One shot does not a comeback complete, but one shot can be all of the encouragement a player, a team and a fanbase need to hope and dream big again.
That was the case for Derrick Rose, the Chicago Bulls and their legions of supporters in the Windy City on Thursday night. With the clock ticking toward the six-second mark and the Bulls down by one to the New York Knicks, Rose, well, rose up for an 11-foot floater and, against the best efforts and dearest wishes of two draping defenders, dropped it through the net.
Game, set and—with a 26-foot clank by Carmelo Anthony on the other end—match for Chicago in their 82-81 win.
The shot, though beautiful in its finish and effective in its result, was far from perfect. He went a bit too early, leaving the Knicks enough time to get a good look at the winning basket on the other end. In doing so, he wound up with an extremely low-percentage look: off-balance, mid-range, challenged by multiple defenders.
Then again, Rose's second game back was, like that shot, far from perfect. He took 23 shots, but made just seven of them in 34 minutes of action. He registered more turnovers (four) than assists (three). He was often flustered by the likes of Iman Shumpert on the perimeter and Tyson Chandler in the paint, to the extent that those two alone managed to make New York's limited defense look like an elite unit at times.
But on this night, Rose was good enough. Good enough to orchestrate Chicago's slow-paced offense. Good enough to make sure his team's dynamite defensive effort wasn't all for naught. And good enough to come through like the Rose of old when the Bulls needed him to the most.
As he showed us during Chicago's season-opening loss to the defending champion Miami Heat, D-Rose is back to being the sort of physical force he was prior to his devastating ACL tear. He's flying up the floor, skying for shots and rebounds, and attacking the basket with the same reckless abandon that marked him as a superstar before his lower body went bunk.
His body is there. His confidence would appear to be there, too. Now, it's just a matter of shaking off the rust that naturally accumulates during a year-and-a-half hiatus from NBA action.
Rose, though, refused to admit as much after his first game back, per Bleacher Report's Ethan J. Skolnick, during which Rose scored just 12 points on a paltry 4-of-15 from the field (1-of-7 from three) Tuesday night.
Nor should anyone expect Derrick Rose to lean on his time away as an explanation for his poor shooting, much less an excuse for it. He's long been the sort of competitor who seizes ownership of his results, even (or especially) if they're not up to snuff.
The attitude he's had toward his early struggles is the sort you want from him if you're the Bulls. You want him to be confident in his own abilities, to believe the shots will drop at some point, provided he's not afraid to let it fly.
If you're the Bulls, the last thing you want is for D-Rose to be second-guessing himself. Otherwise, he might hesitate the next time he shoots or the next time he's thinking about driving into the teeth of the defense.
That's when the re-injury of his knee could become a concern. If Rose is going to stay healthy and get back on track, he needs to believe everything's alright and, more importantly, that everything will be alright going forward, so long as he applies Dory's advice to shooting the rock.
For now, Rose would appear to be on the right track. His stroke looked relatively smooth, his movements on the court as violently poetic as ever. In due time, the statistical results will more accurately reflect what we can see.
More frequently, anyway. It's plays like those Rose made to beat the Knicks that prove he's all there.
But for the Bulls to survive the gauntlet that lies ahead in the Eastern Conference, Rose will have to be better than that. He'll have to be better than what he was when he last played like an MVP. He'll have to make sure the shots he takes are good not just because they go in, but because they're borne of good looks at the hoop.
We know Derrick Rose can make the impossible appear possible. That's a big part of his appeal as a transcendent talent, of what makes him a superstar in today's NBA.
Those looks aren't entirely his fault, either. Just as Rose needs to get back up to speed with his shots and decision-making at an NBA pace, so, too, must his teammates—chiefly those who populate Chicago's new(ish) starting lineup (i.e. Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Jimmy Butler)—get used to having him back in the fold.
And not just by falling back on the bad habits of old. Sure, the Bulls were a top-five offensive outfit when Rose last played in 2011-12, but too often their scoring efforts stagnated as everyone else watched their star point guard go to work.
That happened from time to time against New York, but is bound to happen to any team that sports a singular talent such as Rose. The key is to find the proper balance between "hero ball" and smart movement. If there was any benefit to Rose's extended absence, it was the opportunity it afforded his teammates to develop an identity without him.
With plenty of patience, they'll be able to combine their collective improvement with Rose's individual brilliance to create an attack that's more productive and more aesthetically pleasing. By the time the playoffs roll around, anyway.
For now, the Bulls should be able to get by on the strength of their stellar defense, as they did in limiting the Knicks to 36 percent shooting and out-rebounding the visitors, 48-42, in win No. 1. And, of course, with Rose showing flashes of his old self—even if that means tossing up shots that, for most of his peers, would require prayers to go in—at least until his new self has caught up.
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