INDIANAPOLIS -- This time, Derrick Rose's look of anguish came from the heat of competition, not from trying to explain his absence.
Racing downcourt and bracing for contact from Lance Stephenson, Rose reacted incredulously when officials called him for a block early in Saturday night's exhibition opener at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
And in this moment -- contact, followed by competitive fire -- Rose had returned.
The Bulls' 82-76 victory over the Pacers mattered not. Significance came in the form of Rose taking an NBA court for the first time since April 28, 2012, a span of 525 days.
Oh, how he was missed.
"It's good for the league," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "It's good for everybody. It's certainly good for our team. He has put a lot of work in."
Rose finished with 13 points on 5-for-12 shooting, three assists, two steals and four turnovers in 20 minutes, 26 seconds. He didn't attempt a 3-pointer and came out for good at the 7:07 mark of the third quarter.
But beyond statistics, speed stood out. As did no hesitation, fear or any other worrisome signs from someone who had assured all he had fully recovered from May 2012 surgery to repair his torn left anterior cruciate ligament.
"It felt great, normal," Rose said. "That's the way I've been playing in practice. It's coming to me. I've been playing aggressively. I knew that I was going to play the same way, make them stop me, break them down in the open court."
Rose showed rust. He came up woefully short on consecutive second-quarter free throws and later committed back-to-back sloppy turnovers, one of which led to a Pacers' fast-break layup.
But there were also bursts of brilliance. Rose had back-to-back, coast-to-coast drives in the second quarter -- one a three-point play -- and a third-quarter dunk off a Pacers' turnover. He also converted a nifty fast-break layup on a feed from Kirk Hinrich.
"It was good to have him back for sure," Thibodeau said. "I think you see how he makes the game easier for everybody and the speed with which he plays, you have to get accustomed to that. His teammates have to get used to that again. He has to get used to it. But overall, he played very, very well. He ran the team great."
Rose played 7:02 in the first quarter, 8:31 in the second and 4:53 in the third before lounging on the baseline with ice bags on both knees. He also could be seen stretching while sitting out in the first half, a nod to his new commitment to that discipline.
"You can run all you want and condition all you want but it's nothing like playing in a game and getting that game-type of wind," Rose said. "I really can't give a time limit on when I should have my wind. It may take two to five games. It might take up to the regular season. But as long as I'm playing in these games, I'm going to push myself every game and every practice until the regular season so I'm ready."
Rose's return is why Pacers coach Frank Vogel secured tickets for local friends who happen to be Bulls' fans. It's why the Pacers' media relations staff said media credentials rivaled the number for a playoff game, not preseason. It's why NBA TV televised the otherwise meaningless contest.
It's also why a sizable contingent of Bulls' fans did their best teenage-girls-at-Beatles-concert shrieking on Rose's mere first touch.
"I'm excited, but at the same time you have to look at it like it's preseason," Rose said of his return. "It's for everyone to get the wrinkles out. I'm playing with new guys and other guys I haven't played with in a long time. So it's me adjusting to how they play and adjusting to the NBA game period."
Taj Gibson led the Bulls with 18 points and 12 rebounds on 9-for-12 shooting. The Bulls rallied in the fourth quarter despite playing substitutes, including rookies Erik Murphy and Tony Snell, against stretches when Vogel returned to his starters. Jimmy Butler looked aggressive with 11 points and six rebounds, including 12 trips to the line.
Rose said he felt calm for his big moment.
"The only time you should get nervous is when you're not prepared. For me, I've been preparing for this moment for a long time," he said. "It's like a new beginning for me. It's about time."
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