By Wesley Kaminsky
All was well.
The Chicago Bulls led 99-87 with under two minutes to go in Game 1 of the first round of the playoffs against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Derrick Rose appeared to have shaken off his rust from various injuries throughout the season. He was on his way to a triple-double, pouring in 23 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists. The Bulls had dominated the Sixers and were healthy for the first time all season.
Then it happened. Rose was down holding his left knee.
He didn’t. With 1:10 left, the Bulls training staff rushed and attended to Rose. The look on the Bulls players was shock, like they knew something was seriously wrong with the reigning MVP.
There was. A few hours later, Bulls fans worst nightmare had come true. Derrick Rose had torn his ACL, throwing the Bulls championship hopes out the window.
It was the saddest win ever.
The moment Rose went down, I knew it was bad. In the past, when he went down, he would generally get right back up. Not this time. This time was different. His bad luck had continued from the regular season. This was the icing on the top of the cake of an injury plagued season.
As the news broke that Rose tore his ACL, I just sat there shocked, staring like a deer in headlights (as did the majority of Chicago natives).
How could this happen? Rose is one of the good guys in the league. A true superstar who badly wants to bring a title to his hometown of Chicago. He is every bit of the product he is selling. He doesn’t deserve this.
Still, even without Rose, the Bulls should be able to get past the Sixers, right? This is the same team that went 18-9 in the regular season without their MVP, which included wins over Miami, Boston, Atlanta, and these same Sixers. They should be okay, at least for now.
Wrong. In Game 2, the Bulls played an uninspired second half, and were embarrassed in Chicago, 109-92. The Bulls then followed that with two straight losses in Philadelphia, and had their backs against the wall, facing elimination down 3-1. In Game 5, the Bulls held the Sixers to 28.6% shooting in the first half, and won an ugly 77-69 game. After scoring just 24 points in the last three games, Luol Deng equaled that total, pouring in four three-pointers. Carlos Boozer had a big second half and finished with 19 points, and 13 rebounds. In order for the Bulls to have any chance in the series, those two had to come up big, and they did.
There was hope. The Bulls were alive, and going back to Philly with a chance to force a Game 7.
I knew I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up. I knew I shouldn’t have gone to the game. Stupid me.
With the Bulls trailing 59-47 with 5:05 left in the third quarter, they needed a spark. Carlos Boozer was 1-11 with three turnovers and was on the bench, where he would sit for the rest of the game. It’s not a good sign when you have an $80 million dollar man sit on the bench in the second half of an elimination game. Led by a line-up of C.J. Watson, Richard Hamilton, Luol Deng, Taj Gibson, and Omer Asik, the Bulls stormed on a 16-4 run to tie up the game at 63 heading into the fourth quarter.
Now is the part where it’s difficult to write the remainder of this article. After an ugly fourth quarter, in which neither team could get much on offense, the Bulls led 78-77 with 12.8 seconds left after a Thaddeus Young basket.
All they had to do was hit free throws.
After breaking free from Jrue Holiday on the in bounds, Watson tried to dish it to Omer Asik, who proceeded to get mugged by Spencer Hawes. For the record, I’m not sure how they didn’t call a flagrant foul. Asik had been having quite a game, with 10 points and 9 rebounds. He was 4-5 from the free throw line, but these free throws were different. A 46% foul shooter, Asik was doomed.
He missed both. Iguodala got the rebound, went coast to coast, and drew a foul with 2.2 seconds left. Of course, he would make them both. Watson’s half court attempt didn’t fall and the Bulls season ended just like that.
I was stunned. I was heartbroken, and here I am at the Wells Fargo Center having to witness Sixers fans act like they just won the NBA championship. Congratulations, you beat a team without their two best players. Sorry, that was the bitter part of me talking. Forgive me. It’s hard to believe the Bulls could lose a game in which they outrebounded their opponent 56-33.
I guess the saying is true; when it rains it pours. This season, it poured for the Bulls. They couldn’t catch a break all season long and it finally caught up to them. Tom Thibodeau’s famous phrase is, “We have more than enough to win with.” It sure didn’t look like it against the Sixers. When you lose the two players who are the heart and soul of your team, it is a lot to overcome and it showed.
I want to take a moment though and acknowledge Luol Deng. He showed up big time for Games 5 and 6. He had 19 points and 17 rebounds in Game 6, and was really their only offensive option. All season long he played on a torn ligament in his left wrist, in addition to logging the most minutes on the team. He’s a warrior.
Now, the Bulls face major question marks heading into the off-season. With Rose (ACL), and Deng (wrist surgery), likely to miss the first two months of the 2012-2013 season, suddenly championship hopes have to be put on hold. You have to now wonder if this Bulls supporting cast is good enough to put them over the top, even though they lost Rose and Noah. There doesn’t look like there is enough offense. The Bulls problems go beyond just the injury to Rose, as they have a bad tendency to go on offensive droughts. The Sixers outscored the Bulls 116-91 in the fourth quarter after game one. This was a problem last year against the Heat as well.
What happens when Rose comes back and is struggling against say, the Heat? Who will step up? We saw last season against the Heat that Rose needed a true sidekick, someone who can create their own shot. It certainly isn’t Carlos Boozer either. The Bulls big man has had a rocky relationship with Bulls fans during his first two seasons in the Windy City. The bad news is that nobody wants that $80 million dollar contract if the Bulls want to try to trade him. With Taj Gibson proving he can be an efficient starter in this league, Boozer is expendable.
The question is will Gar Forman and John Paxson try to make a major move this off-season, a la Dwight Howard? Is it worth it to gut the roster for Dwight? I’ve been against it all season long, but now it might be time to rethink that option. Would the Magic really turn down a package that included Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, and Joakim Noah in exchange for Howard? If not, should the Bulls consider passing up the chance at a tandem of Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard? I’m not saying do the trade, but I’m saying I’d consider it.
It’s a shame, really. We’ll never know what this Bulls core could have done with a healthy roster. What could have been such a special season ended in heartbreak and question marks.
Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze.