- Nick Friedell, Chicago Bulls beat reporter
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"He's better," Boozer said.
And the Chicago Bulls forward knows why.
"Because I think watching for a year, taking care of his body, he's stronger now,” Boozer said. “On top of that, obviously he's a workhorse. He improves every year. His knowledge of the game is better. He feels the game better. If somebody's going, he finds them. His passing is so much more precise this year ... on top of all the other stuff that he already had.”
Boozer watched former MVP Rose score 13 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter of Wednesday night's win over the Oklahoma City Thunder and dominate down the stretch in just his sixth game back in almost a year and a half.
“His skill, his skill set got better,” Boozer said. “His athleticism is obviously still there. Today he practically played left-handed because he had a sore elbow, and he still had an amazing game. Very impressive stuff, man."
All this took place on an evening when Rose didn't dominate the game offensively from the beginning -- a first since he began his comeback. He struggled to find a rhythm, starting just 3-for-12 from the field.
But when fourth quarter started, Rose did what he has always done -- he took over.
With 7:30 left in regulation, Rose returned to the floor and filled the role that the Bulls have missed most without him. For the second time in three contests, he closed the game and reminded everybody just how special he is in the process.
The Bulls have again witnessed the 25-year-old's ability to hit big shots when his team needs it the most. He finished the game 10-for-10 from the free throw line and 4-for-8 from beyond the 3-point line -- making many of those shots in the waning minutes.
"That's what I love, man," Rose said. "I think that I'm one of those type of players where I think I can close a game. If I didn't have my teammates and didn't have the teammates that I have that allow me to do that, I would be in trouble. But just having them, being around them, they know how hard I work. They put the ball in my hands to see what I'm going to do."
Those teammates are all too happy to be able to defer to Rose again. They know how much time he's put into his game over the past 17 months, and they know he wants to prove wrong all the people who doubted him for not coming back last season.
The Bulls trust Rose to be the player he has always been.
"I think he's reflective of all the work he's put in," Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said. "You can't imagine how much shooting this guy has done. Last year he wasn't playing in the games, but he was shooting. He shot every day before practice, then he practiced, he shot after practice, then he would go to the game and shoot some more.
“On our off days he gets to the gym [and] shoots for hours, so he's really worked at it. That old saying that the magic is in the work, there's a lot of truth to it. And it's not only what he's doing individually before and after practice, it's what he's doing in practice. And the example that he's setting and the leadership that he's showing for our team.
“It's a team sport; you need everyone to work and work together."
Rose is the straw that stirs the drink in Chicago and all his teammates know it. He is the man that everyone takes their cues from -- as they did Wednesday night.
"He sets the bar extremely high," Bulls guard Jimmy Butler said. "So you want to chase that bar, you want to get a piece of that. So you see him in the gym -- obviously he's the best player on our team -- but you see the way he works and that's why he is where he is. So we need to be in there working with him."
Even Rose can tell the difference in his game this season. He knows how much work he has put into getting his game -- and reputation -- back and he's looking forward to performing the same way night after night.
"It's a new beginning," Rose said. "I think I'm going to be a different player. My confidence has grown as a player, and I'm on the team with a bunch of guys that's taking this game serious like I am."
It might be a new era for Rose's career, but the goal remains the same as ever for the Bulls: They want to win a championship. The difference is that, with Rose back, they believe they have a legitimate chance to do so. They know with him on the floor they have their closer back. They have a guy who isn't afraid to take -- and make -- the biggest shots when his team needs them the most.
"The sky's the limit for us," Boozer said, "because we're going to continue to improve and having him back makes a whole lot of difference. It makes it easier for everybody else. He makes it easier for each one of us, because he takes so much responsibility on himself. But it's also fun to watch him. After sitting out for a year, there's so many moves that he does that I don't see other people do.
“He's one of those kind of players you got to watch him, because if you don't watch him, you might miss something."
WICHITA, Kan. -- Carlos Boozer wants to clear up any confusion over just how good Derrick Rose is now after sitting out last season while recovering from a knee injury.