On a night when the Knicks were without their best player and lost another key starter minutes into the game, Derrick Rose made his long-awaited return.
The veteran point guard, who had missed the past 10 games after contracting COVID-19 and then needing to rebuild his stamina, was thrown back into the fire Saturday night to help the Knicks fend off the Bucks, 102-96, in Milwaukee.
Rose came off the bench and finished with 13 points, two steals and an assist in 29 minutes — including the entire fourth quarter — as he quickly shook off any rust in his first game since Feb. 28.
“I felt good. The rhythm is going to come, it’s going to take some games, but my wind was good,” Rose said. “It let me know everything I was doing conditioning-wise that I was on the right track with getting back the right way. I’m just happy that we won.”
Rose admitted he felt better than expected.
“I was very surprised, but at the same time, that’s why I was kind of torturing myself before getting back,” he said. “I was doing my conditioning along with whatever the trainers wanted me to do for an entire week. They had me doing three workouts in one day and I guess it paid off.”
Despite Rose’s return, the Knicks were still hurting as Julius Randle (contused right thigh) missed a game for the first time this season and Mitchell Robinson fractured his right foot midway through the first quarter.
The 32-year-old Rose had been cleared from the NBA’s health and safety protocols earlier in the week, but described his bout with COVID-19 as “the flu times 10.” His children, his girlfriend and her mother also had tested positive for COVID-19, he revealed on Monday.
Before his COVID-19 scare, Rose was averaging 12.5 points and 4.9 assists in 24.6 minutes across 10 games for the Knicks since being acquired from the Pistons in a trade Feb. 8. The Knicks improved to 8-3 with Rose in the lineup Saturday night.
“We talked about it, he’s put a lot into his conditioning,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Derrick will communicate with me and let me know when he feels he needs to rest. Obviously his conditioning was very good.”