Mexico City — A lesser player may have been impacted more by the mistakes that Derrick Rose made in crucial situations this season.
Rose is more than a lesser player.
In two games against the Charlotte Hornets, Rose had two bad passes that directly led to the Pistons losing games that they had chances to win on their final possession. One was a pass to Luke Kennard, who was open, but the final seconds had ticked off the clock.
Rose turned those into positive motivation and recognized the situations for what they were instead of getting down about the miscues and questioning his decision-making or whether he had lost some of his edge.
“Never. I’ve lost playoff games before because of not shooting the ball or defensive assignments,” Rose said Wednesday. “I don’t care about (two) regular-season games — there are 82 of them. It wasn’t turnovers where I kicked it off my foot and out of bounds.
“The two times, I was trying to get it to a teammate and I thought Luke was open. All those times, the two things that people overlook is the spacing.”
Since that second Hornets game on Nov. 27, the Pistons have won four of six games, including a pair of games that went down to the final seconds. Rose was scintillating in the final minutes of those matchups, with the eventual game-winner against the New Orleans Pelicans on Monday and two baskets and two assists down the stretch in the victory over the Indiana Pacers on Friday.
In the last six games, Rose is averaging 15.7 points, 6.7 assists and has inched up his minutes to about 24 per game. After missing five games because of a hamstring issue and maintenance on his minutes, Rose is starting to blossom in a reserve role that morphs into floor-spacing finisher at the ends of games.
“I just didn’t want to force anything. I had to put in my mind that it was only the sixth game back and it’s only been a certain amount of games,” Rose said. “With the five games I missed, I can’t rush anything. I can’t get mad when I do have up-and-down performances. I have to stay with my workout routine and stay focused and fearless.”
Rose was undaunted by the situation against the Pelicans, as he was guarded by Jrue Holiday, one of the best perimeter on-ball defenders in the league. He stopped in the lane and made a spin, creating space between himself and Holiday, and put up the winning floater.
Rose, 31, has tried to maintain his key strengths, speed and quickness, while working to add new pieces to his game. As he gets older, he’ll have to have skills that translate to the ever-evolving NBA so that he can maintain his edge.
“I’m not a jump shooter — I’m just a scorer. Whatever you give me, I’ll take it. I knew that having a jump shot prolongs your career. The older you get, you adapt to the game and that’s all I’m trying to do now,” he said. “If the game goes back to all lay-ups and midrange, I want to be able to do what Kobe (Bryant) did. He’s my example and the guy I look to and make sure I don’t change my game all the way.
“He didn’t change his game at all, but he was able to play 20 years and still be effective. That’s amazing to me. There aren’t too many people in NBA history, besides the greats, who can do that. I want to be considered one of them.”
Coach Dwane Casey is getting more comfortable in balancing Rose’s playing time, counting on him as the main offensive weapon in the final minutes. When Rose signed as a free agent in the summer, that was the franchise’s plan for him, not to take on the starting role and play significant minutes there.
With a history of injuries and reduced minutes, including surgery at the end of last season with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Rose is looking to surpass the 60-game mark, which he hasn’t done since 2016-17.
Beyond the festivities, Casey sees the challenge in facing the Mavericks, who present a challenge with Luka Doncic, a top MVP candidate, and big man Kristaps Porzingis.
Doncic’s impressive stat line of 30 points, 9.8 rebounds and 9.2 assists draws some comparisons to some of the legends in the game, but they’ll have to develop a defensive scheme to try to limit his production.
“He’s having a great season. When you start putting his numbers up there with Magic and Jordan, it’s saying something. He’s a handful for our guards because he’s so much bigger and sees the floor,” Casey said. “What’s makes him such a great offensive player is not only that he’s a scorer, but he’s a great passer — not a good passer — but a great one.
“He sees the whole floor just because of how big he is. Our weak-side defense, as well as our presence on the ball, has to be on time and on target.”
With his extensive experience playing in Europe, Doncic has seen more than the typical rookie, which makes him more dangerous to defend. That task could fall on Bruce Brown, who gives up a few inches, but his ability to keep Doncic on the perimeter could make him the best option.
More than just Brown, it will be a team effort to try to take away some of his passing options and to put more of the pressure on him to produce, with the defense leaning his way.
“There’s nothing you’re going to surprise him with; he’s seen everything. That’s why you have to mix it up,” Casey said. “You can’t show him the same thing two or three times because he’ll figure it out quicker than the normal young player in our league.”