INDIANAPOLIS — No dramatic “I’m back” statement came Sunday night. No numerical switch signaling a fresh start could be spotted.
Eighteen years ago this month, Michael Jordan, wearing No. 45, made his dramatic comeback from retirement and a baseball experiment here. He scored 19 points with six rebounds and six assists in an overtime loss to the Pacers at the old Market Square Arena.
The best Derrick Rose could do was don a sport coat and slacks and sit on the bench for the first time this season and since tearing his left ACL on April 28. Rose spent several stoppages sharing observations with teammates and jumped to his feet often to celebrate positive plays.
But ultimately, his front-row seat only underlined the Bulls’ 97-92 gritty loss to the Pacers.
The Bulls missed two opportunities to tie in the waning seconds when Marco Belinelli missed an off-balance 3-pointer and Vladimir Radmanovic failed to come up with the loose ball on a rebound. David West, who led all scorers with 31 points, iced matters with two free throws with 0.5 seconds left.
Indiana’s third straight victory over their Central Division rival assured them of winning the season series for the first time since 2003-04. It came with Rose, Kirk Hinrich, Taj Gibson and Richard Hamilton all sidelined by injuries and with Luol Deng and Nate Robinson playing through theirs.
And, despite an impressive, second-quarter run from an unlikely reserve lineup and a gallant overall effort, Rose’s presence only made his absence sting more.
Coach Tom Thibodeau said Rose hadn’t been on the bench previously because during games, “he’s been working in back. He might not even be out there all the time.”
Trailing by five late, Luol Deng threw down his second flying dunk of the night and later fed Belinelli, who scored 20, with a full-court pass to bring the Bulls within one again. But George Hill sank two free throws and the Bulls committed a shot-clock violation with 52.9 seconds remaining.
West then rebounded his own miss and scored with 32.2 seconds left. Noah missed on a wild drive — you know, the time when Rose would have the ball — and the Bulls were forced to foul Hill, who split free throws with 25.6 seconds remaining for a six-point lead.
Jimmy Butler, who scored a career-high 20 points, sank a 3-pointer. Hill missed both free throws with 13.6 seconds left, giving one final chance.
Finishing a back-to-back, the Bulls trailed by 13 early and added Carlos Boozer’s foul trouble atop all the injuries. Enter Radmanovic and Nazr Mohammed.
A lineup of those two, Indianapolis native Marquis Teague, Belinelli and Jimmy Butler energized the Bulls, pulling them within seven on several occasions, including at halftime. At one point, the deficit could’ve dropped to five but Teague, who logged a career-high 28 minutes, missed two free throws.
Radmanovic powered home a baseline dunk. Mohammed brought the starters watching from the bench — and Rose — to their feet by blocking a Paul George dunk and dunking over George on another trip.
“We were flat,” Thibodeau said of giving the bench players a chance. “Those guys got us back into it. We rode them. We didn’t play any defense to start the game.”
By K.C. Johnson, Chicago Tribune reporter