DEERFIELD, Ill. – Chicago Bulls general manager Gar Forman backed coach Tom Thibodeau on Sunday, saying he had no problem with the decision to stick with Derrick Rose late in the playoff opener against the Philadelphia 76ers.
"There's absolutely no issue there," Forman said.
There is, however, a big hole in the lineup after the Bulls lost their point guard to a season-ending injury.
The league's reigning MVP, Rose tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee with about 1:20 left in Saturday's 103-91 victory — a huge blow for a team eyeing its first championship since the Michael Jordan era.
Now, the Bulls will try to get by without their superstar, beginning Tuesday with Game 2 in Chicago, and there's no guarantee Rose will be ready for the start of next season. Rose is facing surgery at some point after the swelling goes down and he regains full range of motion, but ultimately, Forman expects a full recovery.
"We're very optimistic that he'll come back at 100 percent, 110 percent," he said.
For now, the Bulls are staring at a huge task after watching their worst nightmare unfold toward the end of what was an impressive win. Rose seemed to rediscover his dominant form with 23 points, nine rebounds and nine assists, but the good vibe came screeching to a halt when he crumbled to the floor with a 12-point lead.
Rose came to a jump stop in the lane with the 76ers' Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen rotating toward him, and his leg buckled. He still went up again and passed to Carlos Boozer in midair before crashing to the court, sending a chill through the arena while firing up the debate around Chicago.
Why was he still in the game?
Rose had checked back in with just under eight minutes left and the lead reached 20 shortly after that. But with the Sixers making a push, Thibodeau decided to stick with his star and left himself open to second-guessing.
To that, he said, bring it on. He was standing by his decision on Sunday.
"Looking back, I don't think there was a problem," said Thibodeau, who could be in line for his second straight Coach of the Year award. "It was a 12-point game with a minute-and-a half to go."
"Again, to us, it was absolutely no issue at all," he said.
That Thibodeau kept his foot on the pedal was hardly a surprise. After all, he's been going mostly full throttle ever since he was hired two years ago.
The approach helped produce the league's best record along with a run to the Eastern Conference finals last season, and the No. 1 overall seed this year despite a run of injuries that could have easily derailed them.
The Bulls went with their projected starting five just 15 times, with Richard Hamilton sidelined much of the season and Luol Deng dealing with a torn ligament in his left wrist. Rose missed 27 games while battling groin, back, toe, foot and ankle problems that Forman said did not lead to the ACL tear, and although they went 18-9 without him, the Bulls realize the task they're facing.
Still, the Sixers aren't buying the idea that the Bulls are finished without Rose.
"More than anything, people tend to see them as a one-man team, which is totally not the case," Andre Iguodala said. "They're one of the best teams in the league. Guys know their roles. They know what it takes for them to win."
Coach Doug Collins said he mentioned to his players the Bulls' record without Rose.
"They've won some games without him. They've won some big games without him," he said.
C.J. Watson and John Lucas III have come up big at times, but, as Joakim Noah said, the Bulls' margin for error is "a lot smaller with Derrick out." Even so, the Bulls weren't questioning Thibodeau's substitution patterns.
"Tom is a terrific, terrific coach who does a lot of things very well, but one of the very best things he does is pace our team, knowing when to put the pedal to the metal and when to back off," Forman said. "I think he's shown that with how he's paced our team the last couple of years — when is the time to go hard in practice, when is the time not to go hard and when it's time to give guys days off. To me, it's one of the biggest strengths he has as a coach."
Rose's injury sparked a wave of sympathy from his teammates and players around the league. Many Bulls players went to the hospital after the game, with Lucas saying Rose was like a younger brother.
"I just wanted to make sure he was OK spiritually and mentally because it's been tough all year for him battling injuries," Lucas said.
Added Iguodala: "It was really tough seeing him go down." And Collins reached out to the Bulls when he heard the news.
"Everybody on our team, everybody in our organization, is sick to their stomach about what happened to that young guy," Collins said.