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CHICAGO – Chicago Bulls All-Star guard Derrick Rose, seemingly back to himself after being out with a variety of injuries for most of the second half of the NBA season, injured his left knee with 1:10 left in what was about to be a much celebrated victory Saturday against the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 1 of their playoff series.
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Rose, who has had a variety of injuries all season, was helped off the court after scoring 23 points — overcoming a 1-for-7 shooting start — with nine rebounds and nine assists.
The air definitely went out of the building when Rose, who led all scorers, was helped off in what became a 103-91 victory for the Bulls.
With the game in hand, the question is: Why was Rose still in the game?
“Yeah, I don’t work backwards like you guys do. The score was going the other way,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said.
Sixers forward Andre Iguodala wasn’t surprised Rose was still in the game: “It’s the playoffs. Some things happen at times. You can’t fault a guy being in.”
Asked about the timing of Rose’s injury, Thibodeau said, “It’s part of the game. There are going to be injuries. … You can get hurt any time. You’ve got to deal with it. He’s had a lot of injuries this year, it’s unfortunate. But we’ll deal with it.”
Sixers coach Doug Collins said the injury was “awful.
“When I play teams I want to beat them at their best. I hope the kid comes back,” Collins said.
In a postgame report, TNT’s Cheryl Miller said: “I’ve never been in a packed arena where the top player went down, and the arena went silent. It was eerie.” She added she was told Rose was in pain.
Rose was taken to Chicago’s Rush Hospital, where his brother said the All-Star would be getting an MRI.
“He’s going to be examined, and then they’ll know,” Thibodeau said.
The mood in the Chicago locker room was as if the team had lost. Players were down and quiet.
“We’re definitely worried. If it’s a little injury, he wouldn’t go down like that,” foward Luol Deng said. “It looked bad, so right now we’re just hoping for the best.”
Asked why Rose still was playing, Deng said: “I don’t know why you would question (that). It’s a playoff game. … He’s playing well and we want him to get his rhythm.”
Guard Rip Hamilton‘s reaction? “My heart kind of dropped.”
Center Joakim Noah, who talked to Rose, said the All-Star’s mood was “as positive as can be. … “Of course, we’re praying that he’s all right but we know that we can play ball without Derrick, as well.”
On the play, Rose drove the lane, stopped quickly and jumped, dishing to a team as his face showed pain. When he came down, he grabbed his left knee and fell to the floor, then was helped off the court with his arms on the shoulders of trainers.
Losing Rose would obviously be a huge blow for a team that made the conference finals last season and captured the top overall seed for the second year in a row.
“We need all 14 of us,” said guard John Lucas III, who would be one of the players used if Rose can’t go.”
The Bulls, who recorded the NBA’s best record despite missing Rip Hamilton and Rose for extended periods, started their complete first unit for just the 16th time this year and ran their record to 14-2 when the starters are together.
Rose and Hamilton started only 18 games together in the regular season, but they looked in sync Saturday. At one point in the second quarter, they traded passes back and forth on a fast break, with Hamilton dishing to Rose under the basket for a lay-up.
Hamilton was hot early, scoring 11 points in the first 7 ½ minutes of the game, finishing with 19 points.
Rose started only 39 of his team’s 66 games, sidelined by back, groin, toe and ankle injuries. The latest, an ankle sprained, sidelined him for four of the team’s last six games, five of its last 10.
He struggled in the first quarter, missing several outside shots. He showed his signature quickness on drives, but could only finish off one of the plays in the first 12 minutes. After sitting the first 5 ½ minutes of the second quarter, he caught fire near the end of the half, hitting three shots in a row.
Elton Brand led the Sixers with 19 points, while Chicago product Evan Turner, booed repeatedly for his comments that the Sixers were “dodging the tougher team” in their match-up with the Bulls instead of the Miami Heat, scored 12.