Philadelphia, PA – Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals was proceeding exactly as planned for the Chicago Bulls.
The East's top seed was dominating overmatched Philadelphia but with 70 seconds remaining, the storyline suddenly changed.
Derrick Rose, who fought through a litany of injuries during the regular season, had to be helped off the court after driving to a jump-stop in the lane and throwing a pass out to the right during the Bulls' 103-91 victory. He crawled slowly to the floor and was lying on his back, grasping at his knee, for several minutes near the baseline before he was removed.
What had been a party atmosphere at the Madhouse on Madison turned into a library. The crowd was stunned and silent, fearing the worst.
In her postgame report, TNT's Cheryl Miller said: "I've never been in a packed arena where the top player went down, and the arena went silent. It was eerie."
Those of us who have been around sports have seen far too many of these injuries to not immediately play WebMD and quickly come up with the three letters that send a chill up any athlete's spine -- ACL.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau hoped for the best after the game but everyone already knew.
Chicago confirmed the worst fears with a short press release revealing that Rose had indeed torn his anterior cruciate ligament and will miss the remainder of the playoffs. When Bulls public relations maven Matt Yob pressed the send key on that e-mail, he was also signaling the end of Chicago's championship aspirations.
The reigning NBA MVP, who missed 27 games during the regular season with a litany of injuries, had shown signs of regaining his dynamic form against the Sixers, nearly putting up a triple-double with 23 points, nine rebounds and nine assists. Now, the Bulls will have to continue their playoff run without their superstar.
"It's part of the game. There are going to be injuries. A guy could get hurt in practice, a guy could get hurt in the first five minutes of the game, he can get hurt at the end of the game. He can get hurt any time, and you've got to deal with it," Thibodeau said.
Chicago will deal with it against the offensively-challenged 76ers. C.J. Watson started 25 games in place of Rose during the regular season and has already outplayed Philadelphia's Jrue Holiday on a couple of occasions. Meanwhile, John Lucas and Mike James can certainly provide enough capable minutes in reserve to get Chicago to the second round.
With or without Rose the Bulls will beat the Sixers, and heck, it's conceivable that they could take a East semifinals matchup with either Boston or Atlanta but that's the end of the line.
This Chicago team is built around the talents of Rose, and it's just not capable of making a championship run and dealing with teams like Miami without him.
Carlos Boozer may be able to play with an Elton Brand who has little lift and explosion these days but the lengthy Chris Bosh looms in South Beach. Rip Hamilton can make Jodie Meeks look foolish but Dwyane Wade is warming up. Luol Deng can force Andre Iguodala into a horrible shooting effort but LeBron James is on the horizon.
Thibodeau is probably going to get killed in the Second City for keeping Rose in during the waning moments of a rout but that's specious thinking. The Chicago native actually needed the minutes to shake off the rust and at the end of the day, no Sixer even touched the star-crossed point guard when he went down.
He just collapsed -- just like the Bulls season.