CHICAGO — It was fun while it lasted — well, maybe not fun, really, but debating Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau‘s decision to have Derrick Rose in the game with a 12-point lead and 80 seconds left gave disappointed Chicagoans a way to vent and eventually accept the miserable news that Rose’s postseason was over, popped with the torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Others jumped to the conclusion that the NBA’s compressed 66-game season was responsible for that (though Rose only played in 39) and New York guard Iman Shumpert’s similar ACL blowout the same day.
Most of those in and outside the league who staked out strident positions don’t even play doctors on TV. But finally, a real expert weighed in that should snuff the blame game once and for all. An authority on ACLs and sports injuries assured the Associated Press that Rose’s or Shumpert’s setback had little to do with their workload that day or this season.
“There is no evidence that wear and tear, or that kind of issue, playing too much, really has any correlation with ACL injuries in any sport that we’ve ever studied,” Dr. David Altchek from the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York said Sunday.
Rose, last season’s MVP, was hurt in the final minutes of Chicago’s Game 1 victory over Philadelphia, and the Knicks’ Shumpert went down a short while later. The blame game started soon after, with many pointing the finger at the hectic post-lockout schedule.
Boston center Jermaine O’Neal, whose season ended early after wrist surgery, wrote on his Twitter page that it was a “clear sign” of fatigued bodies from a condensed season, writing “2 torn acl injuries to key players!”
But Altchek argues that too much playing could actually make a player less susceptible to the injuries that Rose and Shumpert sustained, because they might lack the type of explosiveness it takes to blow out a knee ligament.
“In fact, I think if you’re tired, you’re a lot less likely to tear your ACL because you’re not going to be as explosive,” said Altchek, who has operated on players such as Josh Howard, David West and Purdue’s Robbie Hummel, and been a consultant for the NBA.
The NBA has responded to most questions about what seems like a greater frequency of injuries this season by assuring reporters that data will be gathered and studied. The league has suggested that, with an increase in games from 14 to 16 per month, much of the attention has been driven by players missing game days — and the media coverage that generates — rather than sitting out a practice or off-day.
Players have talked about the lack of recovery time, and many dealt with the types of injuries — sprains, strains, muscle fatigue — that could have been triggered by heavy usage and limited rest. But Altchek said ACL tears really can’t be prevented and, when resulting from a non-contact play, often occur in the strongest, most fit players. The NBA has had four ACL blowouts this season: Rose, Shumpert, Minnesota’s Ricky Rubio and Oklahoma City’s Eric Maynor.
So Thibodeau should be off the hook officially. Which won’t make many Bulls fans feel much better, but might lighten the guilt or anger load.