What now for Bulls and Rose with Rose out of playoffs?


Apr 28

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Everything was going so well… and then he was gone.

That’s what it felt like in the wake of the Bulls’ 103-91 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 1 of the NBA Playoffs when Derrick Rose fell clutching his knee in what was later confirmed to be a season ending torn anterior cruciate ligament.

It felt like a death, and perhaps it was the death of a season, though the Bulls won’t look at it that way after being 18-9 in games Rose has missed this season.

“We’ve played a lot of games this year without him. Maybe that was getting us ready for this,” Kyle Korver said in the sober locker room before the severity of the injury was disclosed.

But you felt sick and numb about the injury, especially for Rose and the Bulls and their fans. Someone who was so lively and vibrant and so full of basketball life is suddenly gone, a jump stop, a twist, a leap and a landing, perhaps nothing unusual for the canvass of basketball artistry we’ve come to love and enjoy and perhaps almost take for granted with this beautiful basketball prodigy.

That really would be the sad part: If we cannot witness and revel in that once again, the breathtaking drives and ingenious creativity of flight. The pure joy and love of play that we most see on the face of innocent youth. So many say they love the game. Derrick showed it.

“It was scary,” Richard Hamilton said of Rose’s injury, also before the diagnosis. “Not for just us. But the whole city of Chicago.”

Because it also is a civic loss. Rose is a Chicago treasure who embraced his hometown as few sports stars do, playing and starring for his hometown team and declaring his perpetual loyalty with a long term contract extension. He didn’t recruit other players or long for another place. He expressed confidence in what was in Chicago, and was satisfied that would be enough, that he’d make it work like Chicagoans do.

Rose’s injury and absence is bad for Chicago. But it is worse for basketball. Not only is this young man a prodigy, but he is a model of behavior, of commitment to the game and the basics of sports excellence. You like what you see watching him and you love what you hear. The NBA is not as good a place as it was a few hours before. Yes, perhaps it’s better in the limited view for teams like the 76ers, Hawks, Celtics or Heat, all potential Bulls playoff opponents.

They shouldn’t take this Bulls team for granted.

The Bulls defeated teams like the Heat, Hawks, Magic, 76ers and Celtics without Rose. The Bulls have perhaps more front court depth and size than anyone in the NBA and one of the deepest benches. Now, no one expects much of anything from them. It’s like the Celtics and Heat have been escorted into the Eastern Conference finals.

I don’t agree. I still think the Bulls can win this series with the 76ers and have a good chance to be in the conference finals. I’m not so sure from there, but even then without Rose it takes some of the enthusiasm away, even from victory.

You feel sick and you haven’t eaten anything bad. Your stomach aches and it’s just basketball, you say, just a game. But it’s a passion and desire and some of that has been taken away from all of us with the injury to Rose.

So perhaps the Bulls play with that underdog mentality, that sense of throwing it all out there with what they have—coach Tom Thibodeau always says it’s more than enough—and dive into the rest of the playoffs with a sense of purpose and glee.

Remember, it was a Bulls team that shocked the NBA and was on the verge of the conference finals the season after Michael Jordan retired for the first time.

But that won’t happen easy. It’s fortunate the Bulls have two days off before Game 2 of the first round against the 76ers Tuesday in the United Center.

Because they have to be in mourning now. Like all NBA fans. If you love basketball and you love the NBA playoffs, this is devastating. Sure, there’s the Bulls part, and, yes, they can compete better than they will be given credit for without Rose.

But if you care about the game, you want to see the best and you want to have your team beat the best. You don’t want to beat Miami without LeBron. No matter how you feel about the Heat, you still want to see LeBron. And Kobe and Durant and Rose. Rose was one of them, the MVP last season, arguably the league’s most popular player given recent reports of his jersey being the top seller, a truly special talent.

Really, Rose has been one of those rare players you stop to watch. Because something special might happen, something perhaps you’ve never seen before. In that way, he was like Jordan. But also like Mickey Mantle or Albert Pujols at bat, Sandy Koufax on the mound, Walter Payton or Barry Sanders with the ball. Bobby Hull or Bobby Orr or Wayne Gretzky with the puck.

But then what?

