DEERFIELD, Ill. — No one was storming the Chicago Bulls’ practice facility Sunday with torches and pitchforks, demanding Tom Thibodeau’s head on a pike. Those who were blaming the Bulls head coach for the catastrophic, postseason-snuffing knee injury to MVP guard Derrick Rose most stuck to the taverns, the airwaves and the Internet.
Still, with Rose done for the playoffs — he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee with 80 seconds left in Chicago’s 103-91 victory in Game 1 of its series against Philadelphia Saturday — and his team’s prospects for a Finals run looking bleak, some folks continued to wonder why Rose even was in the game at that point. The Bulls were up 12, at home. Heck, Sixers coach Doug Collins even had starters Andre Iguodala, Jrue Holiday and Elton Brand on the bench.
“Hey look, you make those decisions based on what’s going on in the game. That’s what I did,” Thibodeau said, re-visiting the topic Sunday. “Now looking back, I don’t think there was a problem. It was a 12-point game with a minute and a half to go.”
Chicago’s lead had been 20 three minutes earlier. Rose had played sparingly, appearing in only six of 17 games through Saturday, and was in his 38th minute when his ACL snapped. Players from both locker rooms backed Thibodeau, as did Collins. And Bulls’ veteran Richard Hamilton noted that, early in a playoff series, you don’t want to give an opponent anything that might build carryover confidence — like a score-tightening comeback.
Thibodeau bristled after the game when asked about Rose’s late minutes. But a day later, he said he was OK with the second-guessing. “Nah, that goes with the territory,” he said. “Everyone has a job to do, I understand that part of it. You try to make the best decision for the team.”
Gar Forman, the Bulls’ general manager and one of Thibodeau’s bosses, brushed off the complaints. He and the organization believe Rose’s blown knee was a “freak-type injury” that could have happened early in a game or even in practice.
“There is absolutely no issue there,” Forman said. “It’s a playoff game. They had cut a lead down to 12. We’re going to have our guys on the floor making sure we win the game.”
Thibodeau has thrown heavy workloads at Rose and Luol Deng, in particular, since taking over as Bulls coach prior to 2010-11, a tendency that draws criticism when those two fight injuries. Still, said Forman: “One of the best things he does is pace our team, knowing when to put the pedal to the metal and when to back off. … When it’s time to go hard in practice, when it’s time to not go hard and walk through stuff and when it’s time to give guys days off.”
Just because the Bulls are copacetic on the blow to their title hopes and setback to their franchise player doesn’t mean that all Chicagoans are. There still is plenty of potential blame, real or imagined, if people want to play that game:
Blame it on Thibodeau. It’s one thing to want your best player to flake off rust and flex his “closer” muscles. It’s another when the guy’s unavailability has been the season’s overarching storyline. But Thibs did keep Rose on the bench in the fourth quarter until 7:53.
Blame it on Rose. The Bulls star still was pushing hard, as if taking inventory on his many warehoused skills. He exploded into his knee-crippling leap as if he’d been 100 percent healthy all year. It’s hard to play NBA basketball with a restrictor plate but a little pacing might have helped. Except that he was so darn joyful to be out there finally.
Blame it on the stats sheet. Rose had 23 points, nine rebounds and nine assists when he spied Carlos Boozer along the right baseline. If he was trying to bump his assists to double figures — a big “if” according to those who know Rose’s disregard for individual acclaim — that might have led to the torque he put on his knee as he jumped and twisted in one motion. A straight-ahead leap into Philly center Spencer Hawes might have been less harmful.
Blame it on the Sixers. They were the ones cinching up the score, rather than taking their lumps like proper road kill.
Blame it on Evan Turner. Rose’s rivalry with Turner, a high school foe, might have kept extra adrenaline flowing extra-late in Game 1, leading to the costly burst near the end.
Blame it on the burgers. Fans at United Center victories, when the Bulls score 100 or more, can trade their ticket stubs for free Big Macs. The score when Rose got hurt: 99-87. Hmm.
Blame it on the Bulls’ training staff. Forman and Thibodeau said the team’s medical staff has assured them that Rose’s six different injuries — sprained toe, back spasms, groin strain, sprained ankle, sore foot and torn ACL — are largely or wholly unrelated and that the point guard isn’t “injury prone.” But there’s no pattern here from past seasons or other players.
Blame it on the NBA. As in 66 games crammed into four months in the post-lockout schedule. Except that Rose only appeared in 39 of them and got more treatment and rest than most players this season.
Blame it on endorsements and commercials. Rose did have a hectic summer schedule after becoming the youngest MVP in NBA history. He traveled the globe and, like everyone else, didn’t know when the lockout suddenly would be lifted. Then he was hustled through a quickie training camp and just two preseason games. But a knee injury in April caused by stuff that happened six-to-nine months earlier?
Blame it on Rio. Nope, this one’s no good. Rose wasn’t even born yet when that 1984 movie with Michael Caine and Demi Moore was made.
“Blame It on the Rain.” Milli Vanilli’s lip-synch scandal blew up, not unlike Rose’s knee, soon after recording this 1989 tune.
Blame it on George W. Bush. He’s probably used to it by now.