It was only preseason, but Derrick Rose put the Cleveland Cavaliers on notice Monday night in Columbus. While the Cavs came out of the preseason tilt with a 107-98 victory, Rose's electric 30-point performance was the story, giving the Chicago Bulls plenty of reason to be excited about their chances this upcoming season.
Rose looked as fast and explosive as ever, scoring in a variety of ways and shooting a scorching 12-of-18 overall and 4-of-5 from long range:
On paper, the Bulls and Cavs are the two best teams in the Eastern Conference and on a collision course for the conference finals. But for Chicago, so much rides on Rose's health and ability to return to an elite level following two major knee injuries. Rose's Bulls were supposed to battle LeBron James' Miami Heat for years after first meeting in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2011, but the knee injuries derailed those plans.
To help visualize just how important Rose is to these Bulls, just watch how the entire team rushed to his aid after he took a hard tumble at the end of the first half:
That's what happens when a team has gone through the adversity the Bulls have the past few years. But If Rose's effort Monday night is any indicator, Chicago is indeed primed to be Cleveland's main challenger in the East. Watching him blaze through defenders was a joy to watch, but perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the performance was the superb three-point shooting.
Rose's outside shot was a cause for concern heading into the preseason after he made just one three-pointer during the entire FIBA Basketball World Cup. But he has been better during the Bulls' exhibition slate, shooting 43.5 percent in seven games. If defenders are forced to respect his outside shot, that'll make his lightning-quick drives to the rim even more difficult to stop.
The Cavs had a ton of trouble stopping Rose on those forays to the rim, as both Kyrie Irving and Matthew Dellavedova were helpless in their attempts to stay in front of him. Out of 18 shot attempts, Rose attempted 12 in the paint and 11 in the restricted area.
At one point, Irving literally got turned around trying to defend Rose:
This play also highlights what could be a major weakness for the Cavs against Chicago: pick-and-roll defense. Not only is Irving a poor defender, but Kevin Love isn't known for being the most stout on that end either. In addition to Irving getting turned around, Love's pick-and-roll coverage was non-existent and Anderson Varejao was late getting over to protect the rim. This is something Rose will almost certainly look to exploit when these two teams meet, and Cavs coach David Blatt knows it could be an issue, according to ESPN's Brian Windhorst:
"I don't know what to do with that guy, to be honest with you," Blatt joked after the game. "You got any ideas?"
Rose was rather nonchalant when discussing his big performance, simply saying he tried to pick the spots where he could best affect the game. But considering the opponent, it seemed like he had a bit more juice than normal. The 18 shot attempts were by far a preseason high, and while that may have been a function of the Cavs' defense, one has to think he was trying to make a statement.
You could argue there's no such thing as a preseason statement, and that's valid. After all, Rose dominated much of last preseason, only to struggle mightily in the regular season before getting hurt again. So being great Monday night doesn't guarantee anything.
But seeing Rose put on that type of show against the team standing in the Bulls' way in the East was still encouraging, and if it truly is a sign of things to come, Chicago has a legitimate chance at a championship:
"He's our big gun, so just to see him play like that, I know how hard he's worked to get there," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "I just feel like if we just keep improving, we can do something special."
The Bulls just have to cross their fingers Rose stays in one piece.