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For once, Derrick Rose isn't too good to be true

With one shot, Derrick Rose vindicated four long years of hard work to beat Cleveland and give the Bulls a 2-1 series advantage in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

It's impossible to grasp just how polarizing Derrick Rose has become in his hometown over the last four years unless you've lived your entire life in Chicago. This is an athlete who simultaneously inspires young people to build roadside shrines in his honor while a different generation of fan complains about his contract.

He's either the ultimate empathetic figure or a poster child for the entitled modern athlete. He's loved and reviled all at once, often under the same roof. It's been the push and pull at the heart of the Bulls since Rose tore his ACL in 2012, and his up-then-down play and occasionally odd off-court quotes have only driven home the dynamic.

Through it all, Chicago has wondered if Rose would ever get another moment. The player who cried talking about his mother while becoming the youngest MVP in league history, the one who made Goran Dragic famous before he got good and the guy who once single-handedly willed the Bulls to so many unlikely victories -- that player is long gone.

In his place grew something like a more erratic version of himself. Rose was occasionally explosive and yet consistently inconsistent. He always seems stuck on the cusp of something bigger.

That's the first thing you need to know about Rose's heart-stopping, buzzer-beating game-winner to sink the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 3: for so long, the opportunity for this type of moment seemed to have withered away. It took a perfect storm of circumstance, a lot of luck and an answered prayer to force it into reality.

That shot could have lived in your head, conceptually, but the chance of it ever coming to fruition just seemed so far-fetched. Not in 2015, not for a snakebitten Bulls team, not from this seemingly dilapidated version of a former superstar.

Chicago watched Rose become the worst high volume three-point shooter in the NBA this year, a player who took 5.3 attempts per game from deep while making only 28 percent. It watched him shoot 5-for-20 and blow a defensive assignment to lose a playoff game just 10 days earlier. It watched a player whose usage rate remained sky high as his efficiency drowned.

Through it all, Rose never lost his belief in himself. He said he would keep shooting if defenses conceded three-point looks to him, because he believed his shots would eventually fall. He never stopped charging the way a superstar would, even if his numbers indicated he was no longer the same player. His self-assurance seemed misguided and inspiring at the same time. Are you the person you believe yourself to be, or the one everyone else knows you are?

When Rose hit that shot, it wasn't about redemption so much as it was about vindication. All of those long hours Rose put in rehabbing his injuries, all of the self-doubt that would have crept into anyone else's head, all of the naysayers that barked at him along the way. All those melted together into that one moment.

One shot does not mean he's "back," but that was never what was important. Instead, Rose proved that, if only for a night, all those painful days with a physical therapist and all that work rebuilding what was once so natural has paid off on the biggest stage possible.

Just think about what went into that. Here was a player who only knew success. He made it out of the hood to win two state titles in high school. In his one year in college, he led his team to the national championship game. He was a No. 1 overall pick, Rookie of the Year, and perhaps the most unlikely MVP the league has ever seen. Then it all fell apart, not once but three different times. It was hard to consider his place in the game without thinking of names like Penny Hardaway and Grant Hill.

A lesser man would have crumbled under all the adversity, all the scrutiny, the long odds of it all. Through the process, he became a gauge of one's empathy, someone you could sympathize with or begrudge for the same reasons.

Finally, none of that bullshit matters. Here's Derrick Rose, knees rebuilt, game redefined, winning a playoff game against LeBron James and the Cavaliers on a last-second shot. It seems too good to be true. For once, it isn't.