Maybe you saw it happen. Maybe you didn’t. But yesterday was the saddest playoff win in franchise history.
With 1:20 left and the Bulls nursing a double-digit lead, Derrick Rose drove the lane and tore the ACL in his left knee while trying to execute a jump-stop.
Rose’s season is over. And, for all intents and purposes, so is the Bulls’ season.
Don’t get me wrong. As coach Tom Thibodeau would say, the Bulls have more than enough to win. And the numbers show they can likely eke out some more playoff victories even without Rose.
But, let’s face it, I have to agree with ESPN’s Melissa Isaacson: the Bulls cannot win a title without him.
My take? I think they will still win this series against the Sixers. I think they have a decent shot against the Celtics is they play at the absolute peak of their abilities. But even if they get by Boston — which would be a very tall order — the Heat will likely be waiting for them.
All that said, I’m getting way ahead of myself. The 2012 NBA playoffs are only four total games old. Anything, as they say, could happen.
There were so many good signs yesterday. Rip Hamilton (19 points, 6-for-7 from the field, 6-for-6 from the line) played exactly as everyone hoped he would. Luol Deng (17 points, 8-for-14, 6 rebounds) looked great. Ditto for Joakim Noah (13 rebounds, 12 points, 2 blocks) and Carlos Boozer (9 points, 7 boards, 4 assists). Kyle Korver (11 points, 5-for-8) was on fire off the bench. Everybody was playing with that edge and energy the team needs to succeed.
Oh, and Rose, after a slow shooting start, had a near triple-double (23 points, 9 rebounds, 9 assists).
Then everything came undone in one non-contact move.
As ESPN’s Michael Wilbon points out, Rose’s injury — well, that is, all his injuries this season — were likely the result of the lock-out shortened schedule. But still…what in the name of Michael Jordan was he doing on the floor with the game well in hand?
Said Thibs: “I don’t work backward like you guys do. The score was going the other way.”
Added Hamilton: ”Philly was making a run. In playoff basketball, you never want to give a team confidence. … When you have a team down, you have to try to keep them down. They made a little run so we needed guys that could put the ball in the basket.”
Even Philly coach Doug Collins stepped up to defend Thibodeau’s decision to leave Rose in the game: “He knows what he’s doing coaching his team. Thibs is my buddy. I have the ultimate respect for him. From his standpoint, he wanted to finish that game for what he did. It’s awful that Derrick got hurt.”
Thibs went on: “He’s got to play, and the thing is, we sat him ’til [the 7:53] mark of the fourth and he’s got to work on closing, he’s got to work on finishing. Our team, we didn’t handle that part great. That was what I was thinking.”
No. I do not accept those rationalizations.
Look, the Bulls were 18-9 without Rose this season. And those 18 wins included victories over teams like the Celtics and Heat. Game after game, we were told by Thibs and everybody else in the organization that the Bulls have more than enough to win. Presumably, that wasn’t just lip service, and everybody believed and bought into that mantra.
So why take unnecessary risks with a guy who’s been hurting as much as Rose has? And remember: the Bulls had a 20-point lead with five minutes left. And with four minutes left. Thibs didn’t sub Rose out and then put him back in because the Sixers made a run. Rose was in the game that whole time. He logged 37 minutes in a game the Bulls had complete command of.
Practice closing a game? Rose has been there and done that. And he was due to get plenty of chances as the playoffs rolled along.
I hate second-guessing in general. I especially hate second-guessing Thibs, whom I think deserves the NBA Coach of the Year award. He knows what he’s doing. And yet…
…there have been questions about minutes before. Like the hellish PT that Luol Deng puts in on a nightly basis (39 minutes yesterday). Like starters playing despite huge leads. For the most part, these questions have been subplots because the Bulls have done a lot of winning the last two years, and winning silences a lot of dissenting voices.
It’s possible Rose would have suffered that injury in the next game. Maybe his ACL was ready to go and the tear was inevitable.
But maybe it wasn’t.
Rose should not have been in the game.
But I’m not going to dwell. It is what it is. Rose’s season is over and the Bulls simply have to move on without him no matter how despressed they are about it.
As Noah said, there’s basketball to be played.
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We thought Luol Deng had a sprained left wrist.
We thought he was day-to-day.
Turns out there’s a torn ligament in that wrist and Deng will be missing in action indefinitely.
Said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: “He’s going to be out for awhile. It’s a pain tolerance thing.”
