Just 8:33 into the game Tuesday night in Miami, Derrick Rose stood up and headed to the scorer’s table to enter the game for the Knicks for the first time. That it was also the first time he’d had a chance to step onto the court — any court — with his new teammates, without a practice or even a morning shootaround to acquaint himself, might tell you all that you need to know about the trust that Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau has in the 32-year-old guard.
And what Rose showed in those first moments provided a primer on why Thibodeau was on board with bringing him to the Knicks and why even now, 10 years after Rose was named the youngest MVP in league history, Thibodeau considers him elite.
Rose entered the game with the Knicks trailing by eight and helped lead the Knicks on a 25-5 stretch. The magic would not hold — it’s not the 22-year-old Rose and the Knicks are not the 62-win team that he and Thibodeau led — and the Heat countered that run, eventually overtaking the Knicks for a 98-96 win at AmericanAirlines Arena.
But Rose finished with 14 points and three assists in 20 minutes of the debut of his second go-round with the Knicks and third with Thibodeau.
Elfrid Payton had 18 points for the Knicks and RJ Barrett added 13. Jimmy Butler had 26 points and 10 rebounds for Miami (10-14) and Kelly Olynyk added 20 points.
The Knicks had their chances on this night, missing three shots in the final minute that could have tied the game or taken the lead. After Butler made one of two from the line with 6.2 seconds remaining they had one more chance, but Barrett missed a layup just as time expired. Instead, they fell to 11-15 on the season.
"You’re talking about a guy who — he’s still one of the elite payers in the league in terms of, you look at what he’s done and accomplished," Thibodeau said of Rose. "Then the fact that he’s been a great teammate,"
Rose is certainly not the player he was before his knees betrayed him. But on the court he is still better than any point guard the Knicks have right now and off the court he can provide another conduit from Thibodeau to the young team, teaching them how to play the way the coach demands.
"The synergy we got I can’t explain it," Rose said of Thibodeau. "We’re an odd couple but for some reason we understand the game and we’re students of the game."
"That partnership between him and Thibs has had a lot of success,’’ Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "They’re confident in that, with new leadership it helps to have familiar faces to understand culture and what they’re trying to drive. Derrick is a heck of a player. When he’s healthy he really moves the needle as we saw when we played [Detroit] a couple of weeks ago."
Before he ever got clearance to step onto the floor with the Knicks with physicals completed to make the trade official, Rose had already made an impression on the Knicks. Rose arrived in Miami Monday night and sat down with Immanuel Quickley, easing any tension on how the veteran would impact the opportunities for the rookie.
"I got a chance to talk to him last night at dinner a little bit," Quickley said. "He just stressed to me — first of all he gave me his number, said anything I need just hit him. But he sat down with me a little bit, me and Obi [Toppin] actually, just told us he’s here to help us, he’s here to help us grow and things like that. It’s good to get a chance to talk to him a little bit last night."
Rose was the latest addition to the Knicks, joining in a trade that reunited him with Thibodeau, who he had starred for in Chicago and then teamed with to resurrect his career in Minnesota. What his role will be now and what he can contribute in this latest incarnation remains to be seen, but the Knicks have high hopes.
"It’s obviously someone I’m familiar with. We’ve been through a lot of things together," Thibodeau said. "But the biggest part is what I felt he could contribute to our team. I’ve always been partial to good players. If someone is a good player I’m interested. And I think he’ll add a lot to our team. I know his character. I know the type of teammate he is. He’ll accept any role. You can start him, you can bring him off the bench, you can play him short minutes, long minutes. He’s telling me this is as healthy as he’s been."