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.