MIAMI – The Derrick Rose Watch is in its final hours, so all that huffing and puffing that the Chicago Bulls and the Miami Heat heaped onto Game 2 of their Eastern Conference semifinals series at AmericanAirlines Arena wasn’t all for naught.
It served to move Wednesday night closer to Thursday morning, which gets everything more quickly to Friday’s Game 3 tipoff, the point at which this long rehabilitative sideshow ends once and for all. Either the Bulls’ injured point guard goes for something Hollywood and steps through the darkness onto the court at United Center to a booming embrace … or he emerges again after another pregame shooting session in a suit and sits his way straight into the offseason.
Truly, it is now or it is never. There can be no middle ground.
The “never” part of that equation should have won six weeks ago but has shown itself to be a tough out. Months of daily talk shows and Twitter timelines keep alive the chatter of Rose coming back. This weekend will officially become 12 months after surgery to repair the ACL in his left knee.
The waiting game sucked most of the air out of the Bulls’ regular season – remember, the conventional wisdom suggested Rose would be back in late February or early March – and here it is, still laying claim to what at times has been a remarkable postseason precisely because of his absence.
But it all ends Friday night. Fortunately.
Neither side of the debate looks good right now. The principals and their constituencies could have, and should have, acquitted themselves much better. The ugliness and lopsidedness of Miami’s 115-78 victory Wednesday night turned the fourth quarter into a lab-perfect petri dish in which the debate could grow. Or fester, depending on your take.
Well, they’re all on the clock now.
Those who snarkily question Rose’s manhood and wonder about his commitment to teammates — who are risking pain if not additional injuries by playing through a variety of ailments — and those who appoint themselves guardians of his right to make decisions.
Those who childishly want what they want when they want it. And those content to defer gratification in a city all too comfortable with “Wait till next year” refrains.
This gets dealt with by Friday night.
If Rose is going to come back this spring, if he is going to wake up and decide that, hey, he really, really wants to play, it must be in Game 3. The Bulls need him more now than at any point since their playoff series last year against Philadelphia slipped away.
Yes, their smackdown in Game 2 Wednesday night looked like it should have counted double or triple, so dominant was Miami’s performance and so thorough was the Bulls’ meltdown. But it doesn’t. The emotionally frazzled losers flew back to Chicago late Wednesday with a 1-1 split in their duffel bags.
Now, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and the rest of them not only have to play two games in Chicago but live there for four days, too, getting back a little of what they – or at least, their crowd – gave out.
In what already is a series too chippy by half, the initial reaction to Rose’s return would rival that famous “I’m back” faxed out by Michael Jordan upon his baseball retirement in 1995. It would self-nominate for one of the city’s all-time classic sports moments. No guaranteed payoff, of course, and even a considerable risk of backfire. Still, at a time when teammate Luol Deng was the one coming off a spinal tap, Rose once again would be the guy turning the volume up to 11.
On the other hand …
If Rose has waited this long because the time has not felt right, if he’s still thinking when he ought to be instinctively reacting, then it will not be right. There is no reason to hold out hope for more perfect circumstances. The level of contact in this series is only going to increase, though hopefully the number of technicals, flagrants and ejections won’t keep pace.
(Imagine Rose being out there Wednesday in the middle of all that woofing, maybe even being sent sprawling into the photographers himself by James or Birdman Andersen. Imagine Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and the suits at adidas all gasping and grabbing their wallets in unison.)
Others’ ACL rehab timelines – Ricky Rubio‘s March to December, Iman Shumpert‘s May to January and especially NFL rusher Adrian Peterson‘s Christmas Eve to September – shouldn’t matter at all. If Rose needs another May to October, so be it. Then, he will have eight tune-up games in the preseason in which he won’t be expected to be Derrick Rose quite yet.
Now, it all would be on him. The spotlight. The pressure. The responsibility to be the difference.
When you look at it that way in this now-or-never proposition for Rose in this postseason, now doesn’t stand much of a chance.