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.
“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.”