"M-V-P! M-V-P!" the chants rang.
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VOTE: Should Thibodeau have left Rose in the game?
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the United Center, 1901 W Madison St, Chicago, IL 60612, USA
Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA 19148, USA
Less than 20 feet away, Reggie Rose looked on helplessly from his courtside seat. As his little brother grabbed his knee, a city crossed its fingers. Trainers assisted a limping Rose off the court on the way to Rush University Medical Center for tests that later determined that sick feeling will last awhile locally.
There's no doubt when Rose tore his ACL after planting in the lane late in the fourth quarter of a 103-91 playoff victory over the Sixers, the Bulls' championship hopes buckled. There's also little doubt in my mind that Rose's season-ending injury occurred due to bad luck, not bad judgment by Tom Thibodeau.
It happens to the best of players. Rose instinctively reached for his knee in midair and when he landed, his body language screamed something between "Ow!" and "Uh-oh." Teammates in a locker room full of soft tones and somber expressions braced for the worst-case scenario confirmed at 5:24 p.m. in a Bulls press release.
"Tough to see one of your brothers down like that," Rip Hamilton said.
It means no more playoff games or Olympic Games for Rose, who now hopes to be ready for next season's opener. It means baseball likely will regain the city's focus sooner than the Sox or Cubs deserve. It means the Bulls still can oust the Sixers without Rose — and perhaps even the winner of the Celtics-Hawks series in the second round — but they cannot beat the Heat without him.
Which brings us to the only point anybody cares about in a game where Hamilton was more efficient than a hybrid car in scoring 19 points on seven shots: Why was Rose playing so late with the Bulls' lead so comfortable?
If beating the Heat to win the Eastern Conference is the only thing that matters, why did Thibodeau have Rose still in during mop up time of Game 1 in the first round? Even Sixers forward Thaddeus Young wondered, speaking for basketball skeptics everywhere.
"You definitely don't want to see him go down in a game where he kind of should have been out," Young said.
The question in the post-game news conference irked Thibodeau. The defensiveness of his answer will infuriate many Bulls fans, but I agree with what Thibodeau said — if not the way he said it.
"I don't work backwards like you guys do," Thibodeau snapped. "The score was going the other way. He's got to play. We sat him till the (7:53) mark of the fourth quarter. He's got to work on closing. That's what I was thinking."
Rose needs to work on closing sounds as silly as Thibodeau needing to practice on his intensity. But Thibodeau had nothing to apologize for regarding Rose playing. You didn't have to be the best coach in the NBA the past two years to understand why Rose was on the floor.
This wasn't a meaningless regular-season game. This was the NBA playoffs. Momentum matters. Sixers coach Doug Collins sought any glimmer of hope in the final minutes to make Game 2 less daunting psychologically for his team. Thibodeau wanted to do everything to prevent that momentum from developing.
On the possession on which Rose injured his knee, the Bulls led 99-87 with 82 seconds left. The pesky Sixers had outscored the Bulls by eight points over the previous three minutes, making the Bulls' closing statement less emphatic than Thibodeau wanted. So the reigning NBA coach of the year followed instincts that have served him well and let a player who missed 27 regular-season games get work he needed despite a double-digit margin.
It backfired horribly, created the worst imaginable image for the Bulls and made Thibodeau a target. But understand that Rose injured his sixth different body part this season. Rose didn't tweak an old injury that would have benefited from more rest or caution. He ruptured a ligament upon liftoff like he could have at any point in the first quarter or Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
Making the Finals was supposed to provide the defining moment of the 2011-12 season for Rose and the Bulls. Instead it came in the first game of the first playoff round, and was memorable for all the wrong reasons.