Playing Game 1 in the best-of-seven quarterfinals of the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Chicago Bulls coasted to a 103-91 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday afternoon at the United Center.
The Bulls placed five players in double figures against the Sixers. Derrick Rose flirted with a triple-double throughout the game and improved as the afternoon wore on, with 23 points, nine rebounds and nine assists in 37 minutes of action. Rip Hamilton lived up the billing and dropped an efficient 19 points on 6-for-7 shooting in just 26 minutes. Luol Deng added 17 points, while Joakim Noah was the Bulls’ high-energy man all day and had 12 points and 13 rebounds.
However, the post-game storyline will be dominated by the fact that Rose suffered an apparent left knee injury in the final minutes of the fourth quarter when he drove straight to the lane, took a hopstep and fell without taking contact. He lied on the floor for several minutes before being guided to the locker room by two members of the Bulls’ training staff. All the air out of the Bulls’ win left the building due to Rose’s injury, and commentators, media members and players alike seemed to come to the realization that the reigning NBA MVP suffered a major ailment this time around.
After the Sixers started the game on a three-pointer by Jrue Holiday, the Bulls responded with a 10-0 run that featured all the elements that propelled them to the top overall seed in the league. They led by as many as nine points in the first quarter, and Tom Thibodeau went to three reserves at the 3 minute, 32 second mark of the frame. However, the Sixers responded with an 8-3 stretch to close to get within 28-24 through one quarter of play. That’s when the Bulls’ “Bench Mob” started to afflict their damage, extending the team’s lead before the starters returned to the court and ended the first half up 53-42. While Elton Brand had 15 of his team-high 19 points in the first 24 minutes of play, the Sixers weren’t getting much offense from other sources while the Bulls were getting contribution across the board and cleaned up the glass as well as put on a passing exhibition.
In an action-packed third quarter, the Bulls began the frame slowly, allowing the Sixers to go on a 6-0 run to start, but they picked it up as it went on. With 4 minutes, 35 seconds left in the third, both teams got into a brief skirmish. Chicago product-turned-villain Evan Turner – who was booed loudly throughout the day and ended up with – delivered a hard foul on Noah and then got tangled up with Carlos Boozer. Then, Hamilton ran to the scene and had words for the Sixers, namely Brand and Turner, before Rose entered the huddle, yelling and clapping in the direction of Turner and other Philadelphia players. Hamilton, Brand and Rose all picked up technical fouls on the sequence, which set the tone for the rest of the game. The Bulls closed the third on a 7-2 run to take a 79-66 lead into the fourth. Behind hot shooting by Kyle Korver (11 points) and strong defense, the Bulls never looked back and coasted to the win, as the Sixers looked dejected at certain points of the fourth.
Even though the Bulls themselves appeared absolutely stunned with Rose’s fall, they exhibited toughness and received good outings from multiple sources. Thibodeau’s bunch also won all the intangible battles, outrebounding the Sixers 47-38, diving for loose balls all afternoon, and holding the visitors to a paltry 39.8 percent shooting. And before Rose sustained the knee injury, he appeared to be regaining his offensive touch. The Bulls’ star was just 1-for-7 at one points, 2-for-9 at another, but finished 9-for-23 and drained three 3-pointers in the second half.
Now, the only thing that matters for the Bulls is Rose’s health status. Everyone in Chicago knows the Bulls need Rose to reach the next level, and the most frustrating part for those involved is the fact that Rose finally was looking like his usual self, then he dropped once again in what has been an injury-plagued season. The Bulls played well in Game 1 to take a 1-0 series lead, but now all the focus and attention shifts to Rose.
Next up, the Bulls hit the practice floor Sunday and Monday before taking on the Sixers in Game 2 Tuesday night at the United Center.