Born and raised in Chicago, 2011 NBA MVP Derrick Rose is feeling at home here in Minnesota in a way he never did a year ago in Cleveland.
Signed to play alongside superstar LeBron James then, Rose never found the kind of good health, consistent playing time and comfort he said he now feels after he helped the Timberwolves to a 131-123 home victory over his former Cavaliers team Friday night at Target Center.
Rose provided the pulse for a second unit that made six of the Wolves’ 10 three-pointers and helped push the home team to a 20-point lead before halftime, a lead Cleveland never could completely wipe away the rest of the night.
Rose finished with 12 points, nine assists and four rebounds, and his night also included a game-high plus-20 playing for and with coach Tom Thibodeau and teammates Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and Luol Deng, familiar faces all.
“Last year, I wasn’t getting the opportunity, I wasn’t playing the way I play now,” said Rose, the youngest MVP in NBA history when he won the award with Chicago at age 22, before his career was forever changed by recurring injuries, including a troublesome ankle injury last season. “I wasn’t playing comfortable. I wasn’t familiar with the team like I am right now.”
Now he is back with those faces familiar from his years with the Bulls.
“Derrick has been doing the right things,” Gibson said. “It’s tough when you’ve been on one team a long time and you get traded away. Then you get back to a group and a coach you’ve been with a long time. I just feel like he’s comfortable. I feel he’s just taking the game one day at a time, but he’s having fun. Every day I see him, he’s having fun. He’s smiling. He’s enjoying the process of coming into practice because he’s around familiar faces.
“We don’t put any pressure on him. We understand the things he can do. He goes out there and plays. He’s leading the second unit. He can play with the first unit. We rely on him a lot.”
Playing mostly off the ball alongside Tyus Jones on Friday night, Rose used his speed and ball-handling to collapse the Cavs defense and then found open teammates, to the tune of those eight assists. Anthony Tolliver helped give him room to work by spreading the floor with the threat of his three-point shooting. Tolliver made three threes, Jones made two and Gorgui Dieng made one.
“Our job is to come in and play with a lot of energy,” Rose said. “My job coming in is whenever I get it, attack and look for open guys. Make sure that intensity is there. I think this is most shooters I’ve ever played with on a second unit. Everybody’s a shooter, and I’ve got the whole lane to figure things out and take my time.”
Thibodeau said he likes Rose’s speed, whether it’s alongside Jones on the second unit or with the starters. He also likes his maturity and leadership.
“I think people underestimate him at times,” Thibodeau said. “He’s a real humble guy. He’s very unique. There were a lot of nights when he was the MVP, he had a lot of points but he was always happiest when we won and when his teammates did well.”