Posted May 1 2012 10:06AM - Updated May 1 2012 8:12PM
CHICAGO -- Doug Collins feels horrible about what happened to Derrick Rose the other day and he wants everyone to know it. Whether his team is better off for it or not.
The Philadelphia 76ers' head coach was gracious and caring in the moments immediately after his team's defeat in Game 1, after Rose's postseason dreams and basketball joy ended with a pop of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his left knee. "I admire him so much. I think he's one of the young, bright lights in this NBA," he said of the Chicago Bulls' MVP. "It's awful that Derrick got hurt. When we play teams I want to beat them at their best."
Collins expressed concerns for Rose after practice Sunday when the full severity of Rose's injury was known, and he did it again Monday. In fact, he even glared at a questioner who wondered if the Philadelphia coach might now have to monitor his guys for stray signs of overconfidence. "You're kidding, right? Are we favored to win this series now?" Collins snapped. "OK. So I would think, they beat us in here 89-80 the last time we played and [backup point guard C.J.] Watson had 20, so I would think that would not be a problem."
Professional sports are played in no-mercy leagues, though. Set aside the actual medical trauma that has sidelined Rose now and for the next 6-to-9 months -- let's say, oh, he got abducted by an alien spacecraft and will return someday happy and healthy with incredible stories to tell -- and the fact is, Philly's opponent in a playoff series just lost its best player, a Top 5 talent and the most dangerous Bull in so many ways at crunch time. And look, there's still time for the Sixers to do something about it, six games in which to win four.
That has to perk things up a bit for them heading into Game 2 Tuesday night at United Center, doesn't it?
"Absolutely not," Collins said. "Our focus was the same with Derrick Rose, it's going to be the same without him. There's not a guy on our roster right now who doesn't feel for that young guy -- absolutely feel terribly ..."
Right. Got it. Playoffs. Olympics. Gone. Over.
"So I mean, if the focus goes up, that means we were not very focused in Game 1," Collins said. "We're going to try to play the same way."
Except that the Bulls don't play the same way without Rose. And the Sixers, in matching up and countering, won't necessarily either.
Why else would Collins and his squad have spent so much extra time in preparation Monday -- about 2 ½ hours from the start of their appointed practice time at the UC to the end, with a lengthy video breakdown before they even stepped on the court?
"Yeah, X's & O's are different now," forward Elton Brand said, "because you don't have to trap a guy 25 feet away from the basket because of his explosiveness and quickness. Watson and [John] Lucas III, they bring different aspects to it. They're jump shooters and they can finish at the rim but they're not exploding, creating havoc around that rim. We'll be able to defensive-rebound a lot better -- that's my hope."
Numbers support the idea that, if big players aren't forced to help against the zig-zagging, attacking Rose, they'll be better positioned for the boards. Opponents averaged 29.7 defensive rebounds in the games Rose missed this season, compared to 27.8 when he played.
There were other differences in Chicago as well, and the sample size -- 27 games without Rose in the regular season due to five different injuries -- is significant. With Rose (21.8 ppg), three other Bulls -- Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng and Richard Hamilton -- averaged more than 10 points. Their team shot 46.1 percent, averaged 98.1 points, had a 1.63 assists/turnover ratio, limited foes to 89.4 points and 42.4 percent shooting and posted a 32-7 record.
Without Rose, the Bulls had six players who averaged in double figures; Watson, Lucas and Joakim Noah all nudged above 10 as well. They shot 43.8 percent, averaged 93.9 points and had 1.69 assists for every turnover. They held teams to 86.4 points on 41.8 percent shooting and went 18-9.
Watson started 25 times in Rose's spot, Lucas twice. Watson's scoring went up with his minutes but, facing first-string defenders, his shooting went down. Collins might start Evan Turner on Watson, giving him more size without the Rose quickness concerns.
The Sixers coach said he expects Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau to send Deng and Boozer into the post more, with Rose not around seeking lanes to the basket. Thibodeau also might use Deng, Hamilton and Kyle Korver together as he did Sunday -- Deng as the alleged power forward -- to boost Chicago's shooting.
"C.J.'s more of a spot-up shooter and Derrick's more of an attacker," Sixers forward Andre Iguodala said, "but they do a good job of adjusting and knowing how to make the best out of each player. With this team, it's not that big of a difference. That's just how much praise their team should be given. And their coach. Take out D. Rose, still be a top three or four [team] in the East. Can't take them lightly."
With Rose, the Bulls played at an .821 clip, good for 67 victories in a normal 82-game season. Without him, their .667 pace would have gotten them to 55. And that's where the Sixers felt they were headed after their 20-9 push to mid-February. They sagged for two months (11-21) from a tougher schedule and lack of go-to scoring, then won four of their final five.
"For an eighth seed, I think we had a lot of ambition [in these playoffs]," center Spencer Hawes said. "The way we started off the season, we saw what we were capable of being. I think we still have the confidence of that team that started and finished up, and we look at the middle part like a little bit of an anomaly."
So the gap between these teams is smaller now. The Bulls aren't what they were or hoped to be for this postseason. The Sixers feel they are better than they showed and freed suddenly, in this round, from their worst defensive nightmares. Even if Collins feels terrible, absolutely terrible, about it.
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