CHICAGO -- While the rest of the basketball world doubted whether Derrick Rose would ever be the same player he used to be before knee injuries changed the course of his career, the former MVP remained steadfast in the personal belief he had in himself. If he ever had doubts that he would return to being an elite level player, he never aired those out publicly. His game may have changed, his mindset may be different, but his public confidence never wavered. That's why the 26-year-old didn't seem surprised after dropping 31 points in 32 minutes in Friday's 115-106 win over the Portland Trail Blazers. He always knew he would take -- and make -- big shots late in games again as he did on Friday.
"I always say that's what a player like myself is supposed to do," Rose said. "I put more pressure on myself than anybody else, I think. I'm my hardest critic. Just going down and being in that situation as a kid, those are the shots that you think about. As a player that wants to get to the highest potential that you possibly can, you want them shots. You want that on your résumé."
Aside from the fact that Rose went 14-for-24 from the field, what pleases his coaches and teammates most is that a majority of those shots came as he was driving to the rim. For the second straight game, Rose looked much more comfortable taking the ball to the hole, while creating more space for himself and his teammates.
Throughout the first month of this season, Rose looked unsure of himself and his surroundings on the floor. Over the past week, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has been much more open about the fact he would like to see Rose drive instead of continuing to settle for 3-pointers. It was clear against the Blazers that Rose has gotten the message.
"We all feel that he's going to be back to the same guy that he was," Thibodeau said. "He's going step by step. He's got to keep building, keep attacking; when he's aggressive like that there's no one like him."
That's what has to scare the rest of the league the most. Rose is only going to get better as he continues shaking the rust off his game. He's only going to gain more confidence once the minutes restrictions that have been imposed on him in the first part of the season are lifted by the front office. Rose is teaching himself how to dominate again.
He's re-learning what it takes to be great night after night. He's remembering what it feels like to get up for high-quality opponents night after night. Rose doesn't like to speak about personal one-on-one matchups, but he thrived off the competition against Blazers guard Damian Lillard. On Friday, his desire to drive was noticeable to most everyone in the United Center, including his teammates.
"From the get-go he was aggressive," veteran Pau Gasol said. "I think he scored 11 points in the first quarter. Being aggressive, getting to the lane, shooting those tough floaters outside the lane. So you could tell he was on tonight and he was on that go mode. That's always a great sign to see from anyone, but especially from Derrick."
The best sign for the Bulls late in this one was that Rose paired with backup Aaron Brooks and carried the team down the stretch. The guards sliced and diced through the Blazers' defense and seemed to enjoy playing off one another. It's a look that Thibodeau hasn't used much this season, but it's one that he would be wise to go back to when looking for an offensive boost.
"Our games are different," Brooks said. "Coming off the pick-and-roll and the bigs are seeing two different styles: Power and then I guess I would say finesse a little bit. It's like the two double running backs [system] they use in the NFL."
Whatever it is, it worked for the Bulls in this one. Rose looks more and more like his old self. He looks like the type of player who can put his team on his back and carry it for long stretches of the game offensively. Rose is starting to look more and more like his old self -- the way he always envisioned his comeback turning out.