CHICAGO - Before the season started, the Chicago Bulls were planning on sending out a starting lineup of Derrick Rose, Richard Hamilton, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, and Joakim Noah most nights. But injuries allowed them to do that only 13 times in the regular season, and 11 of them were wins.
Saturday at the United Center, the Bulls put out that starting five and won again. They beat the 76ers, 103-91, in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series. Game 2 will be Tuesday at 8 p.m., again in Chicago.
The Bulls will not be able to use that lineup anymore in this series, or this season. With 1 minute, 20 seconds to go, Rose came to a hard jump stop in the lane. As he leaped to make a pass, he grimaced and grabbed the outside of his left knee. He fell to the baseline under the basket in obvious pain, gripping the damaged area and writhing. After the game, the Bulls announced that he had torn his anterior cruciate ligament and that his season was over.
Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau was asked why he had Rose in the game so late, as the Bulls were leading by 12 at the time and on their way to an obvious win. Thibodeau dejectedly said, "I don't work backwards like you guys. The score was going the other way. He's got to play."
Up to that point Rose's play was a big reason the top-seeded Bulls dominated the Sixers. The point guard, who missed 27 games during the regular season, was closing in on a triple-double at the time of the injury with 23 points and nine each of rebounds and assists.
He and starting backcourt mate Hamilton seemed to pierce the Sixers each time the score became a little more interesting. Hamilton scored 19 points, making all but one of his seven shots and each of his six free throws. He did so many figure-eights running defenders off picks that you had to wonder if he was a little dizzy after the game.
The Sixers probably were, as they got manhandled down low all game. Chicago owned the backboards to the tune of 47-38 and continually took the ball hard to the basket, an art the Sixers seem unwilling to learn.
"That was the fourth time we have played the Bulls this season, and this is the best they have played against us," said Sixers coach Doug Collins. "Rip Hamilton came out and gave them a great start. He's got championship experience. I think he had 19 points on seven shots. To my thinking that's almost three points a shot. Then [Kyle] Korver's line says 11 points, but his impact out there is much greater than that. That's 30 points from your two-guard position."
While the Bulls were getting that contribution from their shooting guards, Collins benched his starter, Jodie Meeks, with 4:31 to go in the first quarter after he left Hamilton open for a three-pointer, committed a bad turnover, and was called for a foul. He wasn't heard from again until the final minutes of the game, when the outcome was no longer in doubt.
Evan Turner, booed lustily by his hometown crowd, chewed up most of the two-guard minutes and finished with 12 points and five assists.
But the most lopsided advantage went to the Bulls' play around the basket. They continuously got the ball to the rim or fought for offensive rebounds. And defensively they didn't allow the Sixers any comfort, holding them to 39.8 percent shooting (33 for 83) and muscling them away from the basket all day. Joakim Noah was a big part of that, collecting 12 points and 13 rebounds.
"We're going to watch a lot of tape," said Elton Brand, who led the Sixers with 19 points and pulled down seven rebounds. "Now it's a chess match. We have to get better, we have to box out, maybe not trap as much so we're not out of position [to rebound]. We're going to find a way to hit those boards."
"They do a good job defensively as a team," said Andre Iguodala, who struggled through a 3-for-11 shooting day while collecting 11 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists. "We need to do a better job and make some adjustments as far as how we attack them. I think [the Bulls' effort] is why they had the best record in the league. It's not a one-man show. They have a solid unit and a great coach."