Rose's torn ACL mars Bulls' superb victory over 76ers in Game 1
The faces were all the same with 1:10 remaining in the fourth quarter Saturday at the United Center in Chicago: sunken expressions, hands clasped to support chins, mouths closed. And they all had to be asking the same question: Why was Derrick Rose on the court at that point in the Bulls' 103-91 victory against the Sixers when the game was already decided? Fair or not, that became the question that will loom over Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau after Rose tore the ACL in his left knee at a time when Chicago was tying a bow on an impressive playoff opener. After the game, Thibodeau was asked about his decision to have Rose in the game with the Bulls still leading by 12 despite Philadelphia's 14-6 run. "I don't work backward like you guys do," Thibodeau said. "The score was going the other way."
• Seven Bulls players missed time in the regular season because of injuries. None were more of a story than Rose, who sat out 26 games with five injuries. All the good feelings the Bulls built in Saturday's win faded to images of Rose's planting on his left leg and immediately flailing with an ominous grimace on his face, the team's championship dreams crashing to the court with him.
• Up to that point, Chicago's star was shoving aside any questions about his ability to return to top form for a championship run. Take away his 1-for-7 shooting start, and Rose was an efficient 8-of-16 from the field and showed few lingering effects from foot, groin and back injuries he battled constantly this season. Rose displayed the kind of explosiveness he's known for when healthy, regularly coming off high screens and getting to the rim in a couple of dribbles. He had 23 points, nine rebounds and nine assists, and it was starting to look like this could be a good series for Rose to get back into a rhythm -- as long as the baggage of physical ailments didn't get in the way. Now that Rose's season is finished, this injury may go down as one of Chicago's great what-if moments if the Bulls fall short of the NBA Finals.
• Chicago can't get around the discussion of what Rose's injury means to its championship hopes. But keep this in mind: The Bulls have become experts at playing without him. They won two-thirds of their regular-season games while Rose was out and had enough firepower to earn the top seed in the Eastern Conference. And the other starters were prolific in Game 1, even though injuries had limited the opening-day starting lineup to only two stretches of three or more games together. Richard Hamilton, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah combined to hit 23-of-37 shots (62 percent), score 57 points, pull down 29 of the Bulls' 47 rebounds and hand out 11 assists. If they can maintain that type of chemistry, the Bulls should still be a tough out.
• One of the more potent weapons the Bulls will still have is the wing combination of Hamilton in the starting lineup with Kyle Korver spelling him off the bench. They were lethal Saturday, and even without Rose, the 76ers will have to look at options to slow them down. The two veterans combined for 30 points, hit 11-of-15 shots and were effective slipping into gaps and burying open shots on plays created by their teammates. All of their shots were assisted, making them dangerous complements to Rose (six of his nine assists went to the pair), Noah and C.J. Watson, who each consistently found Hamilton and Korver open in the rhythm of the offense. Rose's ability to penetrate opened up several of those shots, but it should remain a vital weapon in the offense even without him.
• While the Bulls' starters were playing at peak form for most of the game, the 76ers should be concerned about Andre Iguodala's struggles. Philadelphia doesn't have much of an offense to begin with, but it will be crippled if Iguodala doesn't figure out a solution to Deng's defense. It's not just that he was 3-of-11 from the field; it's that those three baskets all came at the rim: two dunks and one layup. Beyond those shots, Iguodala was 0-for-8 on jumpers against the lengthy Deng, six of which came from 21 feet or deeper. Iguodala found other ways to be effective -- he had six rebounds and five assists -- but the 76ers need their best player to score, and the concern should be that he has increasingly struggled with each successive game against the Bulls this season. He started off with an 8-for-13 shooting, 19-point performance in Philadelphia's 98-82 win in February. But he dipped to a 6-of-15, 14-point effort and a 3-of-10, seven-point showing in two losses last month. Toss in Saturday, and the 76ers have a disturbing trend they must turn around.
• Elton Brand helped make up for Iguodala's woes with a spectacular first half against a team he's struggled against all year. He averaged 7.7 points and shot 30 percent from the field (7-of-23) against the Bulls in the regular season, but Brand found some success slipping into the gaps of the defense during the first half, when he hit 7-of-11 shots and scored 15 points -- more than he'd scored in any game against Chicago this season. The trouble is his effectiveness was limited to 12- to 17-foot jumpers -- and he struggled once Chicago took away that option in the second half. Brand was limited to four shot attempts in the second half -- all from the same spots on the floor -- and hit one. Still, it could give the 76ers an option if he can hit that shot consistently in this series to help draw out the Bulls' mobile big men and open room for the guards to operate.