Everyone in Target Center had to know who would have the ball, who would take the last shot.
In a tag-team performance with teammate Karl-Anthony Towns, Rose had dominated in the second half Sunday. It was his free throw just seconds before that had forged a tie with Phoenix with 30.5 seconds left (though, to be fair, it was the first free throw he missed that angered him).
It was still tied with 23.6 seconds left, after Taj Gibson, helping from the corner, forced a Devin Booker turnover. Out of a timeout, Timberwolves interim coach Ryan Saunders decided not to advance the ball to halfcourt, thinking it would be easier to get the ball in Rose’s hands. Once the ball crossed midcourt, Rose saw he was being guarded by rookie Mikal Bridges, so he waved off a pick by Towns. He dribbled, let the clock wind down, got to his spot 18 feet away from the hoop, rose and shot.
Nothing but net. That shot, with 0.6 seconds left, sent the Wolves to a 116-114 victory in front of an announced 14,607 fans over a Phoenix team that, frankly, shouldn’t have been this much of a problem.
Rose finished with 31 points, 29 in the second half. Towns finished with 30, 28 in the first half.
“We’ve been in some real dogfights here,” Gibson said. “Tonight, being able to pull one out, come back against a team that had us down the whole game, it was great.”
Great, but probably not ideal.
Phoenix owns the worst record in the Western Conference, was playing on the back end of back-to-back games and was without its second-best player, rookie center Deandre Ayton.
And yet the Suns (11-37), playing loose, had the lead much of the game. They were led by T.J. Warren’s 21 points. Booker had 18.
“We plan on being better in the next game with that,” Saunders said.
But why dwell?
It was in the third quarter when Rose really took over. The Wolves were down 11 when his three-pointer started a run that got the Wolves back within five entering the fourth. Then, playing with a strange lineup that included third (or fourth)-string point guard Jerryd Bayless, the Wolves started the fourth quarter on a 12-1 run, and went up six on Rose’s 18-footer with 9 minutes left.
It was back and forth the rest of the way. Down three with under 2 minutes left, Gibson scored. After a Phoenix turnover, Rose hit one of two free throws with 30.5 seconds left. At the other end Booker got past Andrew Wiggins, but Gibson was there to help.
And then: Rose.
“It was all up to my teammates,” he said. “And my coaches, too, for giving me that confidence, putting the ball in my hands, and just believing in me. That’s what it’s all about.”
So Rose calmly worked the clock down, got to his spot, and won the game.
“Watching a living legend in Derrick Rose hit a shot like that, it’s great,” Towns said. “It’s a very emotional game for us, and wanted to win this badly.”
The Wolves (22-24) have a rematch with the Suns on Tuesday in Phoenix. They will be looking for a better start. But you can’t get a much better ending than the one Sunday.
“He was so frustrated after missing that foul shot,” Gibson said. “I kept telling him, ‘You’re going to get another shot. We’re going to get a stop.’ ”
They did, he did, and he made it.