CHICAGO – After his hands had shaken dozens of others and had hugged a multitude of friends, family members and Bulls staff at the United Center, Derrick Rose finished his night with those hands full as he walked a dimly lit hallway to fulfill his postgame media obligations.
In one hand was a bottle for his daughter, in the other was her stuffed unicorn, and Rose clutched them under his arms as he answered questions following a night that was equal parts “weird” and “overwhelming” in a 119-94 Timberwolves victory over the Bulls — only the second time the 2011 NBA MVP has played in Chicago in an opposing uniform, and the first time in over two years.
‘When I stepped on the court in warmups, it was a butterflies moment,” Rose said.
Those same hands and arms Rose used to embrace old friends were the same he used to complete another vintage performance in a career redefining season. He scored 24 points on 11-for-19 shooting and dished out eight assists after missing Sunday’s victory at Oklahoma City because of an injured left ankle.
There supposedly was a chance that ankle would cause Rose to sit out. But on the other hand, there really was never any doubt Rose was going to pass up this opportunity.
“It was great, man. I didn’t expect it to be like this,” Rose said. “It was overwhelming at some points. You could tell the support is still here.”
With Chance the Rapper cheering him on courtside and the arena showering him with “MVP” chants in the fourth quarter, Rose made sure the sellout crowd left with the impression he wanted them to have — more like the mesmerizing talent that won an MVP award at 22 and not the star-crossed, injury-prone fading talent he was becoming in more recent seasons.
“My body feels good. I’m not forcing anything, and I’m letting the game come to me,” Rose said. “If anything, I’m playing the Chicago way of playing basketball. It’s gritty. It’s grimy. It’s one-on-one. It’s doing whatever it takes to get the win.”
He had some help in securing that win against the woebegone, rebuilding Bulls, who got 28 points off the bench from former Wolves guard Zach LaVine, also returning from a left ankle injury.
Karl-Anthony Towns pitched in 20 points and 20 rebounds, but the night was about Rose. In what is becoming routine again, Rose caused audible gasps in the crowd with his forceful drives and cuts to the hoop. His first basket came on a runner as he fell out of bounds and from there he didn’t let up. By the end of the first half, Rose had 16 points and the Wolves led by 23, meaning the rest of the night was a chance for the fans to appreciate Rose.
As he stepped to the free-throw line in the fourth quarter, the entire arena began chanting “MVP.” With Rose, that chant carries extra weight in Chicago, where he brought the franchise back to glory, however fleeting it was, earlier this decade.
“I had to crack a smile a little bit,” Rose said. “It made me reminisce about the old days. I was in that position at a young age, and I’m just trying to take all of it in.”
There was time to do that after the game with everybody who wanted a chance to say a quick word of hello to Rose. It likely won’t be the last time he plays in Chicago. But would he ever be playing this well again?
“The big thing with Derrick, he’s on his way again,” said Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau, Rose’s coach in Chicago as well. “Every story has a beginning, a middle and an end and I think his end is going to be great.”
The end was nowhere to be found Wednesday.