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By Sam Smith | 5.5.2015 | 8:00 p.m.
For a while it was a fun word play and take off on Michael Jordan’s famous two-word press release in 1995: I’m back! And so it was for Derrick Rose, though fitfully without a finish in 2012-13, then sadly after a few weeks in 2013-14 and again last summer with USA Basketball and this season until, alas, he was gone again.
And now Rose is back again, in the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2011 and looking pretty good after his team high 25 points in the Bulls 99-92 playoff Game 1 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
So he’s back, right?
No, he’s not. Well, physically, which is the best news for the Bulls and Rose. And perhaps, finally, that tiresome national and local narrative of Rose being back to be the league MVP will dissipate as well. Rose was terrific in Monday’s victory, though most of the post game discussion was about Pau Gasol’s jump shots in the pick-and-pop play with Rose and what the Cavs will do and Jimmy Butler’s relentless play on LeBron James that limited James to 19 points and seemed to wear out James down the stretch.
Yes, Rose is back, but he’s back to being the player he was supposed to be.
Not the league MVP, but a team oriented point guard who led his college team to the national championship while being second on his team in scoring, who led his high school team to the title while scoring two points in the final game.
Rose was NBA Rookie of the Year in 2009 averaging 16.8 points and 6.3 assists.
That’s who we thought he was and would be.
The MVP was a shock to everyone, especially when Rose announced at media day in 2010 he didn’t see why he couldn’t win the award. He would because he had to with those Bulls team. That was the level of his talent. But with the talent the Bulls have now combined with the multiple surgeries and rehabilitations, Rose can be who he was supposed to be, a team lead guard who can score. But who is mostly part of a top team.
“My game is nowhere near the same as when I played back three or four years ago,” Rose was saying Tuesday after a film session in the team’s downtown hotel where players met with reporters. “I think I’m better. I think I’m smarter. I think my IQ of the game got higher; I don’t need to score big to win and I think that is huge for our team.”
While it may have been fun and exciting to watch Rose on the basketball high wire as a dare devil daring any to knock him off his game, life can do that instead. It did so to Rose with his ACL injury in the first game of the 2012 playoffs and then the MCL 10 games into his return in 2013.
So doubts—and anger for some reason—grew in the community about Rose. Though not with Rose. He put his head down and worked harder than he ever had to at basketball. That was what was so sad about the media abuse Rose took in some quarters. It was like a worker injured on the job condemned for allowing production to slip. Nice. But point guards are leaders, and basketball players accustomed to big moments, as Rose was even as a star prep player dominating games in Madison Square Garden, can filter out the noise and concentrate on the goal, whether with an orange ring or some glowing vision of the future.
It’s here now with Rose having averaged 19 points and 6.5 assists in the first round series win over the Bucks. But more significantly when the Bulls needed a big win in Game 6, Rose helped set it up with 15 points, seven assists and five rebounds. And, by the way, what were the Cavs scorekeepers watching Monday? Five assists for Rose? He probably had five alone in the third quarter finding Gasol for all those jumpers. Counting always has been a problem in Cleveland sports given the common deficits.
But statistics don’t matter to Rose, which is why the Bulls are more dangerous with Game 2 in Cleveland Wednesday. It’s because Rose is equal scoring and leadership threat.
“We’re playing our offense, running the floor,” said Rose about the Bulls shooting 50 percent in Game 1. “In our offense, anyone can shoot the ball. With me it’s making sure everybody is in the right spots so I can dictate the offense. Whatever it takes to win. We are taking it one game at a time. That game is already past; on to the next.
“I haven’t thought about (being up 1-0 on LeBron teams previously) until the media asked,” Rose admitted. “But you can’t think about it. Our mentality on this team is getting better every day, improving and learning from our mistakes. My routine doesn’t change. If anything, I do more recovery things like ice and stim work, NormaTec, hydrate a little more. I think I’m in a good routine now. I think I’m more comfortable on the floor. I won’t know until after I’m done playing (his affect on the game). We’re just trying to make everyone’s job on the floor easier; it makes for an easier day.”
That’s what it’s about for Rose now, playing, recovery and playing some more. Just being able to play and help the other kids, which was his desire and goal as a teenager. He loved the other kids getting scholarship offers, getting drafted by NBA teams, getting a chance to be pros. He was confident in himself. But he always knew it’s about everyone. Or there really is no fun.
So it’s business.
As Joakim Noah famously said, no one is coming to Cleveland on vacation. It is a desolate downtown; not that Bulls players were looking for activity. Jimmy Butler said he just wanted to get away from basketball a few hours, play with his phone, watch a movie.
“Stay off my legs, rest, watch documentaries,” said Rose of his day.
Rose suffered that shoulder “stinger” late in Game 1, but he said there were no after effects.
“I don’t feel anything,” he said. “So I am happy with that. I don’t think (it will affect me). It’s always a blessing and always feels good to win games. I’m just happy we won and we know we’ve got to come even harder for the next game.”
There have been some statistics thrown out that Rose is better on two days’ rest like in Game 1 rather than one day. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said, well, so is everyone. But during the season, Rose averaged 18.3 on two days’ rest and 18.8 after one day off. He did shoot 46 percent with two days and 40 percent with one day. But Rose shot better from three with one day off compared with two. It was just the second of back to backs when Rose struggled, averaging 14.9 on 35 percent shooting. There are no back to backs in the playoffs. “That’s the great thing about the playoffs,” said Rose, who basically celebrates every day now. “If I’m not scoring or I’m having a bad game, I’ll figure things out. Just having a lot of confidence in my game. Overall, we just competed. When they made their runs they changed the momentum. I think we withstood that, played together as a team, didn’t get rattled.”
And here comes more fun, Rose said, the adjustments, the Cavaliers worried about that pick and pop play.
“It takes time; takes reading the game, how they are playing it,” Rose said about what the Bulls may see.
“Seeing who they have on the floor at certain times and seeing what’s out there and going on. It’s my read as a point guard to be the coach on the floor and try to make adjustments with everything I see.
“You’ve got to have confidence to come into this city where their fans are great; they’re everything to this city,” Rose acknowledged about the Cavaliers. “It’s going to be really hectic in there the next game. So just come out prepared.
“It should be fun to see how they play (pick and roll with Pau),” said Rose. “Are they going to double team it or if I get all the way to the baseline, double team me so I’ll have a hard time passing it back out? Are they going to switch it? Who knows until we’re actually in the game. Like I always say, that’s what makes playoff basketball so much fun. You are learning; everybody is trying different things every game.”
It’s a different Rose, but what’s in a game? That which we see Rose. No matter it seems to smell as sweet.