With Rose out for the past five games, the Bulls had gone 4-1—the only loss coming against the New Jersey Nets on Saturday evening.
Rose returned and—as if his importance needed any more emphasis—was given a standing ovation as he simply dribbled the ball to half court on the opening possession.
Rose would have the United Center crowd on their feet several times during the first quarter, as he hit back-to-back contested threes and ended the quarter with nine points as part of a 29-6 Bulls run. Down 35-17, the Hawks looked like they would be left behind early.
Into the second quarter, Rose continued his fine form, adding five more points to his tally.
Rose would head off at halftime having answered many questions about his health. The reigning MVP looked faster than he has all season and was getting to the rim at will. His success came despite different defensive approaches thrown at him by the Hawks, who went to a zone early to prevent Rose's deadly penetration.
One play in the second half saw Jeff Teague try to step out on Rose for a steal, only for Rose to crossover and drive past him in a flash to the hoop for the nifty layup in spite of a Josh Smith foul. Bulls radio play-by-play announcer Chuck Swirsky summed the play up best on Twitter: "Rose is quicker than quick. Faster than fast. He's QUAST"
Rose seemed to tire some in the second half, as he began struggling to break down the Hawks' defense; perhaps he was worrying about his back some after being sent to the deck following a collision with Zaza Pachulia under the rim.
He would go on to sit most of the third (with five points in the quarter) and the opening four minutes of the final period.
Rose again struggled to find his shot in the fourth. His two makes, however, came at the right moments for the Bulls as they struggled to put away the Hawks, whom Jannero Pargo surprisingly led on the comeback while scoring the most points he has in over two years.
With around three minutes to play, Rose came around the screen set by Joakim Noah into a pull-up shot from mid-range. Nothing but net, and the Bulls' lead increased. That shot was Rose's bread-and-butter during the playoffs—especially against the Hawks, who did a bad job hedging Rose coming off the screen.
With 90 seconds remaining, Rose took the ball out from under the hoop. With the shot clock running down and nobody available for the pass, Rose nailed a turnaround, fade-away jump-shot to push the Bulls' lead to 11. The Hawks never got closer.
At one point in the first quarter, Joakim Noah had out-rebounded the entire Atlanta Hawks team on his way to a 16-rebound haul. Among these were five offensive rebounds in the first alone. The Bulls recorded 15 offensive boards to Atlanta's eight, leading to a big advantage in second-chance points for the Bulls.
Jannero Pargo scored 19, his most in over two years. Josh Smith continued to prove he should have been an All-Star this year with a 17-point, 12-rebound, three-block performance. Joe Johnson suffered a minor knee injury and sat the entire fourth quarter.