If ever there was a time for Derrick Rose to put on his happy face it was Tuesday night at the United Center.
Rose needed to muster the best acting performance of his career when he limped to center court to present the game ball before Game 2. While he tried, Rose's face looked somber as he walked off the court. The impression left on the sell-out crowd -- and his teammates -- seemed to set the tone for the evening.
Then to tug on our heart strings even more, Rose, who is sidelined for the rest of the postseason and beyond with a torn ACL, was seen sitting in his family's suite by himself. Thankfully, his mother, Brenda, and others arrived to take the edge off the melancholy that permeated the building.
At one point, I even spied Rose laughing with his mom as he watched his teammates play competitive ball in the first half. I had a glimmer of hope that things would get better. Sure, the Bulls allowed the Sixers to shoot 53 percent from the field in the opening two quarters, but they had the lead at halftime and all seemed right with the world.
Until the third quarter began.
The Bulls spent a lot of time before Tuesday's Game 2 finding motivation in Rose's absence on the court by wanting to prove the doubters wrong and play hard for their teammate whom they think of as a brother. Kyle Korver wrote a note of encouragement on his Facebook page. Scottie Pippen penned an open letter to the team on the Bulls' website. Both had the message of fighting through adversity and believing in each other.
Even Philadelphia was bracing for a double dose of Bulls energy.
Its going to be a lot of emotion (to start the game), noted Elton Brand before the game. The city has been following this (Rose injury). Ive got a lot of friends here and theyve been telling me. The team is going to want to show, Hey, we love Derrick. We have his back. Were playing for him. We can still win a championship. There will be a lot of emotion in the building.
There was a lot of something in the building Tuesday night, but it's not what we were expecting. The Bulls were supposed to be riding a wave of inspiration, instead they looked emotionally broken. Afterwards, Bulls players said they were shocked by the outcome. Angry, disappointed and emabarrassed were a few of the other words bantered about in the locker room.
The Bulls will have to move beyond sentiment now and get back to playing the type of basketball they managed for 27 games without Rose in the regular season. Inspirational speeches and letters are nice, but they don't make the ball go in the basket. Instead of fighting through adversity, the Bulls buckled under it.
Maybe a smiling Rose a center court wouldn't have changed a thing. Maybe we all need to set our feeling-sorry-for-the-kid emotions aside and focus on the task at hand.
As Luol Deng said emphatically after the game, "Derrick's not here! We're a new team now." Only they need to play like the old team come Game 3 Friday.