By K.C. Johnson, Chicago Tribune
INDIANAPOLIS — Typically, exhibitions are met with excitement by rookies and training camp bodies trying to make a team.
This isn’t a typical preseason. And this isn’t a typical team, which is why Derrick Rose could be heard loudly exhorting his teammates to get after it in a pregame huddle.
The lockout delayed much, including rookie Jimmy Butler’s debut. But after the Bulls’ 95-86 victory over the Pacers on Friday night at Conseco Fieldhouse, aided by Butler’s strong play, one aspect from last season remained.
This team is all about bringing intensity to the task at hand.
“I prepared like this was a playoff game,” Rose said.
Butler prepared for his NBA debut by swallowing hard, banking in his first shot — no, he didn’t call glass — and displaying poise and a physical demeanor throughout. He had eight points without missing any of his three shots.
“I told you he can play,” Rose said. “He’s young but has a quiet confidence. He can defend, plays smart. He’s one of the pieces I think Coach is going to use a lot.”
In a normal season, such a thought would be laughable. However, with such a compressed schedule, Butler could be used for spot defensive minutes. The first-round pick, who admitted to nerves, has the right approach.
“It’s always go hard,” he said. “Go hard in practice, go hard in games, go hard in everything you do. Take no possessions off and be a great teammate.”
The Bulls overcame a sloppy start that featured Rose picking up two fouls in the first 107 seconds with a smothering defensive effort. In the second quarter, the Pacers missed 21 of 23 attempts and shot 33.7 percent overall.
But the Bulls allowed 21 offensive rebounds, committed 30 fouls and turned it over 24 times. Rose and Luol Deng, who led the Bulls with 16 points, combined for 11.
Here’s all you need to know what was different about this game: The starters finished.
“There’s a lot we have to clean up,” said coach Tom Thibodeau, who did praise the ball movement.
C.J. Watson spelled Rose ably and scored 15 off the bench. Taj Gibson added 12 points and nine rebounds for a foul-plagued Carlos Boozer.
In the fourth, Butler wrestled with Tyler Hansbrough for a loose ball. He didn’t back down.
“After that first jumper, my nerves started to calm,” Butler said. “After my first defensive trip, I was like, ‘Maybe I do belong.’”
The NBA is back. So is the Bulls’ seriousness.