The 76ers supposedly favored a matchup with the top-seeded Bulls instead of the second-seeded Heat because they felt they matched up better than the Bulls. That logic appeared to be faulty in Game 1 when the Bulls, who weren’t thrilled to hear that they were the Sixers’ preferred opponent, handed the visiting Sixers an emphatic 103-91 defeat.
Then again, the Sixers won’t have to worry about matching up with Bulls star Derrick Rose for the rest of the series.
Rose finished with 23 points, nine rebounds and nine assists, but he crumpled to the floor after injuring his left knee on a jump stop with approximately 1:20 remaining in game. He walked off the floor with assistance and went to the hospital for an MRI, where the injury was diagnosed as a season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau was asked why the often-injured Rose was still in the game when the Bulls were ahead by 14.
“I don’t work backwards, like you guys (the media) do,” Thibodeau said. “The score was going the other way.”
An injury to Rose, the reigning NBA MVP, changes the complexion of the series. But Sixers head coach Doug Collins wasn’t exactly smiling at what could be the Sixers’ good fortune.
“When we play that team, I want them to be at their best,” Collins said. “I hope the kid is (not seriously injured).”
Collins refused to speculate on whether Rose should have been in the game at that juncture. It’s telling, however, that Collins had Andre Iguodala and Evan Turner, who injured his hamstring before the regular-season finale against Detroit, on the bench in the final minutes. Sixers forward Thaddeus Young wasn’t as diplomatic as Collins.
“(The injury) definitely changes a lot,” Young said. “He kind of initiates everything they do. It’s unfortunate. I think he kind of should have been out (of the game) at that time.”
But just because Rose can’t return during this series doesn’t guarantee the Sixers will win the series.
As they did by winning their St. Patrick’s Day meeting with the Sixers this season, when Rose was sidelined, the Bulls demonstrated once again that they are not a one-man team. Rose made just one of nine shots during the first quarter, but still led the Sixers, 28-24. Richard Hamilton scored 11 of his 19 points during the first quarter.
The Sixers actually tied the game in the first minute of the second quarter on a running jumper by the heavily booed Turner, who angered fans in his hometown of Chicago by saying the Sixers match up better with the Bulls than with the Heat.
The Bulls responded to Turner’s jumper with a 9-0 run. C.J. Watson, Rose’s backup, sparked the run by forcing a turnover and feeding Luol Deng for a layup and then hitting a long jumper of his own.
“Any time we made a little move on them, they would hit us with one of those little spurts,” Collins said, “and that’s what championship teams do.”
The Bulls entered halftime with a 53-42 lead. They kept the Sixers at arm’s length the rest of the way, at one point stretching their lead to 20 points on a Rose 3-pointer midway through the fourth quarter.
In terms of matchups, the Bulls won all over the court. Sixers centers Lavoy Allen and Spencer Hawes combined for nine points and 10 rebounds. Hawes had a decidedly unhappy 24th birthday celebration by not scoring until 4:54 remained in the game. By contrast, Bulls center Joakim Noah scored 12 points and snared 13 rebounds.
Rose won the point guard battle with Holiday (16 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists). Deng (17 points, 6 rebounds) won his small forward battle with Iguodala (11 points on 3-of-11 shooting, 6 rebounds, 5 assists). But the most lopsided matchup came at off-guard.
Chicago off-guard Hamilton poured in 19 points. By contrast, starter Jodie Meeks scored just two points and was quickly pulled from the game in favor of Turner. Playing nearly 30 minutes, Turner scored 12 points and handed out five assists.
“I thought Evan played well,” Collins said. “I thought he played very, very well.”
Turner was one of the few Sixers who seemed to have some juice in his game. There was energy when Turner was on the court, including when he got tangled up with burly Bulls forward Carlos Boozer after Turner had swatted Noah in the head underneath the basket.
But Turner’s efforts weren’t enough to alter the disparity at off-guard. In addition to the damage done by Hamilton, Kyle Korver came off the bench to score 11 points on 5-for-8 shooting. Korver scored seven of his points during during the first five minutes of the fourth quarter, which extended the Bulls’ lead to 19 and removed any doubt about the outcome.
Korver, the former Sixer, certainly had more success than Lou Williams. The Bulls squelched Williams’ offense, limiting his shots and removing him as a factor. He made just 1 of 8 shots from the field and finished with nine points.
“They made a conscious effort to take Lou Williams, our leading scorer, out of the game,” Collins said.
The Bulls’ efforts to stop Williams aren’t a one-game anomaly. He hasn’t reached double figures against the Bulls since scoring 14 points in early February in the first meeting between these teams this season.
The only matchup in which the Sixers held their own was at power forward. Elton Brand scored 19 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Boozer finished with nine points and seven rebounds.
Without Rose, the Sixers may have an advantage at point guard. Then again, maybe that’s not necessarily the case. Watson isn’t a pushover. He burned the Sixers for 20 points in two of the teams’ three meetings during the regular season.
The Sixers certainly match up better with the Bulls without Rose in their lineup. Whether that’s enough to change the outcome remains to be seen.