CHICAGO -- For most of the game, Brandon Jennings was the best point guard in the building. The whippet-thin Bucks rookie ran the floor, hit his jumpers and played like a veteran.
Derrick Rose just looked rusty.
The marquee matchup of Jennings and Rose looked like a relative dud as Milwaukee built a sizable third-quarter lead. Rose left with about seven minutes left in the third and the Bulls trailing by 18. The Bulls roared back with him on the bench.
But when Rose returned in the fourth, with the Bulls still down five, he got serious. Rose hit 4 of 6 shots and both free throws that he took in the quarter, scoring 10 of his 16 points and helping the Bulls preserve an 83-81 win Tuesday night.
"I don't know if he's 100 percent right now, because of his ankle," Jennings said. "But he looked good to me tonight, especially in that second half. He led ... his team and they came out with the victory."
Rose vs. Jennings could be a memorable pairing for the next 10 years; the two lightning-quick scoring point guards will make this Central Division rivalry a little sexier to a national audience.
Jennings all-but-dominated the first three quarters, outscoring Rose 16-6 going into the fourth. The rookie, who came in averaging 20.5 points, 6 assists and 5.5 rebounds, still led all scorers with 25 points (hitting 10 of 23 shots), but the win belonged to Rose while the rookie felt the pangs of defeat. After coming out of the shower, he fired off a quick text message before burying his head in his lap.
It wasn't a pretty end for him.
Rose, who also had five assists, beat Jennings twice on backdoor cuts to the rim off Brad Miller bounce passes, finishing with dunks -- the first tied the game with 6:41 to go and the second gave the Bulls a seven-point lead with 1:28 left. Both times, Jennings left Rose to double-team Miller and the veteran center made him pay.
"Backdoor," Jennings said glumly. "That's from fatigue, running up and down the court. I gave up two easy buckets."
After a Rose turnover at his end, Jennings drove the floor and hit a 9-foot shot to cut the Bulls' lead to 82-81 with 22.6 seconds left. Jennings had a chance to tie it with 14.9 seconds to go, driving on Rose for a jumper near the foul line. But Rose got just enough of the ball to deflect it, and it died in midair. Jennings couldn't direct the offense for the last shot in a timely enough manner. Ersan Ilyasova wound up missing a 3-pointer to end it. It's not often you see an 18-point, second-half lead evaporate. For Jennings, it took just a few games.
"It's something to learn from," Jennings said. "So when it comes again, we'll know what to do."
The two guards are members of a mutual admiration society. They battled in high-profile AAU games, with Jennings and his So Cal All-Stars coming up victorious.
"[In] AAU, we played against each other, like, three times, when he played for So Cal -- him and Kevin Love and all them," Rose told ESPN Chicago Bulls beat writer Nick Friedell. " They beat us all three times, but they were real competitive games."
While Rose was winning Rookie of the Year honors, Jennings was navigating unfamiliar waters for an American teenager. Honored as the top high school senior by several outlets, Jennings eschewed college to play overseas for Lottomatica Virtus Roma. He averaged only 7.6 points and 1.6 assists in 16 Euroleague games, playing in 27 games overall with the Italian club. Jennings said it made him a better player, a tougher player. The Bucks drafted him 10th overall.
Rose said he couldn't have traveled that far to play hoops; he was homesick in his one season at Memphis. But now Jennings wants what Rose has: a Rookie of the Year trophy.
"He's more mature at a young age, going out there and running the team; that's big for a guy that young," said Jennings of the 21-year-old Rose (Jennings just turned 20 himself in late September). "Young guards shouldn't be able to do the stuff that he does, but he's gifted."
One thing Jennings has that Rose still lacks is a consistent jumper. Jennings' shot was on early (4-of-6 in the first quarter) while the Bulls shot 4-of-16. He hit two 3-pointers, which is two more than Rose has made through four games. Rose did hit his jumpers in the fourth, though, finding his own rhythm.
Rose was gone by the time most of the media got into the Bulls locker room, but his contributions didn't go unnoticed.
"Derrick was huge in the fourth," said Luol Deng, who led the Bulls with a monster line of 24 points and 20 rebounds. "Derrick is coming back from an injury. It's not easy to sit out and not practice and not play in games and just jump into it. Soon, he's going to get his touch back, his rhythm back and we're going to be an even better team."
Before the game, Bucks coach Scott Skiles said the report on Rose is obvious: Keep him out of the paint and make him shoot jumpers.
"As he continues to round into form after the ankle [injury], there isn't a lot you can do with him [defensively] out there," Skiles said. "Just try to keep him out of the paint and make him shoot jump shots. And some nights when that's going down, he's almost unstoppable."
That was a prescient warning. Rose scored inside and outside in the fourth, and no rookie could stop him.
Round 1 went to Rose, but from the looks of Jennings, it's going to be a long, enjoyable fight.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.