When Derrick Rose went down with an ACL tear with just over a minute to play in Game one against the Sixers, I was genuinely upset. Not because I was cheering for the Bulls in the series or because I’m a big D-Rose fan, but because without him, the Bulls can’t reach their full potential. Most of the basketball experts immediately started making doomsday proclamations about a Chicago team without Rose, saying it would be tough for them to even advance out of the first round. There might be some validity to those claims after Philadelphia stunned the Bulls in Game 2 with a 109-92 win on Chicago’s floor. The Sixers’ point guards killed a Derrick Rose-less Bulls team, with Jrue Holiday scoring 26 and Lou Williams adding in 20 of his own. So now the question must once again be posed to Tom Thibodeau’s squad: How far can the Bulls go with Derrick Rose on the sideline?
I’d like to say that Game 2 was just a fluke, a game that was destined to go Philly’s way after such a shocking and season-altering injury had occurred just a few days before. But the way the Sixers attacked Chicago with their point guards, even though this Bulls team has statistically played better defense in the past without Rose, raises some concern about the rest of this series as it shifts back to Philadelphia for the next two games. But despite the fact that Philly’s point guards grossly outscored Chicago’s (46 for Holiday and Williams compared to 27 between C.J. Watson and John Lucas), this beatdown was more about the Bulls than it was about the Sixers. In the regular season, Chicago was 18-9 without Derrick Rose. How? Because they played defense. Because they rebounded. And because Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer stepped up offensively. None of those things happened in Chicago’s awful second half collapse.
A normally stingy Chicago defense gave up 109 points to a Sixers team that has struggled to score all year. They were outscored 36-14 in the third quarter, the only time in franchise history a Bulls team has been outscored by 20 points in the third quarter. The gave up 59 percent shooting on the game as the Sixers got alley-oop after alley-oop during their big run to open the second half. They let Evan Turner walk all over their defense with 19 points, and this was the guy who Chicago had every reason to shut down after he ran his mouth and vilified himself for the entire first round with his outspoken comments about matching up well with the East-leading Bulls. They even let a guy like Lavoy Allen flirt with a double double (11 points and 9 rebounds). On the boards, the Bulls were out-rebounded by a smaller Sixers lineup, 38-32. But worst of all, no one other than Joakim Noah and John Lucas had proficient games. While Noah racked up 21 points, eight rebounds, five assists and one steal, Luol Deng finished with 8 points on 3-of-12 shooting while Carlos Boozer only had 9 points on 4-of-10 shooting.
Chicago’s Game 2 woes might have been a fluke; Philly doesn’t score that well consistently, Chicago normally plays defense and rebounds better, and Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer have nowhere to go but up after their appalling performances. But if this shell-shocked team continues to flounder without their floor leader and doesn’t harness that team basketball that got them so many wins with Rose sidelined, they might not advance past the first round against a truly weaker opponent. No disrespect to Philadelphia, but even without Derrick Rose on the floor, Chicago is a much better all-around team. Don’t forget that this is the same team that has beaten the Heat and other East-contending teams without their star point guard in uniform. Tom Thibodeau, aside from the questionable decision to keep Rose in the game so late, was a Coach of the Year candidate and has turned his team into a defensively minded, hard-nosed team that knows how to win. I still like Chicago in this series, but they need to get back on track and play their brand of basketball with two tough games in Philadelphia coming up.