BY MICHAEL O’BRIEN
Derrick Rose sat on the bench and watched the final minutes of Game 6 on Thursday. Then he watched LeBron James and Cleveland Cavaliers celebrate the series clinching victory.
The United Center crowd filed out in disappointment. Another brutal defeat to James. The Bulls never have beaten James, the generation’s greatest talent, in a playoff series, and it doesn’t look like a series victory is on the horizon.
But there is a silver lining: Rose finished the season healthy, actually playing in the final game. That hasn’t happened since his 2011 MVP season.
Rose tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the 2012 playoffs, and he missed the entire 2013 and ’14 postseason with injuries.
“Walking off the floor is a positive,” Rose said. “Of course I want to win every game, but it’s different, it’s the NBA. I’m happy with how my body responded, how I came back.
Half the Bulls fans in the city seemed to turn on Rose the last three years, with more jumping off the homegrown star’s bandwagon with every injury and prolonged recovery.
Rose isn’t the player he used to be. He has had three knee surgeries, and nothing will change what that has done to his body. But most observers believed the laser-quick, dynamic Rose was gone forever. This season, he proved that the old Rose still exists, even if just in flashes.
“I’m happy with everything I learned this year, everything I went through individually, mentally, emotionally, spiritually,” Rose said. “I’m at peace with myself. It gives me a chance to really go into the summer with a game plan.”
Before the string of injuries, Rose was praised for adding a new feature to his game every offseason. Maybe with an offseason to prepare instead of rehab, Rose can find a way to turn this new version of himself into an NBA force.
Rose fought through a shoulder stinger in the final few games of the season. The injury didn’t seem to affect him Thursday. He scored 14 points and shot 7-for-16 from the field.
“I thought he played very aggressively,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “You have to remember, he hasn’t played in three postseasons. Playing in the last five games of the regular season and getting this experience I think is really good for him. I think he’ll have a great year next year. I think he feels really good about where he is. Obviously, he would tell you he would want to play better, but I think he has a lot of confidence right now in where he is.”
Rose said he was unaware of the drama surrounding Thibodeau’s future with the team.
“Me and Thibs really grew a relationship. We definitely grew a bond,” Rose said. “Whatever is going on, I hope they fix it.”