Game One: Bulls won 103-91
Bulls: Richard Hamilton (19 points, three rebounds, four assists) and Joakim Noah (12 points, 13 rebounds, two blocks)
76ers: Elton Brand (19 points, seven rebounds, four blocks) and Thaddeus Young (13 points, four rebounds)
The final score of game one didn’t really matter. The only thing that mattered was the sight of Derrick Rose on the ground, wincing in pain. This lockout shortened season never agreed with Derrick. He fought through a bunch of injuries, and now his season—and possibly some of the next one—is lost to one. When Derrick limped off the court, there is a chance the Bulls title hopes left with him.
But the playoffs will continue without Rose, and no one on the Bulls is going to roll over. The task was already tall for the Bulls, but it just got a lot tougher.
I’d love to be optimistic and say the Bulls can still win the title. That they’re 18-7 without Rose this season and that they’ve beaten top teams like the Heat, Celtics (twice), Magic and Hawks without their starting point guard…but it just doesn’t feel like they can win a title now. They had a chance with a healthy Rose. It probably wasn’t going to happen with a hobbled Rose. Now with no Rose at all, things don’t look bright.
But the Bulls did basically beat the Heat twice without Rose (once without Rose, and once when Rose went 1-13 for two points and recorded a minus-27 plus/minus).
Chicago was without Rose for 25 games, and they won with defense, rebounding and hustle. They still have all those things. They also have home-court advantage, and a United Center crowd that will be more behind them than ever.
When the Bulls beat the Sixers without Rose during the regular season, they used those three things to get the win (Rip Hamilton also missed this game). Chicago out-rebounded Philly by 14, including a 17-9 offensive rebounding margin. They held the Sixers to 41.8 percent shooting and just 80 points.
C.J. Watson scored 20 points filling in for Rose, and Taj Gibson and Kyle Korver each scored eleven off the bench.
The Bulls defense won’t have to change—it’s their offense that needs to shift. Rose is great at creating shots; now the Bulls will have to use ball movement to get open shots. Looks are going to be hard to come by in the playoffs, especially against a good defensive team like the Sixers.
John Lucas III (zero minutes in game one) and Watson (four points in eleven minutes) are going to have to play better (or play at all in JL3’s case). At least Lucas definitely has the confidence to step into any role, even if it is on the playoff stage.
Carlos Boozer is going to have to prove the naysayers wrong, and come up big in a playoff game. Boozington was solid in game one, scoring nine points, grabbing seven rebounds and dishing four assists, but he will have to take on more of the scoring load the rest of the way.
Rip Hamilton needs to do what he did in game one, as does Luol Deng. Rip scored a super-efficient 19 points (6-7 from the field, 1-1 from three, 6-6 from the line), while Deng scored 17 points on 8-14 shooting.
Joakim Noah had a big game, with 12 points and 13 rebounds, and will need to replicate that. Noah’s hustle and enthusiasm can propel the Bulls through some rough patches. Kyle Korver, who scored eleven off the bench in game one, will also have to take a bigger scoring role.
But the most important thing for Chicago now is to make sure their defense is at its peak. The Bulls held Philly to 39.8 percent from the field and 1-9 from three. Andre Iguodala (3-11, eleven points) and Lou Williams (1-6, nine points) never got it going. The entire team needs to do their best to make sure it stays that way.
If there is one team that can overcome losing its best player, it’s the Bulls. It just doesn’t seem like there is one team that can do that and still go on to win the title.
The road to the Finals was always steep…now without Rose there are a lot more potholes and no guardrails. It’s possible, just unlikely. But don’t tell that to anyone on the Bulls roster, because they won’t care. Chicago will be hungry tonight, trying to prove they can win without Rose in the playoffs, just like the regular season.