (because) I missed enough damn shots the whole night,'' said Rose, who shot 7 of 23 for 18 points. "That's what builds your resume and leaves marks on your legacy.''

Such glimpses of greatness from Rose assured us that one day he indeed will return to being the consistently elite player seared into our memories — even if that day still appears off in the distance despite the clutch finish.

Rose improved over his clunky season debut. He finished a one-man fast break with familiar pizzazz. He set up teammates by attacking with penetration that paralyzed Knicks defenders. He led, wanting the ball down 81-80 when coach Tom Thibodeau called his number.

"I've been around (Rose) long enough,'' Thibodeau said afterward. "The only way for him to get through it is to let him do it.''

Closing games is part of Rose's rehabilitation too. Still, his incremental progress didn't mask that, at times, Rose reminded everybody it had been since April 28, 2012, that he played a meaningful game on his home court. He missed key layups and open jumpers. Two of his four turnovers came in the final 87 seconds. The rust on the Bulls' version of a Porsche was evident, if understandable.

But, hey, at least it no longer is parked in the garage.

Rose's presence alone made this a marquee event big enough to attract a national television audience and lure musician Lupe Fiasco and Knicks fan Spike Lee, the other noted documentary filmmaker in the building with Reggie Rose. They joined a crowd of 22,022 that made the place as loud as it had been since the Jordan Era when public-address announcer Tommy Edwards introduced Rose: "From Chicago …!"

The rest of the introduction got swallowed in an emotional wave of red glow sticks and "MVP" chants. Perhaps Rose's re-entry wasn't as dramatic as in the Adidas commercial when Rose hugged his brother Reggie amid cheers but it was life one-upping art. It was real.

The reality the Bulls now face: After successfully adjusting to life without Rose last season, the Bulls must learn how to play with him again. They will, but it won't be as quick and easy as Rose's impressive preseason fooled some folks into believing — perhaps even himself. By publicly declaring he would return better than ever, Rose increased the pressure that occasionally makes him try to do too much. History says the more Rose lets his actions speak for him instead of words, the better.

Speaking of mixed messages, tipoff mercifully ended a farcical pre-game period that felt all too familiar. For nearly an hour, Halloween Night resembled the movie "Groundhog Day,'' as Chicagoans everywhere waited for a Rose medical update just like day after day last year.

Even a United Center usher approached me two hours before tipoff wondering.

"He's not going to miss the game with a sore neck, is he? You know how loud people are gonna boo him?'' the usher asked.

It became a moot point but represented the cynical residue of last season's layoff. The drama surrounding Rose's availability began to build earlier at the Berto Center when he surprisingly sat out the team's shootaround with soreness said to be unrelated to his surgically repaired left knee. Not that Thibodeau readily volunteered information that could have eased suspicions.

Reporter: "Is Rose OK?''

Thibodeau: "Um, just nicked up a little.''

Reporter: "Upper or lower body?''

Thibodeau: "His body.''

A pain in the neck indeed. Somewhere, an NHL coach applauded Thibodeau's ambiguity. But as Thibodeau slowly morphs into Basketball Lovie Smith, his coyness serves no purpose other than to suggest how sensitive the Bulls are to anything related to Rose's health. The muddled lack of transparency is so last season, not to mention unprofessional.

Two minutes later, Rose openly vowed to play. On Rose's neck, he wore two strips of what appeared to be kinesio tape, a therapeutic adhesive athletes often use to relax muscles despite a lack of scientific evidence to support that it works.

Obviously, something worked. The tape made Rose more comfortable. Rose's play should have put everybody else at ease too.

dhaugh@tribune.com

Twitter @DavidHaugh

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