Added Deng: “I know it’s a bad injury, and it sounds terrible, but I’ll be fine. I really feel like we have a very good chance of doing something special. And I feel like without the surgery I’ll be fine. I just know what I can do with it and what I can’t do. And I really think I’m going to be very effective out there. There’s going to be days when it’s sore.
“It could always be worse. Injuries happen. And this happened in the fourth quarter of a game. But it is what is. It’s just, ‘What do we do from here.’ I’m very confident that I’ll be fine. It’s sore, but the soreness is going down a lot in two days. So every day [I'll] keep treating it and see if I can get rid of the soreness and just try to be back there as soon as possible.
“I’m definitely going to miss a few games here. I don’t know how many, but I’m very confident the guys will be fine. But as soon as I can be out there, I will be out there.”
Deng has suffered a similar injury before. K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune writes:
“Deng’s rookie season ended and he missed the 2005 playoff run when he opted for surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right wrist. Deng said this injury is the same and he confirmed a Tribune report that Dr. Susan Craig-Scott, who performed that 2005 surgery, is involved in the process.”
Said Deng: “This time around I’m familiar with it. It’s on my left [wrist] which is not like having it on my right. I know how it feels pain-wise. Just trying to get it down to a certain level where I can play again.”
This is a real hit for the Bulls. Lu leads the team in Minutes Per Game (38.3) and is averaging 15.9 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 2.6 APG and 1.2 SPG. His Player Efficiency Rating is only 16.4, but he’s third on the team in Win Shares (2.3) behind Carlos Boozer (2.5) and Derrick Rose (2.6). Further, Deng is one of the team’s most versatile defenders.
He’s also something of a stabilizing force when the reserves are in the game. And you can tell Thibs hates to sit him. After all, Lu has logged 40+ minutes in eight of the Bulls’ 18 games and 38+ in five others. Still, the coach thinks the Bulls should be able to get by without Deng for a while.
Said Thibs: “We’ve got more than enough to win with. I thought Ronnie [Brewer] was terrific. [Brian] Scalabrine was terrific. Kyle [Korver] has played big minutes for us. Jimmy [Butler] can play. So we have a roster full of guys who can play. So we’re confident in their abilities.”
I’m okay with Brewer logging more minutes, but Korver is a defensive liability at that position, Butler is a rookie, and Scalabrine is a 12th man who’s not supposed to see playing time unless the team is up or down by 20+ points with a couple minutes to go in the game.
Let’s hope Deng can come back soon. Assuming he can return reasonably healthy that is.
Chicago’s injury rotation from last year could predict what they do this year…if there is a season
Since there may not even be an NBA season, let’s talk about something else that is somewhat depressing…injuries. Chicago had their fair share of them last year, especially between their two starting bigs, Joakim Noah and Carlos “Gym Bag” Boozer.
Despite their injuries, the three main ones that will be discussed below, the Bulls won 62 games and made it to the Easter Conference finals before falling to the Miami Heat. It was a bitter ending to a pretty great season. Derrick Rose emerged as one of the best players in the league and won the MVP award. Omer Asik proved to be a very productive player (more to come on this below in the playoffs section) and Carlos Boozer screamed a lot (among other things).
Bulls’ fans were cheated out of a full season of health, but let’s take a look at how the Bulls did when they faced those injuries. The most important thing was that players stepped up in response to those injuries.
Chicago started the season off shorthanded, with Carlos Boozer missing the first 15 games because of a broken hand. This meant the Bulls didn’t have their full rotation from the beginning, getting them used to what was going to be an injury riddled season for their big men. Boozington injured himself tripping over a bag and breaking his hand. So the Bulls started off with Noah and Gibson starting at center and power forward positions respectively. This is how the minutes broke down and each player’s numbers.
*Editor’s Note: Brian Scalabrine’s numbers were not calculated because his stats were too high and I’m not very good at math.
Life without Boozer: Volume I, Shaky, but solid start
October 27- November 27 (15 games)
Joakim Noah: 36.8 minutes, 15.6 points, 13.2 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, 2.7 assists, 1.4 steal (started all 15 games)
Taj Gibson: 11.3 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, 1.2 assists, .9 steals (started all 15 games)
Omer Asik: 3.0 points, 3.2 rebounds, .5 assists, .2 assists, .6 blocks (played in all 15 games)
Kurt Thomas: Did not play in any games
No Boozer, no problem. Chicago wasn’t really missing Boozington, as it had never played a regular season game with him. The Bulls were just back to their normal strategy—which includes never posting up. Chicago entered December with a record of just 9-6, but all of their losses came to eventual playoff teams. And during that stretch they beat the soon-to-be champion Dallas Mavericks and playoff bound Trailblazers.
