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Rose returns to lead Bulls past Pistons

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CHICAGO — This is why Derrick Rose’s health saga is such a big deal to the Chicago Bulls.

After missing back-to-back games and sitting out four of the Bulls’ first seven contests this season, Rose returned to action Monday night from sprains in each ankle. After leading all scorers with 24 points and dishing out seven assists to help the Bulls down the Detroit Pistons 102-91 at the United Center, it was clear how much Rose adds to the mix for Chicago (6-2).

“It was great to have him on the floor,” said veteran forward Pau Gasol, who signed with Chicago as a free agent last summer. “He’s a difference maker. He’s very explosive and gets to the hole, a key player for us.

The Bulls are the deepest they’ve been in a couple years, but keeping Rose healthy is the key to unlocking their full potential. The Pistons learned that firsthand Monday, when Rose led five Bulls players in double-digit scoring.

“The more we play, the more we will understand each other,” Gasol said of Rose. “We will find each other on the floor and make our teammates better. I look forward to playing more games with him.”

Gasol (17 points, 15 rebounds) and center Joakim Noah (13 points, 14 rebounds) each finished with double-doubles, and the Bulls outrebounded an opponent for the first time since the season-opener at the New York Knicks.

They won the battle of the boards 49-46 against a Pistons group that was ranked fourth in the NBA at 46.3 per game. That was nearly as eye-opening as Rose shaking off the rust.

Pistons forwards Greg Monroe (16 points, 10 rebounds) and Josh Smith (19 points, 11 rebounds) finished with double-doubles, but center Andre Drummond (12 rebounds) was held to just two points, a big reason Chicago outscored Detroit 50-34 in the paint.

“We lost focus defensively,” Monroe said. “We let their offense dictate our defense, and some of our shots didn’t fall. That carried over the defensive end.”

Chicago (6-2) led from start to finish and held on late in the fourth, staving off an impressive comeback effort by Detroit (2-5).

The Bulls put the Pistons in a 60-44 hole at halftime and the visitors just couldn’t climb all the way out. Spearheaded by former Bulls guard D.J. Augustin, who scored 16 points off the bench, the Pistons sliced a 19-point Bulls third-quarter lead to 78-70 starting the fourth. They had it down to 90-88 after Augustin’s 17-foot jumper with 2:43 left, but Gasol hit a baseline jumper and Butler drilled a 3-pointer to push Chicago’s lead back up to seven.

“In the second quarter, we didn’t guard anybody,” Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy said. “They scored 60 points in that half and had 12 fastbreak points. In the second half, we played better. We hustled and got back in it and cut it to two. We just couldn’t bring it home.

Rose added a short jumper and two free throws in the final minute to help the Bulls close it out, handing Detroit its 16th loss in its past 17 games against the Bulls in Chicago.

“In the first half, I thought [Rose] set the tone for us, and certainly the way he finished was great,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, who was able to start his top five for the first time. “He is going [to attack] when he’s healthy. It was his ankles. When he has played this year, that is how he has played. He puts a lot of pressure on the defense, so it was good.”

NOTES: Bulls G Derrick Rose (ankle sprains) took a full pregame warmup and decided afterward to play Monday night. Rose, who missed four of Chicago’s first seven games, took his usual place in the starting lineup. … Coming into the game, Chicago had scored 100 or more points in five of its first seven games and averaged 104.3 points per game, almost 11 higher than last season (93.7). … G Jodie Meeks (lower back) and F Cartier Martin (plantar fascia strain) didn’t dress for the Pistons. Forward Luigi Datome (right hamstring) dressed but wasn’t available. … Dating to last season, the Pistons have lost 22 of their past 24 road games.

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.

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