Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Derrick Rose: Before and After

On Saturday morning, I managed to haul myself and all my luggage to the Montreal airport, saying good-bye, good riddance to my freshman dorm room, nearly puking in the cab ride on the way (you can't have a quiet last night in town in Montreal). A couple of hours later, I landed in Chicago and hopped into my Dad's truck, ready to drive back home. As soon as we left the parking garage, Dad flicked on the radio for the Bulls game. Crap, the Bulls game. It was the playoffs already? The shortened season had sped everything up- the playoffs started pretty immediately after the rushed season. Wasn't the All Star Game like a month ago? Well, anyway, the Bulls were on, and they were beating the crap out of the 76ers. It was the second quarter, and Derrick Rose seemed to be playing near his peak- the announcers were already predicting a triple double, as Rose had ten points, six assists and four rebounds.

We got home in time for the second half, and Rose continued to dominate, and the Bulls pulled away in the third quarter. I switched over to Flyers-Devils, and eventually left around three to watch a high school water polo game (note: my old team looked good.) So, while I was gone, I missed the moment where the Sixers made a little run at the end of the game, and Derrick Rose was put back in the game. I missed the part where he drove to the basket, made an awkward move, leapt for yet another lay up, and clutched at his knee in mid air. He grimaced in pain on the ground. He was helped off the floor. I was completely unaware of this, in the dungeon of my high school's pool, but I came home in time to log onto twitter and see the pleas of Bulls fans, hoping that Rose was ok. Not soon after, the Bulls officially released their bombshell- Derrick Rose had torn his ACL and would be out for the playoffs. 

There go the Summer Olympics, for one- and the Olympics were going to be an awesome battle between Rose and Chris Paul for the starting point guard spot on the loaded US team. There goes the Bulls title hopes. The Bulls were able to go 18-9 without Rose this season, but against some crappy teams, working their ass off every night, and not in the playoffs. Sure, they might get past Philadelphia, and could beat Atlanta in the next round, but without a star (or John Lucas III morphing into a star- slow progress so far), this team cannot win a championship. Rose is out. He was banged up all season, but this is a career- changer, something that you can't come back from quickly, and something that may force him to alter his style of play. Rose's whole game has been predicated on his quickness in getting to the basket. As with Chris Paul, who suffered the same injury a couple years ago, Rose will have to deal with his 'new' knee. For Paul, it sapped much of his quickness and forced him to become more of a 'pure' point guard- less drives, more passes. That'll be Rose's challenge as he recovers from this injury.

On Tuesday, the Bulls came out and attempted to rally around Rose's injury and prove they could win without him. They started off well, grabbing a big lead in the second quarter. In the second half, though, their defense started to fall apart (which probably couldn't have been solved by Rose) and their offense stalled, settling for jump shots. They lost by 17. The Bulls don't have a consistent shot maker, and no one can drive with the efficiency of Rose. The Sixers defense simply had to press on the perimeter, and they could shut down the Bulls. Yeah, they could still win this series, maybe the next, but this was not a title team. Rose is out, and so are the Bulls.

I realize I haven't said much about the Bulls this year- but they have been the solid bedrock in what has been a crappy sports year for me. The Cubs were always bad; the Bills started well and fizzled out; the Sabres bottomed out, made an epic comeback run, and then failed right at the end. Through all that, I could always look to the Bulls and say, hey, they're pretty good. This team could contend for the championship. I'll admit it, the NBA is not my favorite league and basketball is not my favorite sport, but the Bulls are the one team I like with a serious chance at a title in the near future (try getting to the playoffs, Bills, Cubs and Sabres). They gutted through a regular season full of injury and got the NBA's best record. Somehow. And they seemed all put together going into the playoffs. There was something to look forward to once I got home. But that all vanished as Rose grabbed his knee in mid-air. It's not fair.  

We're past the point where we can blame Tom Thibodeau for having Rose in the game- as we saw in the  Clippers-Grizzlies game, a comeback was certainly possible. Besides, Rose needed conditioning and crunch time minutes to get him back into playoff shape. There's an argument to be made that the compressed schedule due to the lockout contributed to this injury. I merely think that it accelerated the process.  Rose has always played, seemingly, at the limits of human athleticism. How to explain someone his height, his size, could move so fast, jump so high. He threw himself into the middle of the defense, bouncing off of bodies, twisting through contact in mid air to make another ridiculous lay up, or a thunderous dunk. He got hacked and hit by other players. He played, in a word, bravely, or, perhaps, dangerously. With every drive, he threw himself into a minefield, landing safely after every trip. We often forget that athletes, despite their freakish physical gifts, have bodies just like ours, with finite limitations, things it simply cannot do. Derrick Rose was banged up all season, a body rebelling against itself. His last drive was the tipping point, something stretched and stretched until it finally snapped. If it wasn't in that game, it would've come soon- there was only so much more that he could've taken. Hopefully he comes back and can play at nearly the same level as before the injury, throwing himself towards the basket with the same combination of speed and hops. Maybe he'll be a different player, though, and we'll look back at the first years of his career, Derrick Rose 1.0, who dove into the game till it broke him, irreparably changed his game.