It wasn’t the best start to the season, but Chicago weathered the storm and would be back at full strength for a long time right? OK maybe just nine games.
Boozer returns: Full strength
December 1-December 15 (9 games)
Noah: 33.1 minutes, 11.4 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.9 blocks (started all nine games)
Boozer: 28 minutes, 17.6 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists (started all nine games)
Asik: 8.5 minutes, 1.7 points, 2.1 rebounds, .56 blocks (played in all nine games)
Gibson: 23.3 minutes, 6.9 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.4 blocks (played in all nine games)
Thomas: played in just two games, total of five minutes and two points
Boozer started slow (as expected) and didn’t work into the offense for a few games. But in his third game back he scored 25 points and in the fourth game back dropped 29. Then, on December 15, against Toronto, Boozer scored 34 points. In the same game Chicago would lose Noah, who wouldn’t be back until late February.
While Chicago was keeping Boozer’s minutes relatively low, Gibson got some good minutes and played well. Added bonus over Boozer…Gibson actually plays defense.
The Bulls dropped their first two games at full strength, to Orlando and Boston (once again both playoff teams), then went on a seven game winning streak, until Noah went down. Chicago was seemingly hitting their stride, only to be derailed, but they would quickly make the necessary adjustments.
What to do without Joakim
December 18 to February 17 (30 games)
Boozer: 33.9 minutes, 19.8 points, 10.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists (started 27 games, missed 3 games)
Asik: 11.2 minutes, 2.8 points, 4 rebounds (played in all 30 games)
Gibson: 20.5 minutes, 5.5 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.7 blocks (played in 29 games, started 4)
Thomas: 27.9 minutes, 5.1 points, 6.9 rebounds, .96 blocks (started 28 games)
Thibodeau thought it better to go with experience, rather than youth, when Noah went down. That meant Kurt Thomas got his minutes, and the old man did work. Thomas scored 22 in a game, the first time he scored that many since 2005. He also grabbed 18 boards in a single game; the first time since 2007 he had that many rebounds. It’s even more impressive when you consider Thomas can’t jump. Thomas was also sure to use up the six fouls you are given per game. And he made them hard fouls.
Asik also played well not putting up huge numbers, but playing solid defense, something that would become expected from the Turkish Delight. Gibson and Boozer split minutes and both put up good stats; especially Boozer who averaged a double-double in Noah’s absence.
The return of Noah, Full Strength again
February 23 to March 9 (9 games)
Noah: 29.7 minutes, 9.4 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.2 blocks (started all nine games)
Boozer: 30 minutes, 14.3 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.2 assists (started all nine games)
Asik: 16.9 minutes, 1.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, .9 blocks (played in eight games)
Gibson: 17.6 minutes, 5.9 points, 3.6 rebounds (played in all nine games)
Thomas: played in zero games
Noah’s first game back was spoiled by an embarrassing loss in Toronto, but Chicago bounced back from that and topped Miami, sparking a nice run.
Through this stretch Asik scored less than two points per contest, but grabbed nearly nine rebounds per game. A sign of good things to come from the young man…not so much on the offensive side in which his skills consist of dunks, but on the defensive side where he is a good post defender and great rebounder.
Upsetting fact for the future: Noah and Boozer never seemed to develop a solid chemistry when they were on the court together, and their numbers reflected that depressing idea.
The Bulls weren’t meant to be at full strength for long, as Boozer went down again (here is my surprised face). Once again everyone put in solid minutes, but they weren’t at full strength and Thibs had to change the rotation, for the 1,538,097th time this season.
Life without Boozer, Volume II, Shorter this time
March 11 to March 18 (5 games)
Noah: 30.3 minutes, 9.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists (started four of five games)
Asik: 14.6 minutes, 4.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1 block (played all five games)
Gibson: 23.4 minutes, 7.6 points, 8.2 rebounds (started one game, played in all five)
Thomas: 29.8 minutes, 3.8 points, 10 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.2 blocks (started all five games)
Thibodeau went with the starting frontcourt of Joakim Noah and Kurt Thomas. Thomas was once again used more for his rebounding skills than his offensive firepower. But at this part of the season, it was obvious that Derrick Rose basically had to do all the scoring by his lonesome.
