As point guard Derrick Rose dribbled out the clock and the 1,750 socially distanced fans were on their feet serenading the Knicks in a Garden standing ovation, Rose stopped and clapped, too.
Whether he was applauding the fans, his teammates or himself is unclear. But one thing is clear:
Julius Randle is the Knicks’ All-Star. RJ Barrett is a budding one. But Rose’s February addition in a trade for Dennis Smith Jr. has solidified the Knicks as winners.
The record when Rose plays is startling.
When the Knicks traded for Rose on Feb. 7, their record stood at 11-14.
When the 32-year-old has played – and that hasn’t been all the time because of a COVID-19 absence – the Knicks are 16-7. In the games Rose missed because of contracting the virus and a one-game absence with a sore ankle, the Knicks’ clip is 5-6.
Combined, the Knicks’ record is 16-20 when Rose isn’t on the court donning the orange and blue.
Even though he wasn’t scoring much since his COVID-19 return, Rose was expertly running the offense off the bench with savvy, smarts and poise. According to league sources, Rose knows exactly what Tom Thibodeau’s system requires.
Now with Sixth Man extraordinaire Alec Burks out indefinitely because of COVID-19 protocols, Rose is stepping up in a larger way, posting back-to-back games of 23 and 17 points, shooting a combined 17 of 29.
“I just try to fit in,” Rose said after the Knicks’ victory over Charlotte Tuesday night, their seventh straight win. “Look and see what the game needs and just try to fill that void.’’
Armed with the longest winning streak in the NBA, the Knicks (32-27) play host to Trae Young’s Hawks on Wednesday in a battle for home-court advantage in the first round. The Knicks are a half-game behind fourth-place Atlanta.
Rose saw “a winning mentality” with the Knicks — even before he forced the trade.
“Every team that plays against us, they know it’s gonna be a hard game, a hard fought game and you just got to come out and bring your best,” Rose said. “With me seeing that from afar, of course I wanted to be a part of it, especially with Thibs here. I’m grateful to be here. It’s truly a blessing.”
Out of Detroit’s rebuilding hell, Rose has emerged as the Knicks’ third-most significant player after Randle and Barrett.
Rose isn’t starting but he’s finishing – at least on nights his favorite coach senses he’s the more reliable option than starting point guard Elfrid Payton.
In 2016-17, Rose frustrated then-Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek with turnovers or misses on drives to the basket that resulted in fastbreak hoops the other way. The Knicks finished 31-51.
Now, Rose is taking care of the rock like it’s the heavy medicine ball he traditionally carries around with him everywhere.
In the 13 games since his return from COVID-19, Rose has 41 assists to just 10 turnovers. The Charlotte game was the seventh time since his return he didn’t commit a turnover. That’s why Thibodeau wanted him here.