By Cody Westerlund-
CHICAGO (CBS) – The reminder of all that is beautiful about Derrick Rose’s game came with a little more than three minutes left in the third quarter of Saturday’s exhibition game for Team USA, Rose having turned down a screen from teammate Rudy Gay on the left wing.
In front of his hometown fans at the United Center, this play was all his.
Rose started left, putting down one dribble with his left hand before providing victim Raul Togni Neto of Brazil with a story to tell future generations of Netos. With his second dribble came a devastating left-to-right crossover, Neto momentarily frozen and Rose exploding by and cradling the ball in his right arm like Matt Forte might.
As Rose began his ascent just outside the restricted area, Brazilian big man Anderson Varejao considered contesting the shot, then thought better of it. He had no desire to be in this artist’s portrait, which was completed when Rose deftly switched the ball to his left hand and floated in a soft layup with his off hand.
USA teammates on the bench jumped up in unison, flailing their towels in celebration in an eventual 95-78 win. They remembered this guy.
“It was just a play,” said Rose, who played competitively at the United Center for the first time since last Nov. 18. “I guess people wanted me to do it every time. I just saw an opening and I went for it. I’m used to people cheering, so I didn’t let it get to me or anything like that. It was just me playing the way I normally play.”
This sequence was the highlight of Rose’s night, a flash of brilliance that symbolized what endeared him to Bulls fans and paved the way for an MVP season three years back. And yet Saturday was full of so much more.
For practical matters, Rose played 24-plus minutes, including all 10 in the third quarter. That represented the longest stretch of competitive basketball he’d played in a non-practice setting since tearing his right medial meniscus last Nov. 22.
In the increased minutes, Rose felt “good” overall, though he was winded after four or five minutes each stint. He also didn’t even realize he played the whole third quarter.
“That’s a process, I’m building it every day,” Rose said of his conditioning. “Of course, it’s the last thing I’m waiting on, but playing like this and playing against the players we played against, it’s going to get my wind back even quicker.”
Added USA coach Mike Krzyzewski: “He needs to learn how to play tired. He wanted to see that, and he did pretty good.”
For those flashes of his old self and positive returns, Rose’s game still has a ways to go. He finished with seven points on 2-of-5 shooting and added four rebounds, two assists, a steal, a block and three turnovers. Offensively, Rose didn’t assert himself at all in the five minutes he played in the first quarter – partly because it was Steph Curry’s show early and Anthony Davis’ all night long, the latter registering 20 points, eight rebounds and five blocks in his native city. Rose even missed a breakaway two-handed dunk attempt off the back iron.
In the second quarter, Rose retreated to the locker room for a time to get a cut tended to above his left eye. A bandage was all the remedy Rose needed, though he admitted he probably should’ve gotten one or two stitches if not for his disdain for needles.
Asked what he most needs to work on, Rose said he wants “to play under control and shoot the right shots.”
“It’s a step-by-step process,” Thibodeau said. “He’s slowly getting better. This is the perfect setting for him.
“He’s shaking some rust off, but his explosiveness is back. He’s playing well on both sides of the ball. I think he’s in a really good place … That adversity, I think, has made him a lot stronger.”
Perhaps the best moment came midway through the fourth quarter. By then, Rose thought he was done for the night, but a faint chant of “We want Rose” soon turned into the United Center’s chorus.
Krzyzewski had no choice but to turn to Rose and tell him to head to the scorer’s table. As Rose did, the crowd erupted again, providing what was at least his third standing ovation of the evening.
“It was fun,” Rose said later.
“I probably won’t get any sleep tonight.”
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for CBSChicago.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.