By Dan Bernstein
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS)Players play. Got it.
There’s a difference between being hurt and being injured. Check.
You can’t live your life in a state of constant worry, trying to protect well-conditioned, professional athletes from the perils of their trade. True enough.
The Bulls led the hapless Sixers by 12 points with 74 seconds left, and Derrick Rose was still on the floor, working his way back into shape after his latest injury in a season marred by games missed due to a torn groin, sprained toe, swollen ankles, back spasms and other maladies both forgotten and unknown.
Home game, 12 points. 1:14.
Rose jump-stopped as he has so many times, landed oddly, and crumpled to the United Center deck. The trainers performed the grim field-tests for ligament stability. There were no smiles as Rose was helped away, likely dragging the Bulls’ championship hopes with him down the linoleum-floored corridor to the locker room. He will have an MRI, but nothing looks good at press time. (Update: The MRI showed Rose suffered a torn ACL in his left knee and is done for the season.)
Tom Thibodeau has been criticized for two seasons for not better protecting Rose from himself by sitting him late in decided games, and such thoughts have been expressed frequently and pointedly in this very space.
“I don’t work backwards like you guys,” Thibodeau said after the game. “The score was going the other way. We weren’t closing the game the right way.”
Well it’s sure closed, it appears. And we’re not “working backwards.” The more concerned observers among us have said it every game, before the fact: get him out of there before something awful occurs.
Twelve points, 1:14.
“He’s gotta play,” Thibodeau continued, when pressed further. “We sat him until the seven-minute mark of the fourth, and he’s gotta work on closing, gotta work on finishing.”
Then came the It Can Happen Any Time bit. “There’s gonna be injuries,” he said. “Guy could get hurt in practice, guy could get hurt in the first five minutes of the game. The more he plays, the better he gets.”
First of all, this is not a “guy.” Derrick Rose is the only reason there is any possibility of winning another NBA title. He is the star at the time of stars, entrusted to transcend. This is not the season of John Lucas III, C.J. Watson and Mike James.
Second, he is not healthy. The injuries he has battled all year have piled up on each other, as compensations both mental and physical already had him playing as if the all-important connection between brain and body wasn’t quite right. We even saw it in this game – while the threes were falling, that last bit of explosiveness had yet to return.
That should change the risk calculation, right?
It can happen any time, of course. But a coach can make sure there are times when it can’t, by removing a recovering, invaluable asset from harm’s way.
The score was going the wrong way, fine, but the Bulls were not going to lose that game to that team. Even if Rose really does need to play to get better, and even if he does need to practice closing out games, was it still worth it?
For a long time, it has looked like something like this could happen.
Something like this just happened.
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