I’m with Tom Thibodeau on this one.
I’d have kept Derrick Rose in the game, too.
I expect a lot of screaming about the oft-injured MVP playing late enough into a game that he would be forced to leave injured. I expect Thibodeau to get charred for leaving him in. I expect to be one of the few who backs the Bulls coach.
The Bulls had been up by 20 points with less than six minutes remaining in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series against Philadelphia in the United Center on Saturday. But they were giving away the lead. They were costing themselves with bad shots and turnovers.
Suddenly, it was down to 12, and in this league, that’s not enough, certainly not enough to bring your best player and leading scorer to the bench. With 1:20 to go in the game, Rose had the ball in his hands. That’s the way you’d want it.
Rose drove to the hoop, planted his left foot hard, and injured his left knee. Badly, it appeared. Two words for you: Uh and oh.
The Bulls’ dreams of another title yelped in midair. The Bulls’ hopes for banner No. 7 crumpled to the floor. The Bulls’ plans for another ring night lay on the baseline for several minutes before requiring help to the locker room. Rose appeared to be able to put some pressure on the leg as he exited with each arm around a trainer, but that feels like hollow optimism.
That the Bulls would win by 12 is deceptive to the moment in question. Thibodeau coaches the game that’s there, and the game wasn’t over in that moment.
“I don’t work backwards like you guys,’’ a pained Thibodeau said amid the second-guessing following a 103-91 win over Philadelphia. “The score was going the other way.’’
Rose shot poorly but still poured in 23 points and was one rebound and assist short of a triple double. He showed a good deal of progress in overcoming the five injuries that cost his playing time this season.
Still, the Bulls hadn’t put away the Sixers.
“He’s got to play,’’ Thibodeau said. “He has to work on closing. He has to work on finishing. Our team, we didn’t handle that great.’’
Guessing about resting a star isn’t an option. Winning is the only option, and Rose is about winning. So is Thibodeau. That’s the point. That’s why Rose was still in there.
If the Bulls had played better with that 20-point lead, this wouldn’t be a story. They didn't. Blame the players -- and that includes Rose -- not the coach.