The good news is that this would be Chicago’s last major injury of the regular season, the better news was that Chicago only lost one more game the rest of the way.
Full strength to end the season
March 21 to April 13 (14 games)
Noah: 27.6 minutes, 9.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, 1.7 assists (started eleven games, missed three)
Boozer: 31.1 minutes, 15.1 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists (started all 14 games)
Asik: 11.4 minutes, 3.3 points, 2.3 rebounds (played all 14 games)
Gibson: 20.1 minutes, 7 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1 block (played all 14 games)
Thomas: 14.4 minutes, 2.2 points, 3.4 rebounds (played eleven games)
Chicago, still fighting for the number one overall seed in the playoffs, played some of their best basketball down the stretch. And they had every one of their big men contributing.
The Bulls entered the playoffs on a high, winning nine straight and 21 of their last 23. They would slump a little in the playoffs, but would still make it to the Eastern Conference Finals, before falling to the Big Three and the Miami Heat.
Noah: 34 minutes, 8.7 points, 10.2 rebounds, 2.1 blocks, 1 steal (played every game)
Boozer: 31.7 minutes, 12.6 points, 9.7 rebounds (played in every game)
Asik: 9.9 minutes, 1.0 point, 2.1 rebounds (played in fifteen games)
Gibson: 17.8 minutes, 5.9 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.4 blocks (played every game)
Thomas: 10.6 minutes, 2.9 points, 2.7 rebounds (played in seven games)
Thibodeau went with Omer Asik and Taj Gibson in a few late game situations, and it ended up being a good choice. Some people questioned why it took so long for Thibs to make that switch and get back to his rotation he used during the regular season. Asik’s minutes jumped from just 5.8 in round one, to 12.8 in round two and 11.3 in round three.
Boozer played poorly, or exactly the way Jazz fans said he would play in the playoffs. He scored just 12.6 points per game and shot just 43.3 percent from the field (down from 51 percent in the regular season)
And with this, more and more responsibility shifted to Derrick Rose on the offensive side of the ball, until he couldn’t do enough and the Bulls fell in the conference finals.
What we learned
The Bulls have depth, especially at the power forward and center position. Asik, Gibson and Thomas can all step in and make you forget that Boozer is injured again, or that Joakim is being the biggest cheerleader on the bench (Alright, second biggest. Scalabrine was the biggest).
Many people thought Kurt Thomas had one foot in his basketball grave…O.K. most people thought he had two feet in his basketball grave and both hands on a sandwich, but he proved those people wrong. He can still hit open jumpers, rebound a little, bang bodies and give you six hard fouls. Kurt Thomas left his walker in the locker room and stepped up when Chicago needed a center.
We learned Omer Asik doesn’t just look like Linguini from Ratatouille. The rookie also played a bunch of minutes. His play was rewarded with a high price tag at the trade deadline. But for some Bulls fans possibly too high. Asik came in unproven and really showed he could be a solid back-up in this league for years to come, especially on the glass and on defense. I’d argue he could be a starter on a good amount of teams in this league.
Gibson’s numbers have fallen from last year, but again he is playing behind Boozer, and if Boozer’s history shows anything, it’s good to have a nice back-up at the power forward position. And Thibodeau loves defense, so Boozer’s inability to play that half of the game, paired with Taj’s tenacity on that end, bode well for his future with Chicago (see the playoffs for examples of Taj getting late-game minutes over Booz).
And for Carlos Boozer, we learned he is injury prone. There is no denying that Boozer is a good player when he’s on the court, but if he isn’t playing much, he will never live up to his contract.
A look ahead
Who knows if there will be any games this year, and if there are, it’s impossible to predict what the new CBA will look like. There has been a lot of talk about an amnesty clause. If that’s the case, will they get rid of Boozer and his huge contract, or give Boozington another chance? Could they possibly use it on someone else, such as Ronnie Brewer, as Bill Simmons suggested?
As of right now, Chicago has many of the same players on their roster, one dimensional big men and defensive-minded shooting guards. It’s impossible to predict what will have to change under the new CBA, but hopefully we’ll find out in the next few days. Or at least within the month of October.
Even though no one knows exactly what next season will hold, Bulls fans know a few things. They have the reigning MVP, a great coach, solid role players and awesome chemistry. They just don’t have a shooting guard that can shoot. Oh yeah, forgot about that minor problem.