With Derrick Rose lost for the season, the Bulls weren’t ready to call it quits.
Rose went down with a torn ACL with just over a minute to play in Saturday’s 103-91 Game One victory in the team’s opening round series with the Philadelphia 76ers. After the game, the mood in the locker room was not that of a team who had just kicked off their playoff run with a win. The Bulls were down, understandably, but certainly not out.
Coach Tom Thibodeau said all the right things after the game.
“I’ve watched them respond to every challenge all year long,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “This is the next one.”
The players, still confident they can make a run in the Eastern Conference playoffs, were upbeat, as well.
“It’s more fun being the underdog, right?” said Kyle Korver. “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.”
The United Center was rockin’ as Rose limped out to center court to deliver the game ball to officials before Tuesday night’s Game Two.
The team came out and played a great first half, jumping ahead 55-47 with C.J. Watson and John Lucas III running Coach Thibodeau’s offense to perfection.
And then something changed. Maybe the Bulls, who had played 27 regular season games without their MVP, realized Rose was out, but not with turf toe, a bad back, a pulled groin or a sprained ankle. This was a torn anterior cruciate ligament, an injury that doesn’t take a week or two to heal like his previous ailments. This time, they are not simply treading water, waiting for their star point guard to return. If this Bulls team is going to make a deep run in the playoffs, they’ll do it with Watson and Lucas III, not Rose, calling the plays.
Maybe it was the Sixers who had a halftime revelation. Maybe Philly Coach Doug Collins reminded his players that this isn’t the same Bulls team that went an NBA-best 50-16 in the lockout shortened season. If the Sixers had any doubts they could play with this Chicago team, those doubts should have vanished when Rose was carried to the locker room with 1:10 remaining in Saturday’s matinee.
What was said and who said it isn’t important. What matters is that the 76ers came out firing in the second half Tuesday night and cruised to a 109-92 victory, doing what many analysts and experts thought they would do from the start: run a defeated Bulls team out of their own gym.
Philly’s starting point guard, Jrue Holiday couldn’t be stopped, scoring a game-high 26 points. Lou Willams scored 20 points off the bench and Chicago-native Evan Turner put up 19. The team shot 59% from the field against the vaunted Bulls defense.
With or without Rose, the Bulls won’t win many games when they allow their opponent to shoot almost 59% from the field. And they won’t win any games if Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer can’t score.
Deng and Boozer combined for 17 points on 7 for 22 shooting. That just won’t cut it. Joakim Noah (21 points, 8 rebounds) and John Lucas III (15 points, 4 assists off the bench) came to play, but the rest of the team struggled to get anything done offensively.
If the Bulls are going to advance in this series, every single player is going to have to step their game up on both ends of the floor. It makes sense that this team would struggle to score without their facilitator, but team defense and rebounding are supposed to withstand any one player’s absence. Game 3 is Friday night (7:00 CST) in Philadelphia. Fans will expect Coach Thibodeau to have the team ready to bounce back.