Now that Miami has clinched the NBA Finals with a decisive Game 5 victory, we can most accurately assess what impact Derrick Rose’s knee injury may have had in the 2012 NBA Playoffs. Think back nearly two months ago, when Chicago (50-16) was the NBA’s top seed—holding the tiebreaker over San Antonio thanks to a head-to-head victory—with its star point guard seemingly back at full strength. With minutes remaining in Game 1 against Philadelphia, Rose landed awkwardly and tore his ACL, ending his season and the Bulls’ chances at a title.
But would his presence have changed anything? Would a healthy Rose have helped Chicago topple Boston and then Miami in the East? Could the Bulls have handled the Thunder and actually taken home the title for themselves?
Let’s start with Boston. Not only did Chicago win two of three games against the Celtics without Rose—the home team won each game—but the Bulls also beat Boston on the road in their only matchup with the reigning MVP in the lineup. While Boston’s Big Three have always proven a tough out, the Celtics’ propensity to slip into offensive comas would have been severely aggravated by Tom Thibodeau’s swarming defense, putting immense pressure on Rajon Rondo. With Rondo’s inconsistent jump shot and the Celtics’ aging legs, the Rose-led Bulls could probably dispatch Boston in five or six games and move on to play Miami.
Unfortunately, if last year was any indication, Chicago would have had its hands full with Miami’s Big Three, led by 3-time MVP LeBron James. The Heat took down the top-seeded Bulls in just five games in the 2011 East Finals, as James defended Rose one-on-one down the stretch and Chicago’s offense ground to a halt.
So why would 2012 have been any different? Well, the Bulls may have been able to take advantage of Chris Bosh’s absence—he missed the first four games of the series and was limited in the final three—particularly with their size down low. Chicago’s collection of big men, including Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, Taj Gibson and Omer Asik would have forced Miami to play bigger lineups, limiting the Heat’s offensive and defensive versatility with James and Dwyane Wade.
Still, unless Rose could suddenly solve LeBron’s defense, Chicago’s late-game scoring woes would leave Miami with the scoreline tight, which could be the case in every game of a defensive, half-court series. Coupled with the determination with which LeBron attacked these playoffs—we won’t soon forget the 45 points on 19-26 shooting and 15 rebounds he dropped in a must-win Game 6 in Boston—the Bulls’ scoring struggles would be tough to overcome. So even with Bosh’s injury, it’s hard to see Chicago flipping the script from the 2011 Conference Finals.
So did Rose’s knee injury really change anything? Well, it helped a young 76ers team sneak into the second round and push Boston to seven games. Even more surprising, it gave Boston’s veteran trio one last run at an NBA title more than a year after everyone had written them off. Considering the Celtics had a chance to oust Miami in six games before the Heat’s improbable win in Boston, Rose’s ACL tear may have actually led to a more intriguing conference finals matchup than a Bulls-Heat rematch.
Unfortunately for the Bulls, it seems like 2012 just wasn’t their year, injury or no injury. And with LeBron and Co. finally earning a championship and the Thunder looking ready to rule the West for a decade, Chicago’s road may only get tougher in the future.
Leave a Reply