Derrick Rose scored a career-high 50 points on Wednesday night at Target Center, outdueling Utah’s Donovan Mitchell. He scored outside and in, consistently challenging Rudy Gobert, Utah’s shot-blocking center. He led a Wolves team without Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague and Tyus Jones to victory.
But the most amazing thing might have been this: In two-plus hours Rose was able to change the narrative of a team mired in trade talk concerning Butler and the malaise that has come with it. When the final horn sounded — after Rose himself had blocked Dante Exum’s last-chance shot — the Wolves emptied their bench, surrounded an obviously emotional Rose on the court, and ended a night that began with grumblings about Butler’s not having played with a rather stunning display of team unity.
Rose instantly became a national story. The biggest NBA stars jumped into the conversation to recognize Rose’s big night, and his long journey back from injuries that have plagued him for so many years since he won the 2011 league MVP award.
“You talk about perseverance, that’s the true definition of it,” the Lakers’ LeBron James — who played briefly with Rose last year in Cleveland — told reporters in Los Angeles. “Any kid that’s going through anything in life about adversity and triumph and trying to get over the hump, you can look at that performance by Derrick Rose tonight.”
Golden State’s Steph Curry tweeted, “Can’t imagine the down days, weeks, months and years he went through. 50 ball!! So much respect bro.” Dwyane Wade tweeted, “Every Basketball fan in the world should feel good for DRose.”
Those sentiments aside, another piece of the national dialogue also emerged: How to balance Rose’s big basketball moment with past accusations off the court.
Rose and two friends were accused of rape in 2013, and the case went to a civil trial in 2016. They were found not liable — a jury sided with them after a 10-day trial — but the case is headed for an appeal hearing in California in two weeks.
As evidenced by talk radio discussions and other sentiments expressed by national writers Thursday, plenty of people are conflicted regarding how to feel about Rose’s comeback story.
National NBA writer Marc Stein of the New York Times tweeted on Thursday, “I got swept up as anyone in Derrick Rose’s 50. I don’t know where or if this belonged in last night’s conversation,” before finishing the tweet with details of Rose’s upcoming court date.
Timberwolves TV analyst Jim Petersen also referenced Rose’s legal trouble on the air at the conclusion of Wednesday’s game.
“He’s got a lot of stuff going on off the court,” Petersen said. “I’m not a judge, and I’m not a jury, and to my estimation he’s not been convicted of anything. ... He plays hard, and he’s a gutty basketball player.”
The Wolves did not have media access Thursday, but postgame Wednesday Rose was focused squarely on basketball and a looming five-game road trip out west.
“We still got what, how many games left?” he said. “Seventy-something games left. So, I mean, we got a lot more games. We play in a couple of days. It’s already behind me. And I’m not boasting or bragging, but I still got a lot more.”
Playing with a bunch of younger players, Rose, 30, said he was as verbal a leader as he’s ever been Wednesday.
“To tell you the truth, this is the most I’ve ever talked to my teammates in my life,” he said. “Because I’m kind of like a vet on this team. Early on in my career I was figuring things out, too, but I had great vets. Being in this position, it’s all about leading by example and just being in their ear, because we have a young team.”
Rose said the emotional scene following the game was important, and not just for him.
“It shows you that we’re coming together as a team, we’re getting close,” he said.
The Wolves (4-4) won two straight at home. Now they will play five games in eight days on the road. It starts with Friday night’s game at Golden State.
The Butler intrigue is not going anywhere. As impressive as Rose was playing 40-plus minutes against Utah — and as good as he has been, frankly, much of the season — the Wolves can’t count on huge scoring outbursts from him going forward. But perhaps the shorthanded win can provide a springboard.
For all of Rose’s points, it was still a team win. Andrew Wiggins returned, scoring 19 points and grabbing six reobunds. Karl-Anthony Towns had 28 points and 16 rebounds. The Wolves got meaningful minutes from seldom-used James Nunnally and C.J. Williams.
“This is a positive for us,” Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. “When you have guys who are out, it’s an opportunity for other guys to step up. We know that it doesn’t get easier for us. It gets tougher. We’ve got to be ready for the next one.”