For years, summers meant rehab.
One injury or another. One surgery after another. Derrick Rose, the former NBA MVP, had been all but forgotten, traded, waived. His story was supposed to be about the past, not the present.
Maybe that’s why tears came as his Timberwolves teammates flooded the Target Center floor after his career-high 50 points led the Wolves to a 128-125 victory over the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night. All with a crowd of 10,079 — one that sounded twice that size as the game ended — chanting “MVP” to a man who knows exactly what that means.
“It means a lot, man,’’ Rose said. “It shows we’re coming together as a team. We’re getting close. And it’s touching, bro. 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.’’
Back in 2011, his MVP season, Rose scored 44 points in a playoff game. His previous regular-season high was 42. Both were smashed Wednesday. Rose played a whopping 40-plus minutes with Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague and Tyus Jones unavailable.
He hit on 19 of 31 shots, four of seven three-pointers and eight of 11 free throws, including two with 13.8 seconds left that put the Wolves up by three. At the other end, he blocked Dante Exum’s last-ditch shot as time expired. Rose scored 34 points in the second half — 19 in the third quarter and 15 in the fourth. He had 13 in the first quarter and three in the second. He hit from outside. He exploded to the rim, driving fearlessly at Utah big man Rudy Gobert.
“This is the first year in five years he didn’t have to go through rehab in the summer,’’ said Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau. “I know the person he is. I know the character he has. And it shines through.’’
It was a performance that rendered Karl-Anthony Towns’ 28-point, 16-rebound effort to almost a footnote. Ditto for Andrew Wiggins’ 19 points and six rebounds in his return from injury.
In a night of huge plays, Rose came up huge at the end of a fourth quarter that featured eight lead changes and eight ties.
“D-Rose is the man,’’ Towns said. “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.’’
Perhaps it’s fitting that the performance came against Utah, the team that waived him late last season after acquiring him in a three-team trade. Rose was signed by the Wolves, then re-signed over the summer. But he said he’s not in this for revenge. Citing Frank Sinatra, Rose said the best revenge is massive success.
“And that’s the mindset I have right now,’’ he said.
For years, he has found himself thinking too much, a process that slows him down. Right now he’s healthy, reacting, playing.
“When I’m at my best, I react instead of think,’’ Rose said. “The last couple years I didn’t have that rhythm. … It’s all just coming together. But it took six or seven years. … But, for me, it’s only the beginning.’’
And that’s key. Rose said he never lost confidence. He just was missing health and opportunity for a while.
“I shared this with him last year,’’ Thibodeau said. “In every story there’s a beginning, a middle and an end. And I think the end’s going to be great for him.’’