This is a serious injury. It takes months of rehabilitation and generally you hear estimates of nine months, which is about midway through next season. So there goes the Olympics for Rose, which is a shame as he so looked forward to it. Asked about starting with so many top guards, Rose beamed about just being able to be the team’s Scalabrine.

This is not Gale Sayers.

Sports medicine has advanced substantially since the devastating injury to perhaps Chicago’s most exciting football player ever.

Players come back and play at a high level after ACL surgery. There are great stories and good stories, more better ones lately with that injury than bad ones.

Baron Davis had it in college and made a pair of All-Star teams. Bernard King came back and was one of the league’s leading scorers and an All-Star. Others, like Rose who suffered the injury at a young age, came back to play at a high level, like Nene, Al Harrington and Patrick Ewing and Tony Allen.

Danny Manning had it, but a few times and deteriorated. Others who have been through it include Ron Harper and Bonzi Wells. Ricky Rubio had it this season along with Chauncey Billups and Iman Shumpert, the latter also Saturday. Years ago before the surgery was more advanced Billy Cunningham and Doug Collins suffered the injuries and were slowed. Likewise with Larry Kystkowiak. Mark Price, Roy Tarpley and Johnny Dawkins suffered the injuries later in their careers at an older age. All returned and were productive players, if not quite as good. Ron Harper tore his at age 26 more than 20 years ago. He returned to still be a 20-point scorer, though not quite as explosive a player, and a solid defender on three Bulls title teams.

Will Rose have the same explosiveness? Will he be as fast? As good? Nobody can say for sure.

He’ll surely return and based on the recent history of these kinds of injures, it suggests he should still be a high level player. He’s become a good shooter and passer and there’s no reason to think he cannot still be an All-Star point guard.

But it’s just not fair, it seems, not right. And it will take some adjusting to for everyone who loves basketball and playing it the right way and for the right reasons.

It seems so much an afterthought now, but there was earlier a game that at one time seemed so important. The Bulls finally in the playoffs after this rushed 66-game season. It will also be blamed by some for Rose’s injury, as some will fault Thibodeau for having Rose in at the end of a game with the Bulls still holding a double digit lead, the Bulls leading 99-87 when Rose was hurt driving with about 1:20 left. Play continued afterward as Rose crumbled to the floor, and the clock was finally stopped when Carlos Boozer fouled to stop it with 1:10 remaining.

Thibodeau was asked about it after the game and I’ll reprint his answer I used in my earlier report: “That (injuries) is part of the game. There is going to be injuries. A guy can get hurt in practice, he can get hurt in the first five minutes of the game. He can get hurt anytime and then you have to deal with it. That is part of this game. Derrick has had a lot of injuries this year. It has been unfortunate…. I do not work backwards like you (media) guys. The score was going the other way. He’s got to play. We sat him to about the seven minute mark of the fourth quarter (7:53). Derrick has to work on finishing on closing. Our team did not handle that part great. That’s what I was thinking.”

This has been part of an ongoing discussion about playing time the last two years. But I can’t fault Thibodeau. There’s no blame there. He has been consistent and always coached this way. It is the playoffs, and the 76ers had shaved eight points off the lead in the last few minutes. They were about to have it down to 10 with over a minute left, and you still can lose that sort of lead as the 76ers shoot threes well in streaks. Rose had played 37 minutes and sat out the first four minutes of the fourth. Yes, he’s had multiple injuries this season, which was a concern. But he just jumped and was hurt. He wasn’t hit. So that could have happened anywhere and at any time. He jumps at all times in games.

And though you wouldn’t expect anyone to challenge Thibodeau, the Bulls players were almost defiant in defending him.

“I don’t know why you would question it,” said Luol Deng. “It’s a playoff game. He’s trying to play and finish the game. Even though you’re up, you’re going to see them three more times. He’s playing well and we want him to get his rhythm. I don’t know why you’d question that.”

Hamilton added that, “Philly was making a run, and in playoff basketball, you never want to give a team confidence. So if it’s having your starters in when you’ve got a team down, you’ve got to try to keep them down. You can’t let them back in the game or make a little run. We needed guys out there who could put the ball in the basket.”

