Inside the Sixers: Rose-less Bulls still the favorite, but Sixers have a chance

Posted: April 29, 2012

The feeling of inevitability that was attached to this best-of-seven series between the 76ers and the Chicago Bulls from the moment it was announced never hinged on whether or not Derrick Rose would be available to play or at what level he would play, if healthy.

But late in the Bulls' relatively easy Game 1 victory, the reigning MVP collapsed in a heap, writhing in pain and clutching his left knee.

While the ball headed back up court, the sellout (21,943) crowd in the United Center fell silent. Seemingly, as if under the direction of a conductor, the fans rose, many of them standing on the sea of red seats, to see what had befallen Rose, who landed awkwardly before hopping and then falling to the floor.

Rose suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and is done for the playoffs.

Now a team that had its sights set on winning its first title since Michael Jordan led them to the last of six, no matter how much chutzpah they have demonstrated without Rose this season, has to significantly modify its aspirations.

What does this mean for the Sixers? Well, it could be interesting.

While the Bulls were a good team (18-9) in 27 games without Rose this season, they were not, and are not, a great one. The Sixers wanted the Bulls in the first round because they viewed them as a better matchup, even with Rose, than Miami. And even though many of the denizens of the Second City took exception to that notion, it's true.

Now, factor in the excision of Rose from that lineup, and the matchup is even better for the Sixers.

The Bulls are a hardened bunch, made so by their hard-driving coach, Tom Thibodeau. In their heart of hearts they know they now have no shot at winning it all. A window of opportunity has opened up for the Sixers. A team that was disjointed and fractured down the stretch, one that backed into the playoffs, now has seen its chances for victory receive a shot in the arm.

The Sixers went 1-2 against the Bulls in the regular season, and they actually defeated the Bulls once with Rose in the lineup. However, that victory, a 98-82 throttling at the Wells Fargo Center, came against a Bulls team that was missing starters Richard Hamilton and Luol Deng.

In the one meeting where Rose - who has been bothered by foot, groin, thumb, and back issues - was himself, and appeared to be completely unencumbered by an injury, Rose went for 35 points.

For their part, after they shook off their lethargy and recovered from a 1-for-9 shooting start, the Sixers were competitive in the middle section of Saturday's game, whittling down what had been a 13-point Chicago lead to just 53-48 with a little less than 10 minutes to play in the third quarter.

But Rose, who finished a rebound and an assist shy of a triple-double, started looking very much like his old self right up until the horrible injury occurred.

Make no mistake about it, Chicago still feels very much as if it can defeat the Sixers, even without Rose. While none of the players gathered at their Deerfield, Ill., practice facility on Thursday directly addressed Sixer guard Evan Turner's vocalizing that he preferred to play the Bulls in the first round rather than Miami, Bulls players, particularly center Joakim Noah, let it be known through their body language that this was going to be used as motivation.

No one wants this for Derrick Rose, least of all the players in the Sixers locker room, all of whom prefaced their postgame comments by wishing him well.

But as coach Doug Collins has said all season long when the Sixers faced a shorthanded team, there are no asterisks placed next to a game upon its conclusion. And that's going to be the case in this series if the Sixers can win it.


Contact staff writer John N. Mitchell at jmitchell@philly.com or follow on Twitter @JmitchInquirer.

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