In the immediate wake of Derrick Rose going down with a knee injury, every observer, professional or otherwise, played doctor. I was no different. I thought it looked pretty bad, but Rose has looked to be in obvious pain many times only to come back after a timeout. He's, obviously, come back from plenty of injuries this season. This looked bad, but I thought maybe it'd be a several-week injury. A diagnosis that would, like it has all season, lead to more stories of how to ease him back in. Yet again. Like he was just doing in this very game. His playoff debut on Saturday wasn't Rose at his best, but it was yet another game where he improved over the last. He still played very effectively and was close to a triple-double. Ruining that progress and starting over for another week or two would've been fairly awful, and likely cost the Bulls their shot at the title. And that was me trying to be realistic.
The actual diagnosis of a torn ACL is completely devastating. My heart sunk when I first read it. That's not just series-alterting, it's seasons-altering. It can change an entire career, and a franchise.
The Bulls, with Rose, were a title-contending team. That's not a flippant statement. It's extremely rare to have a team so good that they can go through the rigors of a season and playoffs and prove to be champions. They may not have been the favorite to do it, but they were among only a handful of real contenders. A real chance.
And the Bulls just lost it. Given the recuperation time for Rose's injury, they may have lost next season as well. Given how his athleticism drives his success (Rose is, ultimately, a small player), the Bulls may have lost several. You can be positive and look to see how modern medicine has changed the comeback chances for this injury, but it's also fair to question just how much this ruins everything. Not just for Rose, but the status of a team built to play around him, and one becoming a very expensive one to maintain.
And it can affect the status of a coach who is rightfully credited for the growth of Rose as a player, but who also incurs some culpability for these injuries. It's completely legitimate to question Tom Thibodeau for having Rose in that game at that time. The Bulls were up 20 with 4:30 to go. If that's too early, a more logical time was up 16 with 3 to go and timeout. Like Alex said in his recap, the Sixers took out Elton Brand around that time (and later Andre Iguodala). Though their lead was closing due to some sloppy play, the Bulls offense was essentially running out the clock at that point. And the Sixers make 12 point leads seem like 40.
After the game Thibodeau defended himself by basically saying that these things can happen. And that's true. But such questions aren't about this one, completely devastating, injury. It's a season-long philosophy of taking unnecessary risks in games well in hand. If you're of the mindset that Thibs can't receive some blame for this, then you're basically saying you wouldn't fault a coach for playing any player as much as possible, as 'injuries happen'.
It's not just this particular opponent and time/score, it's about a player that has been battling injuries for weeks and not yet playing full games. This is me playing fake doctor again, but it seems reasonable to think fatigue and compensating for other injuries just may have a part in what happened to Rose's left leg today. Yes, Rose needed minutes to ramp-up his effectiveness to 100%, and also some more experience closing out games. But the final minutes of a victory-in-hand wasn't going to help that too much (outside of getting him that triple-double, but that's for us dumb fans not the coach), and Thibs had to be mindful of the risk in keeping this particular injury-plagued player out there in that time. Such questions now isn't 'working backwards', as Thibs suggested. It's been something plenty of people have remarked upon all season, and in this game as well. Nobody wants to be adamant about it because there's no joy in saying 'I told you so' when it happens, but it's completely untrue that Thibs' usage of Rose wouldn't be a question if the result wasn't what it was.
That's not to say that there'd be the opposite result if Rose was sitting in those final minutes. Maybe his body, going through so much in this lockout-compressed season, was going to give out eventually, some way. At many points this season when he, or Deng, or Rip went down, it was tempting to feel that this just wasn't the Bulls year.
But this severe of an injury to Rose is beyond that, which makes it hurt all the more. Even thinking worst-case wasn't preparation for the actual-case.
There's moving-on, too. There's still a playoff run to be had. This is still a very good and determined team, and they can win this series and maybe the next. I'll do my best (and special thanks to Alex for filling in on this crazy day while I was at the UC) to keep following and covering it. Derrick Rose will come back and be a Chicago Bull for many years. But, today, this championship-contending season is over. And there are major questions to answer as to when we can expect the next one to come our way again.