HOUSTON - Derrick Rose maintained a small role in the Timberwolves rotation down the stretch run of the regular season, averaging 12 minutes in nine appearances. But when the playoffs rolled around, that changed.
Rose played 24 minutes in the Wolves' Game 1 loss to Houston, the most he has played in a Minnesota uniform. Part of that likely had to do with the foul trouble Jeff Teague and Andrew Wiggins found themselves in, but it looks as if Rose will be a major factor in this first-round series.
After serving mostly as a two-guard since signing on March 8, Rose was backup point guard, playing more than three-times as much as usual backup Tyus Jones in Game 1. He made the most of his minutes, tallying 16 points - second most on the team behind Wiggins - to go with four assists.
"I've been telling everybody ... since he's been on our team what he's capable of," said Jimmy Butler, who played with Rose in Chicago. "He plays with a lot of energy, plays ball the right way and he can still score, get to the rim at will. He was a big burst for us off the bench."
Rose took 14 shots, and while a couple of those were questionable, he was one of Minnesota's most effective assets. Defensively, Rose was often assigned to slowing James Harden, and while he wasn't particularly successful, no one was.
"Derrick came in and played great on both sides of the floor, got into them defensively and was scoring on the other side," Wiggins said. "So, we didn't lose nothing (when Teague and I were out)."
Coach Tom Thibodeau has said Rose gives Minnesota one of its few perimeter defenders, and this series - with Houston boasting Harden, Chris Paul and a slew of outside shooters - demands them. So, more minutes figure to be coming Rose's way over the next few games.
"It's whatever (Thibodeau) wants," Rose said. "That's what my job is being here. I'm just trying to be a professional. Whenever I'm in, it's to try to get better every game, try to make winning plays and just play as hard as I can. It's not up to me about the minutes, that's all up to Thibs. Of course, I want to be in, but I trust my teammates and the people that are here."
Maybe the playoffs will bring out the best in Andrew Wiggins.
After an up and down regular season in which he faded into the backdrop at times, Wiggins came out aggressive and effective early in Game 1. He scored eight points on 4-for-7 shooting in the first quarter alone, keeping the Wolves in the game after a rough start.
Only foul trouble seemed to slow Wiggins down early.
"I'm just trying to do what I can," he said. "Play hard, play with energy on both sides of the floor and try to do everything I can to win."
Butler's attempt to tie Sunday's game late - a long two-pointer that still would have left the Wolves trailing by one, was indicative of Minnesota's end-of-game struggles this season. Minnesota is 2 for 18 from the field in the final 10 seconds of games when tied or trailing by three points or less, and the two makes came in a wild win over Oklahoma City in the third game of the season. Since then, Minnesota is 0 for 16 in shots to tie the game or take the lead with less than 10 seconds to play.