BARCELONA — Attack mode.
Derrick Rose had lost it. Now, after a long one-on-one meeting with Coach Mike Krzyzewski, he has rediscovered it. And all that talk about how he was hurting rather than helping Team USA should disappear, too.
It was a sight to behold Tuesday night in a 119-76 victory over Slovenia, the Derrick Rose we had grown accustomed to seeing a couple years ago before the two knee injuries. The guy who exploded to the basket and always was able to finish at the rim. The Rose who has afterburners in his shoes, the ability to play fearlessly and under control and confidently, the way he did back when he was the NBA’s MVP.
You thought he had it in him, but you weren’t sure. Especially after watching him play so tentatively three night earlier in a Round of 16 game against Mexico, missing every shot he attempted and looking like he deserved to be benched for the remainder of the World Cup.
“He just told me to go ahead and play the way I play — getting steals, pushing the ball up the floor, adding a different dynamic to our game,” said Rose, who scored 12 points with five assists and shot 6-for-10 from the floor after missing 29 of his first 38 shots in the World Cup.
He’s back now, and he is a weapon the Americans will need as they move forward to a semifinal match against a Lithuania team that is missing its injured point guard, Mantas Kalneitis, and is making do with shooting guards filling in as playmakers. A Rose in attack mode gives the Americans a major advantage at that position, and should help them do what they need to do most — force turnovers and disruptions that lead to open court opportunities and transition buckets. Against Slovenia, the Americans scored 42 fast break points and produced 40 points off 25 turnovers.
They’ll need more of the same because the edge they had on the boards against Slovenia (14 offensive rebounds in the first quarter alone) will be difficult to replicate against Lithuania with a big man contingent that includes NBA centers Jonas Valanciunas and Donetas Montiejunas and twin power forwards Kristof and Darius Lavrinovic.
Rose said he has been uncomfortable coming off the bench, and said the non-competitive nature of most of the games made him play in All-Star game mode — not going all-out as he would as a starter, but rather trying to get other players involved as his first priority.
But a D-Rose is not a D-Rose if he isn’t playing his own particular style, and the talk with Coach K was the equivalent of Rose being read the riot act. Play the way you are capable of playing, and all the negativity will cease.
“He gave me the green light,” Rose said. “When a coach like that tells you to be more aggressive, it gets you thinking another way. It eases you.”
This game was actually close early in the third quarter as Slovenia hung around — and could have hung even loser if they had not missed seven free throws and made only two 3-pointers in the first half. But as usually happens with Team USA, when separation came it came in a landslide, and the margin of victory was a reflection of how the Americans were clicking on all cylinders as the second half moved along.
One thing the Americans can’t do is let this performance give them a false sense of security.
Lithuania is by far the best team they will have faced, but it is a team the Americans know well after playing them at the London Olympics and watching the players from the small Baltic nation stick around until late in the fourth quarter, eventually losing by just five points, 99-94. That victory happened when the Americans had their very best players available, and this version of the red, white and blue is nowhere near as talented or as experienced as that version of Team USA.
So it’s all good with Rose, which is a good thing.
“He’ll figure it out,” Chicago Bulls coach and Team USA assistant Tom Thibodeau said. That’s Derrick Rose. That’s how he plays basketball. So it’s coming. We need him to be who he is. There’s not anything he can’t do. We don’t want him to be a different type of player.”
But this tournament is now going to get tough, and mistakes — like Coach K pulling Kenneth Faried from the game midway through the second quarter when he as the most dominant player on the court once again — can come back and bite you. A victory against Lithuania is highly probably, but certainly not certain.
The good thing is that the roster no longer includes 11 1/2 players.
It is back at 12 because a certain someone rediscovered his attack mode.
Chris Sheridan is publisher and editor-in-chief of SheridanHoops.com. He has covered every senior U.S. national team since the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Follow him on Twitter.