Derrick Rose was playing like an MVP again, and then, he was writhing on the floor, clutching his left knee. Just like that, a big cloud formed over the Bulls.
Rose scored 23 points before being helped off the court late in Chicago's 103-91 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers in Saturday's playoff opener. The Bulls official site said Rose tore his ACL and will miss the rest of the season.
Rose crumbled to the ground after he drove the lane with about 1:20 left and the Bulls leading by 12. He was going for a layup when he came to a jump-stop and seemed to change his mind as the 76ers' Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen rotated over, passing off to a teammate before an awkward landing.
Team medical personnel immediately rushed out and tended to Rose for several minutes as he was writhing in pain near the baseline before helping him to the locker room. Rose was taken to the hospital.
Asked why Rose was still in the game, Thibodeau pointed out that Philadelphia was making a run. Rose checked back in with just under eight minutes left and the lead got as high as 20 shortly after that before the Sixers made another push.
"I don't work backward like you guys do," Thibodeau said. "The score was going the other way."
Veteran guard Richard Hamilton defended the decision, saying, "Philly was making a run. In playoff basketball, you never want to give a team confidence. ... When you have a team down, you have to try to keep them down. They made a little run so we needed guys that could put the ball in the basket."
Sixers coach Doug Collins also had Thibodeau's back.
"He knows what he's doing coaching his team," Collins said. "Thibs is my buddy. I have the ultimate respect for him. From his standpoint he wanted to finish that game for what he did. It's awful that Derrick got hurt."
Losing Rose would obviously be a huge blow for a team that made the conference finals last season and captured the top overall seed for the second straight year.
He was finally performing more like the reigning MVP after missing 27 games during the regular season with various injuries and mostly struggling the few times he did play late in the regular season.
He found his touch after a slow start in this game and also contributed nine rebounds and nine assists. Hamilton added 19 points, Luol Deng scored 17 and Joakim Noah (12 points, 13 rebounds) had a double-double for Chicago.
Elton Brand led Philadelphia with 19 points. Jrue Holiday scored 16, and Thaddeus Young had 13 points. Chicago product Evan Turner scored 12 and was booed mercilessly after acknowledging he thought the Miami Heat would be a tougher first-round matchup.
Well, he might be right if Rose can't make it back.
The Bulls simply overwhelmed the Sixers and looked like a team gearing up for another big run after losing to Miami in the conference finals last season. They earned home-court advantage throughout the playoffs for the second straight year and sure looked like a championship contender in this one, right until the end.
Rose's injury sent a major chill through the arena. The Bulls were 18-9 without him this season, but they know they need their star if they're going to make a run at the title.
"Your heart goes out to him," Kyle Korver said. "It's been a hard year. With all the work that he puts in and the kind of person he is, to see this happen stinks. It's a sad win."
Young felt for Rose, too.
"It's an unfortunate situation," he said. "You don't want to see him go down like that in the first game of the first round of the playoffs."
Rose hit just 1 of 7 shots in the first quarter but went on a tear late in the second as the Bulls took a 53-42 lead to the locker room. He then scored eight in the third and hit two 3-pointers to help Chicago stay in control, even though things did get a little heated.
That happened when Noah got fouled by Turner trying to put back Deng's miss with 4:36 left in the quarter. Hamilton started jawing with Turner. Rose and Brand got involved, too.
Fans, meanwhile, started chanting "MVP! MVP!" in a nod to the rivalry between Rose and Turner that dates to their high school days. When the dust cleared, Hamilton, Brand and Rose all got technicals, and Noah hit 1 of 2 foul shots to make it 69-55.
Hamilton added two more free throws on the next possession to boost the lead to 16. After the Sixers pulled within eight, Korver nailed a 3 to start a 12-2 run that stretched into the fourth and made it 84-66. But once again, the big question now is Rose's health.
"He's had a lot of injuries this year," Thibodeau said. "It's been unfortunate. But we do have more than enough to win with. Whatever the circumstances are, we'll deal with it."
Notes: The Sixers' Lavoy Allen sprained his right thumb but is expected to play Tuesday. ... This is the third playoff series between Chicago and Philadelphia, with the Bulls beating the Sixers in the 1990 and 1991 conference semifinals. ... Chicago took two of three from Philadelphia in the regular season. .. The Sixers have dropped five straight playoff series. ... Collins never earned a championship ring when he coached the Bulls. He does have some jewelry, though. "Jerry has given me six championship watches," he said of owner Jerry Reinsdorf. Collins coached the Bulls before their championship run in the 1990s.