The 76ers Brand added he wasn’t surprised Rose was in the game. “They wanted to secure this win,” said Brand. “He has also been out for a while and needs to play in the games.”

And even without seemingly doing anything special or exerting himself all that much, Rose was on the verge of a triple double. That’s also what’s so disheartening. He seemed so happy just to be back playing and in a big game. He was fighting for loose balls, moving the ball swiftly, in the middle of everything even without the high wire highlights.

Rose looked like he was back, and he seemed much happier about that than everyone else.

And it was all going according to plan.

Hamilton was stepping into that scoring playoff void that seemed the difference between the Bulls and Heat last season. There was all this talk again about another early start, but the Bulls bounced out ahead 10-3 with Rose in the middle scoring on a nice pump fake and drive for a layup. But then after the 76ers closed a bit, Hamilton scored nine straight points for a 21-13 Bulls lead.

The promise was another scorer opposite Rose, and here it was happening. The play is called “floppy down,” the baseline running and down screens the Bulls use for Hamilton and Korver, and the 76ers were flummoxed. They tried just about everyone as 76ers coach Doug Collins is a coach not afraid to make changes and adjustments throughout the game. He tried his best defender Andre Iguodala, his quickest in Lou Williams, Evan Turner, Jodie Meeks. No one could make a dent as the Bulls shooting duo would finish with 30 points on 11 of 15 shooting. The Bulls get that at two guard and they are going to be tough to beat with their interior size.

The 76ers pretty much had accepted being outrebounded, and they were 47-38.

They are no interior match for the Bulls with mostly finesse big men and Brand best when stepping outside for jumpers, which he was hitting. That forced a change from Noah early. Noah is a terrific help defender, so he’s always on the move toward penetration, which too often left Brand open for his jumpers as Brand had eight in the first quarter with the 76ers pulling within 28-24 after one.

That’s also why Omer Asik and Taj Gibson generally are a better defensive pair as they both are good help defenders and can have eachother’s man. But neither are good scorers, and Thibodeau likes to balance the offense. Plus, Boozer is a good rebounder and only played 26 minutes with Thibodeau opting more for defense.

The 76ers’ basic plan requires they make jump shots. Basically only Brand was, though they had a lot of openings early. The 76ers don’t have the so called go to scorer, which the Bulls don’t, either now with Rose out. So they have to do it by committee. But unlike the Bulls with their interior size and big men like Taj Gibson who can finish strong, the 76ers’ big men mostly play a finesse game.

The 76ers tied it up at 28, but the Bulls surged out on a 19-10 run early in the second by attacking the boards and Rose then coming on with a nice shooting display. The Bulls thus were able to head into halftime leading 53-42.

“That was the fourth time we have played the Bulls this season,” noted Collins. “This is the best that they have played against us. You could see the focus, playoff starting. Rip Hamilton came out and gave them a great start. Their bench did a really good job. Korver came off screens very well. That triggers so many things with your defense. We know that as they are so well coached that when you help in certain areas they have certain things happening on the back side in areas that go against you. I thought that there were four to six plays right at the end of the shot clock where they hit shots on us. We go down 11 halftime then cut it back to eight, but then they would get off on another run, seven or eight point run. They hit us with a spurt every time. Anytime we made a run on them. That’s what championship teams do. The Bulls played great.”

This was one of those games with no doubt. Hamilton even got into a little shoving thing after a hard foul on Noah and drew a technical foul late in the third quarter. Rose picked up a loose ball and hit a three, one of three he’d make, and Korver was showing no hesitation popping open as the Bulls led 79-66 after three. They were pushing as well in transition, throwing ahead and taking advantage of the mismatches, like when Turner went on Deng as Collins abandoned most of his big guys other than Brand after halftime and went long stretches with small, perimeter oriented lineups. But the 76ers with Thaddeus Young on Noah were getting crushed on the boards and the Bulls opened it up to a 95-75 lead with 4:36 left on a Korver jumper from Rose.

You rarely get warning when something bad is about to happen.

Rose was just walking the ball up and turned as he got over halfcourt. Jrue Holiday, their starting guard, was still on him, but six feet off. Noah came out to set a high screen, which is the essence of the Bulls offense. Holiday, who had 16 points, was buried in it while Spencer Hawes laid off.

