Derrick Rose Beats the Cavs with a Shot for the Ages

A defining moment in the former MVP’s career comes at the perfect time

Every time Derrick Rose steps on the court, Bulls fans nationwide say a little prayer. They’re probably not even conscious of it anymore. All season, win or lose, they’d claim small victories when their star point guard finished the game standing on his own two, without limping or being carted off to the locker room. Even when he missed the final month of the season for an injury that everyone, even the oft-wary ESPN Chicago beat writers, were adamant was not severe, the sentiment around the Bulls and the NBA in general was ‘here we go again.’

That’s what happens when a young player like Rose, who became the most dominant point guard in the league and won MVP just 3 years after being drafted–a quicker ascent than another guy who used to play for the Bulls, you may have heard of him–effectively crashes and burns due to injury. In Game 1 of the 2012 playoffs, Rose tore his ACL, and would be held out for the duration of the 2012-2013 season. His long-awaited return in the 2013-2014 season quickly came to an end when he tore his meniscus just 3 weeks into the season. Since then, Russell Westbrook has emerged as the league’s most explosive point guard, and the Eastern Conference has sprouted many worthy successors to Rose’s short-lived reign, namely John Wall and Kyrie Irving. Still, the Memphis alum persevered, and never gave up hope that he would, one day soon, return to the form that made the Bulls legitimate contenders pretty much every year after 2010. This year however, Bulls fans had no expectations. They weren’t thinking that far. They just wanted him to leave every game the way he entered them: on two feet.

The Bulls were the third best team in the Eastern Conference this year, but many expected them to be the best in this year’s playoffs. They have the experience and gritty, scrappy defensive mindset the #1 seed Atlanta Hawks don’t, and the inconsistent play of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love raised a lot of eyebrows on ESPN when it came time for predictions. The fact that Love is now lost for the duration of the playoffs is an added benefit for the Bulls. Still, we all knew this would be a darn good series. There are often 3 Hall of Fame players on the court. It’s just another level of basketball.

Last night, in a pivotal game Game 3, Derrick Rose and the Bulls never gave up. Even if you’d normally be a fan of neither team, you found yourself rooting for the Bulls. The year’s Most Improved Player, Jimmy Butler, was flawless down the stretch, and played the best late game defense on LeBron James anyone’s seen in the Cavs’ forward’s career. Derrick Rose only came out of the game for a couple minutes at the end of the 3rd quarter; on the bench he was visibly itching to return. He hadn’t been on a stage this big since the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals, and he wasn’t about to miss it.

After LeBron’s missed free throw–Jimmy Butler’s doing, of course–the Bulls had one chance to prevent the game from going into overtime, and Derrick Rose saw his opportunity. He took those long, confident strides almost the length of the 3-point arc, and when Taj Gibson set the most timely screen of the season, Rose knew what he had to do.

It was amazing. Unreal. If you were watching at home you got goosebumps. And if you didn’t have them after the shot, you sure as hell felt them creeping onto your arms during Rose’s celebration.

The stern look may have been expressionless, but it was hardly emotionless. This was a moment 3 years in the making. A moment of redemption many, even die-hard Bulls fans, weren’t sure would ever come. A stage the Bulls front office wasn’t sure it would ever again witness. ESPN analysts have talked for years about Rose never again being the Rose that won MVP in 2011. Some have even suggested the Bulls trade for another point guard that could “stay healthy” should Rose not “work out.” Just about everyone doubted that this moment would come.

Except Derrick Rose.