By Mike McGraw
Shortly after the opening tipoff Monday, fans at the United Center let out a cheer simply at the sight of Derrick Rose dribbling the ball routinely up court.
Much to everyone's relief, Rose returned against Atlanta after missing five games with back spasms, the longest absence of his pro career.
There seemed to be no setbacks. Rose drove aggressively to the basket, twisted in the air, got fouled and fell to the ground -- everything that has become routine for him -- and led the Bulls to a 90-79 victory. He finished with 23 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds.
"We're not going anywhere without that guy," center Joakim Noah said. "Having him tonight was definitely huge for us."
The Bulls have gone 7-3 this season while Rose was out with back and toe injuries, but they were coming off a disturbing home loss to New Jersey on Saturday.
Following the game, cameras crowded around Rose's locker in anticipation, but eventually Carlos Boozer walked over and told everyone not to bother -- Rose already was gone.
"He was good," Boozer reported. "Normal routine, iced down, got his shower, went to talk to the docs and that was that."
So Rose wasn't available to describe his physical state, but he did do an on-court interview with ESPN when the game ended.
"The whole week, I was seeing a great chiropractor, Stuart Yoss, did a great job getting me back," Rose said. "My teammates were waiting for me to come back, the fans were and I was just feeling good. Today I was just trying to play the way I normally do, play aggressive."
Asked about his back, Rose answered, "It feels good. I've got to put a little ice on there, but I should be all right."
Guard John Lucas III has the locker next to Rose, so he figured to be a good authority on his teammate's well-being. Lucas also played next to Rose in the backcourt for most of the fourth quarter and scored 10 points.
"Derrick looks good," Lucas said. "He's getting healthier day by day, so I'm waiting for that beast to come out of him, like it always has. It showed today. Some of the stuff he was doing, it looked like he didn't miss any games."
The Bulls (26-8) essentially took care of this game by finishing the first quarter on a 29-6 run. At one point, they hit 8 straight shots, including consecutive 3-pointers by Luol Deng, Rose and Ronnie Brewer.
The home team led by as many as 21 points late in the second quarter, then held off a Hawks comeback. Atlanta (19-13) trailed by 6 when Tracy McGrady missed 2 free throws with 6:34 remaining. A couple of minutes later, the Hawks closed within 80-75 before Lucas drained a 3-pointer that seemed to end the suspense.
Boozer added 16 points for the Bulls, while center Joakim Noah grabbed 16 rebounds. Ex-Bulls guard Jannero Pargo led the Hawks with 19 points.
"Pooh (Rose's nickname) just picked the pace up for all of us," Boozer said. "He's our engine. Next thing you know, it was drive to the bucket, and-one, free throw, jump shot -- it was awesome to watch. He gives us a great calm out there."
The Bulls continued their streak of not losing consecutive regular-season games, dating to Feb. 5 and 7 of last season.