The 76ers have been one of the best teams to defend Rose because of Collins. They push Rose to his left hard and then work to keep him from getting back right. It requires a quick move from one big man, and Hawes was concentrating. Hawes leaned to his left to try to force Rose left, but Rose was too quick and crossed over to his right. Noah was trailing as the Bulls are so good crashing the boards after Rose penetration, which results in so many offensive rebound chances.

Rose went to a jump stop at the right side of the lane halfway to the basket and it apparently happened there. As Rose went up in the air to jump, he grabbed at his left knee. He would tell trainers he heard a pop. He passed to Boozer and came down gingerly, both hands to the ground in a crouching position. Rose grabbed at his knee as he stumbled toward the baseline and went down slowly as if into a pushup position. Rose then grabbed at his knee and rolled over onto his back in obvious pain.

Boozer passed the ball out to Korver as play continued, and Korver missed a three pointer. Already, the crowd was beginning a collective gasp, hands to the face of many. The 76ers ran out with the rebound and Boozer fouled Meeks to stop play.

Your heart dropped and your stomach tightened.

“He just cannot catch a break,” lamented Boozer. “It seemed pretty bad, but we’re hoping for the best. You feel for him. It might be the saddest win ever. I’ve been there in my career. So you are hoping for the best.”

Rose was grimacing lying on his back with his hand stroking his left knee. Trainer Fred Tedeschi ran to Rose along with Bulls physician Dr. Brian Cole, who felt around Rose’s knee. Rose was helped up by Tedeschi and assistant Jeff Tanaka and escorted to the locker room.

Rose walked off with help but weight put on his feet, so, initially, it looked hopeful, if also of major concern.

“We had the game already won,” lamented John Lucas. “That’s our brother. We are family around here. First thing I did say, ‘Get up.’ I started saying a prayer. Everyone gets alarmed anytime you see anyone on the ground and they don’t jump right back up. It was like, ‘Just get up!’ It’s been all year. He’s such a competitor and loves the game of basketball. We finally had everyone healthy.”

And to a player they felt that meant it was their time. Not that it would be easy and not that it was assured, but it would be fun and they were ready.

Now, they have to start again. C.J. Watson, who started 25 games for Rose, will start. Lucas will play more as will Mike James, a fortuitous returnee, as it turns out. They still have the depth and the size and the experience. Though they have to get over the mental loss as much as the physical.

“I know how bad he wants to be out there,” Noah said of Rose. “Regardless of what happens we’re an adaptable group. We’ve been through this all year. Of course, we’re praying he’s all right, but we know we can play well without Derrick. He’s the MVP of the NBA. It’s real tough. But there’s basketball to be played. He’s more than just a basketball player. I consider Derrick like a little brother. To see him hurting is never good.

“We’re very focused on what’s ahead,” added Noah. “Obviously, you want Derrick on the floor. But we play tough basketball, good defense. We know we are capable.”

Later in the evening, Korver posted this on his Facebook page:

“Right about now, the disbelief has faded, anger has subsided and were all wondering… Why? Why. Why. Why Derrick, again? Derrick is more than an MVP to our team. He’s our friend, our brother he inspires us to be the very best we can be, just by who he is and how hard he plays. That he has spent so much time this year hurt was frustrating. Now that he is out for the rest of the season, well its just plain sad. No one is to blame; what happened, did. We send him our prayers, our love, our good wishes that he heals and comes back stronger, better, healthier than ever before.

Bulls fans. Now is not the time to ask why or to get bitter. Now is the time to refocus and ask “How are we going to win this Championship?” We have the best Team in the league. This season has proven we are a TEAM and it has taken us ALL to have the best record. Lets focus on what’s ahead. This is an incredible opportunity for All of Us to step up and make it happen. We’re all gonna have to work harder and smarter. We are all gonna have to believe in ourselves. That we are more than the sum of our parts. We need YOU to believe with Us. We need You to believe for Us. We are going to keep going strong. One quarter, one game, one round at a time. Until its over. That’s how we’re gonna do it.”

Hey, who knows.

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