CHICAGO — Between the nasty crossovers and fearless drives, Derrick Rose’s back problems appear to be in the past – a very good thing for the Chicago Bulls.
As deep as their roster is, they need their superstar.
Rose scored 23 points in his return from a five-game absence because of back pain, and Chicago hung on to beat the struggling Atlanta Hawks 90-79 on Monday.
Rose looked sharp and helped the Bulls play more like championship contenders after a brutal loss to New Jersey two days earlier. They led by 18 through the first quarter and were up 55-37 at halftime, but found themselves hanging on in the end after a big push by Atlanta.
The Bulls were clinging to an 85-79 lead after a late 3-pointer by Jannero Pargo before Luol Deng nailed a 3 of his own to make it a nine-point game. Rose then buried a turnaround jumper on Pargo to make it 90-79 with 2:10 remaining and Chicago prevailed, sending Atlanta to its seventh loss in 10 games.
“Having (Rose) back just opens up everything,” Joakim Noah said. “He was very aggressive tonight. When he’s aggressive like that, it opens up everything for everybody, and it gives us a lot of confidence.”
Rose did not make himself available for comment afterward.
Coach Tom Thibodeau said his conditioning is “not where it usually is,” but the explosiveness was there.
“Overall, I was very pleased,” he said. “Derrick said he felt really good out there.”
Pargo provided a big spark off the bench for Atlanta with a season-high 19 points, including five 3-pointers. Josh Smith added 17 points and 12 rebounds, but Joe Johnson (12 points) sat out the fourth quarter because of recurring tendinitis in his left knee.