- Nick Friedell, ESPN Staff Writer
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TORONTO -- The Chicago Bulls are not a better basketball team without Derrick Rose. Most knowledgeable basketball fans know this, but there will undoubtedly be some frustrated fans who watched Friday night's dominant 96-80 win over the Toronto Raptors and think differently.
Don't fall into the trap.
Obviously, the Bulls are a better team with the former MVP on the floor -- even as he continues to struggle to find a rhythm and stay on the floor. Rose sat out his first game of the regular season on Friday while recovering from a right hamstring injury, and the Bulls decided to play their most complete game of the regular season to date. Why did this happen?
It's because the Bulls know, having played without Rose all of last season as he recovered from reconstructive knee surgery, that they must play differently in order to win without him. They have to make the game a physical test and impose their defensive will on weaker opponents -- two points they accomplished in totality against the Raptors. The Bulls held the Raptors to 25.6 shooting in the first half and ran offensive sets with the type of precision that has been missing when Rose is on the floor.
"He's a leader of our team," Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said of Rose. "He runs the offense and we expect him to play good defense. But Kirk [Hinrich] proved last year that he's more than capable of running the team. So I like the rhythm that we had. We know that with Derrick out we know we have to play a certain way. And we need everybody. That's why it's a team."
The difference for the Bulls is that with Rose out of the lineup, they know they can't sit and watch Rose on the floor. The 25-year-old is so talented and so dynamic that his teammates defer to him too much offensively sometimes and rely on him to carry too much of the load. They know they need him to win, but they also understand that at various points during the season they will have to find ways to win without him as he makes his way back from knee surgery.
"We kind of had the same philosophy, but our transition's a little slower," Bulls forward Carlos Boozer said. "It's different with him out there. But we use each other. We cut, we pass the ball, we move around, we do a couple things differently. But, for the most part, we still hang our hat on our defense and rebounding, try to cut our turnovers down and take good shots."
To Boozer's point, every Bulls starter scored in double figures Friday night. The Bulls executed Thibodeau's plan and didn't give the Raptors space to create many shots early in the game. They did what they had to do without their superstar on the floor.
"Obviously, it's different because he's a different caliber player," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "Overall, we know we need Derrick to get to where we want to get to. I think he did the right thing tonight to get that [hamstring] back to 100 percent and get back on the court. But I'm just happy we got the win today. A lot of guys contributed. Now, hopefully, we can we get Derrick back on the court soon and get a dub [Saturday]."
That "W" isn't going to come easily as the undefeated Indiana Pacers roll into town, especially given that Rose's status is questionable at best as he continues to battle the hamstring injury. Still, Friday's performance reminded the Bulls of something they figured out during last season. In order to win a championship, they need Rose to play and play at a high level. In order to win a few games here and there, they just need to get back to basics and play as a cohesive group.
"I think we've been playing better basketball as of late," Hinrich said of Saturday's matchup against the Pacers. "We're still only seven games in, but the last three games I think we've been building good habits and we have a great test. They're playing as good as anyone in the league right now."