CHICAGO – It was almost like Willis Reed limping through the tunnel again at Madison Square Garden, providing all the emotion and inspiration for the New York Knicks before Game 7 of the 1970 Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Except that Derrick Rose didn’t play. And the Chicago Bulls didn’t win, instead falling to the Philadelphia 76ers 109-92 in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference first-round series, evening the best-of-seven showdown at one game each.
It was going to be a tricky emotional night for the Bulls and their fans from the start. They faced going forward in this postseason without Rose, whose torn ACL in his left knee ended his season and severely undercut his teammates’ ambitions. Then Rose limped out just before tipoff in a black sweatsuit and matching black leg brace, with an absolutely forlorn look on his face.
The crowd cheered in appreciation, but the reminder of what had happened three days earlier and whom the team no longer could lean on hung in the air after Rose headed up to a luxury suite. The Bulls played well enough for a half, leading 55-47 at halftime after a particularly inspired second quarter by center Joakim Noah (8 points, 3 rebounds, 4-of-4 shooting). But the Sixers were confident too, hanging close – and then taking complete control in the third quarter.
Philadelphia outscored the Bulls 36-14. It missed only seven of its 22 shots, outrebounded the home team 14-5, limited Chicago to 5-of-20 shooting and got 18 points combined from Evan Turner (11) and Jrue Holiday (7). The Sixers continued to outhustle and outrun Chicago in the fourth, and by the five-minute mark of the final quarter, fans were streaming out of United Center. C.J. Watson, Rose’s backup, lost his personal matchup with Holiday, 26-12.
And Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer, with eight and nine points respectively, were horrible in a team-wide flat performance.
The Bulls head to Philadelphia now for Games 3 (Friday) and 4 (Sunday) with no momentum, a lot of doubt, gloom and doom about this postseason and questions even about next season, so dependent on Rose’s recovery and rehab. The Captain himself might not have been able to inspire the troops for this one.