From a nearly sitting position, Derrick Rose soared toward the rafters as if he had done it a thousand times before.
Like any superb athlete in his prime, muscle memory took over and there was no time for thought. It was purely instinct.
Rose exploded off the floor with extraordinary power, no sign of any injury, no fear of contact. The former NBA MVP went skyward in an instant, both arms raised high as though he were about to jam with two hands.
Unfortunately for the Bulls, Rose had no ball and he was in no game.
He was cheering from the bench.
In fact, he was cheering a Marco Belinelli break from half court when LeBron James put on a burst and disturbed Belinelli as he went up for the stuff.
With one eye on James, and knowing his very existence could be extinguished in the time it would take James to club him, Belinelli slammed it off the back rim and the ball flew 30 feet in the air.
Rose curiously watched the ball go up, come down and land in the hands of the Heat — like a child watching a balloon disappear in the clouds.
He slowly sat back down in his chair — and that was the extent of the drama surrounding Derrick Rose on Friday.
Though there were rumors — again — in the preceding 48 hours that Rose would return to save the Bulls in Game 3. Of course, it was simply more noise and part of the continuing, often all-encompassing nonsense.
“From the outside, it’s been a topic of conversation,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “But from the inside, it hasn’t changed one bit since the beginning of the year.
“We knew Derrick could miss a big chunk of the season. We knew it could be the entire season. Our focus from Day One has been on the players available and concentrating on them improving and on the game at hand. And we have more than enough to win.”
There is no one within 50 miles of the UC who really believes Rose will play in this series, and after the Heat won their second straight — 104-94 Friday night — you would be hard pressed to find any objective observer who thinks the Bulls really have enough to win.
Thibodeau actually believes it because he can see the path to victory. What he can’t accept is that there is no vehicle to deliver him there.
What he can’t acknowledge is that the Bulls are out of talent, out of time and out of bodies — and what bodies they have left are out of energy.
So they can try harder than anyone else and they can grind it out and they can commit hard fouls and get kicked out, but none of it is going to distract Miami or keep the Heat from their appointed rounds — namely the final round.
“It’s inconsequential to the outcome of the game,” said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra of Joakim Noah’s technical for pushing Chris Anderson or Nazr Mohammed’s ejection for shoving James. “Out there, it will probably be more theater than reality.”
The shock of the night was not that Miami won without James at his best, relying on Norris Cole and Chris Bosh until James came on strong in the final minutes.
No, the shock was that Thibodeau — who rarely gives the media anything — took a huge shot at James after the game.
“From my angle, I just saw a guy flop,” Thibodeau said before pausing. “And I’m gonna leave it at that.”
It’s true that James sold it a bit, but he was shoved hard by Mohammed while on his heels, and probably couldn’t have remained on his feet even if he tried — which he didn’t. So while it was a stupid play by Mohammed, who knows his team has no bench, it was almost as absurd for Thibodeau to claim it wasn’t legit.
Asked postgame to respond to the Bulls coach, James wouldn’t bite, merely smiling and offering no comment.
One got the clear sense that behind that grin, James had every intention of answering Thibodeau.
And that he’ll offer it in Game 4.
ŸListen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score’s “Hit and Run” show at WSCR 670-AM, and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.