What happened to the Derrick Rose Bulls’ fans have grown to despise? We eye-roll at the former MVP when he talks about staying healthy for far-off meetings and graduations. We scream at our televisions whenever the oft-injured point guard takes another three-point shot. We bemoan the max-contract player that no longer seems to give maximum effort. But guess what? Our faltering scapegoat is gone. Mister “too big, too strong, too fast, too good” owned the floor at the Madhouse on Madison on Saturday night. Sure, it’s just one game but Bulls’ color commentator Stacey King can, without shame, finally exclaim his Kingisms again. And that’s a win for all of us.
Derrick Rose’s stat line1 (23 points, 7 assists, 2 steals, 4 turnovers) in game one against the Bucks looks impressive. But the numbers themselves don’t tell the full D-Rose comeback story. Rose played just twenty-seven minutes in the 103-91 home victory and was a respectable, efficient 9-16 from the field. Although he still took seven pull-out-my-hair three-pointers, he actually made three of them. And he distributed the ball well, getting teammates involved and pushing the ball down court. But the real story — the one that counts — was the return of The Windy City Assassin, an on-court killer finally reborn.
The kid from Chicago, the star from Simeon, the youngest MVP in league history lost himself over the last few years. Injuries have taken a toll on his body and his mind, shaking his confidence and quieting his loudest backers. Despite challenging doubters while at his lowest point — “You can be a fool if you want to.” — Rose’s tentative play spoke volumes. Just seeing him on the court has been like spotting fans in the Wrigley Field bleachers — 33 games in 2011-12, 0 in 2012-13, 10 in 2013-14 and 51 this past season. And the Rose we saw step on the court this past fall was hesitant, to say the least. Analysts and fans alike quickly questioned his ability to return to MVP form while witnessing career lows in field goal percentage and Player Efficiency Rating2 (ignoring his 0 and 10 game seasons). One playoff game redacted all that negativity.
Derrick Rose stepped on the United Center court against the Bucks with no sign of doubt. Perhaps team physician Brian Cole removed the kernel of concern when he took out Rose’s meniscus. He slashed to the hoop at will. He contorted his body and finished at the rim. He fired passes across the court to open teammates. And he dunked! He dunked. Rose played so hard he needed a breather early on in the first quarter. Reluctant Rose is a middling NBA point guard. Tenacious Rose changes the game from the tip-off to the final buzzer. The shot chart3 doesn’t lie, he lived around the rim throughout game one against the Bucks; Milwaukee coach Jason Kidd had no answers. The playoffs brought something out in Rose that has been missing for far too long. He was hungry, to beat his man to the hoop. He was eager, to disprove his antagonists. And he was excited, enough to wave on the crowd while heading to the bench. When Rose attacks the paint the way Tom Thibodeau wants, he’s a more efficient scorer and an elite creator. Jimmy Butler agrees4 “He makes everything easier. He takes all the pressure off of everybody.”
With a healthy Derrick Rose, this Bulls team can challenge in the Eastern Conference. But if this team is led by Derrick Rose, it can fight for an NBA title. The sometimes perplexing point guard wore a “Just a Kid from Chicago” patch on his coat during Saturday night’s post-game press conference. He looked, and sounded, at ease while addressing questions about his playoff return. Is the kid we remember back or was it a one-time, throw back performance? Will his speed taper or can he stay in fifth gear for an entire playoff run? We’ll find out soon enough. Just be happy the real Derrick Rose stood up, for one game at least.
Niral Patel ~ SecCitySportsReport@gmail.com ~ @SecCitySports