Since winning the NBA’s MVP award in 2011, Derrick Rose’s story has been mostly about his dispiriting descent into an afterthought, as severe injuries robbed him of his explosiveness and he began a journeyman’s shuffle from team to team. Wednesday night found the 10th-year guard breaking down in tears — but only after submitting one of the season’s most stunning performances, a 50-point explosion to lead his Timberwolves past the Jazz.
After burying his head in a towel to gather himself, Rose was asked what reaching that point total, a career high, meant to him. “Everything, man,” he replied, “I worked my a-- off.”
“I did this for the franchise, the organization, the fans, everybody,” he added. “I’m doing everything just to win, and tonight was a hell of a night.”
In addition to hitting 19 of 31 shots to reach his 50 points, Rose had six assists, four rebounds and a crucial block on the Jazz’s attempt at a game-tying three-pointer in the closing seconds. Following Minnesota’s 128-125 triumph, Rose was mobbed by teammates as warm salutes poured forth online from other players around the league.
“Every Basketball fan in the world should feel good for DRose,” the Heat’s Dwyane Wade said on Twitter. “Tonite [sic] was an example of never giving up on yourself and when others believe in you. Amazing things can happen. I’m smiling like I scored 50! Congrats to a good dude!”
“I’m so proud of you bro! No one knows you’re [sic] struggle what you went through day in an[d] day out!” the Cavaliers' J.R. Smith tweeted. “You are truly inspiration to everyone! Super proud to have had you as a teammate!”
Adding an intriguing subplot to the evening’s drama was the fact that Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler, who demanded a trade in September, sat out the game. He and Timberwolves Coach Tom Thibodeau insisted that his absence was strictly related to getting some routine rest, but a report earlier in the day claimed that Butler was intent on ratcheting up pressure on the front office to deal him as soon as possible.
Butler’s unhappiness at still being on the team, and his willingness to express it in a variety of ways, has cast a pall over a squad he helped make the playoffs last season for the first time in 14 years. That could well have contributed, in turn, to the obvious joy Rose’s teammates took in his performance Wednesday.
"D-Rose is the man,” Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns said after the game (via the Minneapolis Star-Tribune). “The legend. Myth. Vintage. It was numbing. I never realized something like that in my life. The man was just out there floating. It seemed like he couldn’t do no wrong.”
Given that Minnesota’s starting point guard, Jeff Teague, also missed the game with an injury, a major contribution from Rose was needed. Nothing close to what he provided, though, could have been reasonably expected, given that he had scored a total of 100 points over the team’s first seven games.
Rose’s scoring average of 14.3 points coming into the game was actually a major improvement over the mark of 8.4 he posted last season, which he began with the Cavaliers following one season with the Knicks. After a 16-game stint for Cleveland, which included a two-week leave of absence he said was related to his frustration over a lingering ankle injury, he was traded to the Jazz as essentially a throw-in to help make a three-team deal work.
The Timberwolves picked him up a month later for the rest of that season, which many viewed at the time as a gesture of irrational loyalty by Thibodeau, who had coached Rose during his glory years with the Bulls. However, Rose played well during Minnesota’s first-round playoff series against the Rockets, coming off the bench to average 14.2 points and 2.6 assists and setting the stage for more solid play this season.
“Coming here, I don’t have to look back, dude,” Rose recently told The Athletic’s Shams Charania. “To adapt to this league now, you got to be able to shoot, period. I feel my game is more controlled and I have better pace to my game. I’m not out of control and reckless. I’ve matured as a player, but it’s going to take the public seeing me more and seeing the team win more.”
“I feel healthy and I want to look healthy,” he added. “Right now, just like in anything in life, you miss something for a long time and you get something taken away from you, it’s going to take some time to get a rhythm back."
As fate would have it, given that the Athletic story was published Wednesday morning, Rose also told Charania, “I’m in a different phase in my career right now where I don’t have to put up 40 points, 30 points a night just for us to stay in the game.”
He was correct in one aspect — he didn’t have to put up 30 or 40 points, he actually needed almost all of his 50-burger to help his Timberwolves not only stay in the game, but get an emotional win.
“It’s touching, bro,” Rose said after the victory. “Just being in this position. It still didn’t even hit me yet. Words can’t explain how I feel right now. It’s been a while.”
“I shared this with him last year,” Thibodeau said of the guard whose career he first helped flourish, then resuscitate. “In every story there’s a beginning, a middle and an end. And I think the end’s going to be great for him.”
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