DEERFIELD, Ill. — One bad landing finished Derrick Rose’s season. The Chicago Bulls insist it hasn’t dashed their NBA title hopes.
With their superstar point guard out for the rest of the season with a left knee injury, the Bulls will try to take a 2-0 lead over the Philadelphia 76ers when their first-round playoff series resumes Tuesday night after realizing their worst nightmare in the opener.
There was Rose writhing in pain with just over a minute left after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament. Now, the Bulls will have to pick themselves up.
“I’ve watched them respond to every challenge all year long,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “This is the next one.”
And it’s a big one.
The Bulls came into the season looking for more after posting the league’s best record and advancing to Eastern Conference finals a year ago. They earned homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs again even though Rose and Richard Hamilton missed significant time because of injuries, which explains why they believe they can get through this.
Even so, the sight of Rose going down late in Saturday’s 103-91 victory sent a major chill through Chicago and stirred a debate over whether he should have been in the game at that point. Players and general manager Gar Forman publicly defended Thibodeau’s decision, but losing Rose to many wiped out whatever chance the Bulls have at advancing to the NBA finals, much less winning it all.
“It’s more fun being the underdog, right?” said Kyle Korver, who sat out Monday’s practice but is expected to play. “I don’t think a lot of people expected us to win a championship to begin with. But even now, it’s probably moreso that way. We’re definitely confident in ourselves.”
They realize the task just jumped a few levels in difficulty, though.
“Without Derrick Rose, it is a different team,” the 76ers’ Jrue Holiday said. “They don’t really have that scoring and passing that Derrick Rose brings. At the same time, they’ve had an awesome record without him.”
Rose was playing more like an MVP with 23 points, nine rebounds and nine assists after being limited down the regular-season stretch, only to see his season end in a flash. He landed awkwardly on a jump stop, went up for a pass, and that was it. Korver said Rose was at the practice facility on Monday, but he did not talk with reporters.
Rose faces surgery at some point once the swelling goes down and he regains his full range of motion, but his status for the start of next season is up in the air. The Bulls, meanwhile, will try to do what they did all season — shrug it off.
The Bulls were able to start their top five just 15 times this season because of injuries to Rose, Hamilton and Luol Deng (torn ligament in his left wrist), yet they still tied San Antonio for the league’s best record at 50-16.
In the games Rose missed, they were 18-9.
“We’re not going to let the media or anybody paint the picture for us,” center Joakim Noah said. “We’ve played good basketball without Derrick as well. It’s a tough blow. Unfortunately in sports, there’s no feeling sorry for yourself.”
With Rose sidelined, they figure to lean on Deng, Carlos Boozer and Hamilton — who had 19 points on just seven shots in Game 1 — for scoring. C.J. Watson, who made 25 starts and averaged 9.7 points, is expected to get the nod at point guard with John Lucas III backing him up.
“Derrick Rose so distorts your defense,” Sixers coach Doug Collins said. “Everything you do is tilted toward him. It frees up a lot of opportunities for a lot of other guys.”
The Sixers might not have to trap as much or worry about the point guard creating havoc in the paint the way Rose does, but they still have to be careful. Watson scored 20 on them twice in the regular season.
In the games Rose missed, the Bulls’ approach didn’t change much. They still rebounded and defended, and they might have moved the ball even more when he was out.
“I think you stay with what you are as a team,” Thibodeau said. “It’s the defense, it’s the rebounding, keeping our turnovers low, inside-out. Whether it’s off the dribble or through the post-up, the ball has to (get to) the paint. The final thing is sharing the ball. We have to keep the ball moving, but we have to do that when Derrick plays. From that standpoint, I don’t think we have to change. It’s impossible to make up for Derrick’s individual greatness, but our collective greatness would cover that up.”
Korver said it was his brother Klay’s idea to post an eloquent appeal to fans to keep backing the Bulls on Facebook after Rose went down.
“I was surprised how many people read it and commented,” Korver said. “When things are tough, that’s when a lot of good can happen.”