Derrick Rose strutted out of the Schottenstein Center on the campus of Ohio State University Monday night clearly feeling as if he has a leg up on NBA competition in general and the seemingly overmatched Cleveland Cavaliers’ backcourt in particular.
All that rust, born of two lost seasons and back-to-back season-ending knee injuries, Rose and coach Tom Thibodeau have fretted about in recent weeks seems to be eroding as instantly as the youngest MVP in league history dodged and darted his way past all those would-be defenders in the Cavs’ scintillating 107-98 preseason victory.
Playing in their backyard of Columbus, the biggest cheers surely were reserved for native son LeBron James. But it was Rose who most left the sellout crowd astonished and aghast. In the mere equivalent of just two quarters, Rose dropped 30 on the Cavs, all on a dizzying array of drives, floaters, and treys that mesmerized fans in the same way they paralyzed Cavs’ defenders. And the scary thing is the 2010-11 league MVP seems to expect even more of himself.
“I’m still trying to find my rhythm and let the game come to me and play team basketball,” said Rose. “The team is feeling more comfortable with me being on the floor. Feeling comfortable with me just picking my spots…just trying to pick spots in the game where I can really affect the game.”
Against Cleveland, one wonders what may have motivated Rose more, staring across the hardwood and seeing the NBA Finals’ MVP of two of the last three seasons staring back at him alongside the trusty new sidekick he’s already touting as on the verge of being the game’s best point guard or the day’s ridiculous but sobering news that the so-called NBA experts at ESPN no longer still view him as even a Top 25 player.
In his own right, Kyrie Irving finished with 28 points and seven assists for the Cavs, but so abused was he by Rose’s assault at one point rookie coach Davis Blatt was forced to relieve him of his duties in even trying to slow down the Bulls’ star. It’s also worth noting most of Irving’s damage was done with Rose on the sidelines.
“They were just giving me shots I normally would take,” Rose deadpanned. “I’m used to playing with very good talent. That’s all they’ve got on that team, is talent. You know when you play against them you know you’ve got to come out here and ball.”
What has the city of Chicago finally ready to exhale is that, more and more, Derrick Rose is proving when he’s in that zone there are few others that can touch him. Over the Bulls’ last two games and, mind you, on an average of just 25 minutes per, Rose has averaged 24 points, four rebounds, and three assists, numbers that rival his MVP stats and the last year he played in more than 39 games.
“He’s our big gun,” Joakim Noah marveled. “He’s the fastest guy on the court by far. Not just for the guys guarding him but for us too as players, when he has that kind of speed, it’s like, ‘Should I go into pick-and-roll? Should I let him go.'”
And therein lies the rub in trying to check Derrick Rose when he truly is in the groove of being Derrick Rose. Most everyone else in his orbit will overwhelmingly be left at his mercy.