Playing the first game of the entire NBA playoffs for the second consecutive postseason, the Bulls didnt experience any of their typical early-start issuesthey had a 2-6 record in matinee games during the regular seasonSaturday afternoon at the United Center, easily handling the 76ers, as Derrick Rose took a major step in returning to his previous form after an injury-plagued season. However, despite taking a 1-0 first-round series lead in triumphant fashion, the games ending couldnt have been worse, as Rose apparently suffered a left-knee injury with 1:10 remaining in the contest and had to be helped off by the teams medical staff.
After Sixers point guard Jrue Holiday opened the games scoring with a triple, the hosts rattled off 10 unanswered points, as four of the teams five starters got on the board in the early going, led by All-Star Luol Deng. While the Sixers responded behind Elton Brandthe veteran power forward is familiar with the confines from his stint with the Bulls, for whom he won Rookie of the Year honorsshooting guard Rip Hamilton clearly looked poised for the postseason, as the former champion with the Pistons scored 11 first-quarter points.
Philadelphia was mostly forced to settle for contested outside jumpers, a staple of Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeaus vaunted defense and thusly dug themselves an early hole. However, the insertion of some of Philadelphias dangerous reservesincluding Chicago native Evan Turner, who was booed by his hometown fans for comments perceived as disparaging the Bullsparticularly athletic backup forward Thaddeus Young, sparked the visitors, who closed to within 28-24 at the conclusion of the opening period.
After the Sixers ran off the second quarters first four points to tie the contest, C.J. Watson, Roses understudy at point guardthe reigning league MVP struggled with his shot in the previous frame, going 1-for-7, but snatched five rebounds, dished out three assists and most importantly, appeared healthyled a Bulls push to give the home team some breathing room. But the feisty guests stormed back, as Turner, playing in a point-forward role with one of the positions predecessors, Bulls legend Scottie Pippen, watching from courtside, was a major catalyst.
Although Brand continued his solid first-half play, he was countered by his fellow veteran Hamilton, whose ability to get out in transition was a boon for the Bulls with Rose still trying to find his groove, as well as center Joakim Noahs high activity level. Toward the end of the period, the Bulls lead ballooned to double figures, stemming from Roses emergence, as the All-Star point guard started knocking down shots, at one point making three in a rowa driving layup, his patented floater and a pull-up jumperleading to the Bulls taking a 53-42 advantage into the intermission.
Turner, who started the second half in place of ineffective shooting guard Jodie Meeks, helped the Sixers cut the deficit to single digits, leading to a Thibodeau timeout for defensive adjustments. His strategy apparently worked, as the Bulls not only clamped down on defense, but the backcourt of Rose and Hamilton started to get off, pushing the hosts lead back to a comfortable double-digit margin and inciting a crowd that had been relatively quiet since the break.
A villain in his own hometown, Turner did nothing to help his image in Chicago, as he fouled Noah on a dunk attempt, got tangled up with Boozerresulting in technical on Rose, Hamilton and Brand after a mild skirmishand on the next possession, fouled Hamilton and briefly exchanged words before Deng pulled his teammate away. Aside from all of the hard feelings, the Bulls headed into the final stanza with a 79-66 edge, despite Philadelphia All-Star swingman Andre Iguodala finally making an impact.
The Bench Mob extended the Bulls lead, as designated sharpshooter Kyle Korver and always-energetic power forward Taj Gibson propelled the squad, holding off a potential Sixers run. Thibodeau would eventually reinsert Deng and Rosewho was already flirting with a triple-doubleand while they both contributed with timely baskets, Korvers shooting, as well as the interior defense of Gibson and tag-team partner Omer Asik was the difference in the hosts advantage ballooning to a 20-point spread midway through the period.
Noah also rejoined the mix and resumed being a dominating force on the glass, while Korver continued to drain jumpers and the Bulls turned the games stretch run into extended garbage time. But with 1:10 on the clock, Rose drove to the basket and appeared to bang knees with Sixers backup center Spencer Hawes, causing him to lay prone on the floor in pain, as the United Center fell to a hush while the Bulls trainers assisted him off the court and he heavily favored his left knee, which would make it his sixth separate injury of difficult campaign, putting a damper on what was previously an afternoon filled with joy.