When Aaron Brooks stepped onto the floor with the first five to start the second half in the Bulls’ regular-season finale, murmurs could be heard through the United Center as the fan base was likely petrified over whatever could be wrong with Derrick Rose.
After all, everything had been geared toward this postseason, and with the way he played up until Wednesday night, something wrong with Rose wouldn’t be so much ominous as it was expected.
But it was just left knee soreness, and the Bulls point guard pulled himself out from participating in the Bulls’ come-from-behind win over the Atlanta Hawks, which clinched their first-round matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks.
“Not worried,” Rose said afterward. “It’s something I felt before in the past, probably USA (basketball, in the summer). But I felt good. I’m not worried about it coming up again. It’s just tonight wasn’t the night.”
Rose patiently answered queries from the curious media, as there was no injury report released by the team on him as he sat at the end of the bench from the third quarter on.
It’s important to note it wasn’t the right knee, the one Rose had surgery on in late February to remove his meniscus, causing him to miss six weeks of action and placing real doubt on whether he would return to the floor this season.
“He had a little bit of soreness in his knee,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “The guys are kind of nicked up right now, and I want to play it safe. We just decided to sit him out the second half.”
Not only did Rose sit the second half, but Taj Gibson left the game in the third quarter with a left shoulder strain, and the Bulls were already without Joakim Noah and Kirk Hinrich for the evening.
Gibson took a cortisone shot at halftime, and there’s no real concern about him missing Game 1 on Saturday night. Rose’s status doesn’t appear to be up in the air, either, but with this Bulls team for this season, nobody’s taking anything for granted from an availability standpoint.
“I took that at halftime so I’d be feeling a lot better come Saturday,” Gibson said. “I’m OK going forward. Got the shot, looking forward to feeling a lot better tomorrow. Another day of rest, practice, should be fine.
“I was in a lot of pain all yesterday, even in Brooklyn I was in a lot of pain, but I just kept playing, trying to be tough, just trying to go after it and put my body first, put my body before the team, no excuses, gotta keep being tough. It’s that time of the year. Gotta push out all the excuses, all the negativity, and it’s time to go.”
Rose said the same thing moments earlier, the “no excuses” mantra that will likely be manna to a starved fan base. Playing just a handful of games before the postseason certainly feels like a dangerous proposition, but Rose knows that doesn’t matter much now anyways.
“I think nobody cares now,” said Rose to laughs. “I think it’s all about playing. Like I said, going into these playoffs, no excuses and get the job done. That’s the mindset.”
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Both sides felt it was pertinent to take the long view — as in preparing for Saturday and hopefully for their sake, a long run into late spring. Had Wednesday been a playoff game, Rose said he would’ve been on the floor.
“Probably had it a couple weeks back,” said Rose when asked if he felt soreness before. “But it wasn’t no point in fighting through it tonight. Playoff game, yes, but I believe in my teammates, that’s one of the reasons there wasn’t any pressure.”
Brooks of course played the hero in Rose’s stead, and Thibodeau said he knows Rose would’ve liked to play a little more to get more rust off.
“I just thought with the way it was going it was better for him not to play and Taj as well,” Thibodeau said. “We are going to play it safe. We just want to make sure anyone who is nicked up, they are getting rest now.”