All of us, regardless of our rooting interests, went through the classic Kübler-Ross "Five Stages of Grief" yesterday afternoon upon discovering that Derrick Rose had injured his left knee in the Bulls' Game 1 win over the Sixers in Chicago.
First there was denial -- "This can't be happening. Not again, Derrick. Not after everything you've already been through this season. No way."
Then there was anger -- "There's a freakin' minute and 18 freakin' seconds left in this freakin' game and you're up by double freakin' digits! How can you do this now, Derrick? Why was he even in the game, Thibs? What is wrong with you people?"
Next was bargaining -- "Maybe it's not so bad. Maybe he just landed a little funny and he'll walk it off. ... OK, maybe he's done today, but he'll be back for Game 2. ... All right, fine, maybe he's out for the series, but he'll be back in a couple weeks for the conference semis."
Fourth came depression -- "Oh dear God, it's really the ACL. This is the worst."
Finally, eventually, came acceptance.
And furthermore, what ultimately came of all this was the lesser-known sixth step: speculation. Where do we go from here? What happens to the Bulls now? What does this all mean?
Now, if you're a Celtics fan, it's easy to look at the Rose catastrophe as a huge boon to the guys in green. The C's and Bulls are on a collision course in round two, the Bulls are without their best player, and therefore, you might think, it's smooth sailing from here to Miami for the Eastern Conference finals.
But let's not get carried away.
What went down in the Windy City on Saturday afternoon will have some effect on the 2012 playoff landscape, that's for sure. But we're only 24 hours into the postseason, and it's too early to make any grand, sweeping statements. There's still a lot we don't know about how the East will be won.
If you're thinking the Bulls are due to roll over and die without Rose on the floor, you're sorely mistaken. Chicago equaled San Antonio for the best record in the NBA this year at 50-16 (.758) -- if you break it down, it was 32-7 (.821) with Rose on the floor and 18-9 (.667) without him. That's a difference, sure. But if you take a look at the quality of the Bulls' wins over the last couple of months sans Rose, you'll be impressed. They beat the Celtics on Feb. 16, the Heat on March 14, the Sixers on March 16, the Magic on March 19, the Hawks (on the road by 21!) on March 28, and perhaps most memorable to readers on this site, the Celtics again on April 5. That was the game Doc Rivers referred to as his team's worst effort of the season. The C's faltered down the stretch, Luol Deng fueled a big run late in the game, and Chicago outscored Boston 55-37 in the second half to secure a statement win.
The Bulls are still capable of a lot without Rose. It's not hard to see why -- Rose is a tremendous talent and a highlight-reel player you won't find anywhere else in this league, but he's still a somewhat one-dimensional player. He's a brilliant scorer, since no one can stay in front of him for longer than a split-second, but there's a lot he still needs to add to his game. He doesn't have the brilliant court vision of a Chris Paul, the ball-hawking defensive awareness of a Rajon Rondo or the veteran savvy of a Jason Kidd. He can score, but he definitely doesn't have the pure shooting ability of a Steve Nash.
How can the Bulls win without Rose? Simple -- the same way they've won with him. By being a well-coached, defensive-minded, insanely deep team. The reigning MVP is nowhere to be seen, but none of the Bulls' defining attributes have changed.
Last year when the Bulls rose to power in the NBA, it was Rose's offense making all the headlines. But as a team, the Bulls were only slightly better than mediocre offensively. They averaged 108.3 points per 100 possessions, 11th in the NBA; on defense, they allowed only 100.3, tied with the Celtics for the league's top spot. This year? They're fifth in offense at 107.4; they're again right up there with the C's defensively at 98.3.
It's the defense, people. That hasn't changed one bit.
The Bulls will still mop the floor with Philadelphia, we can safely assume. I went on record saying that was the most likely sweep out of the eight first-round series; it's possible that even Rose's injury hasn't changed that. Chicago is just too good to fall in round one.
Now, if we assume that Chicago and Boston are still on a collision course in round two, things will get interesting. Rondo will have more freedom to roam around defensively and cause havoc alongside Avery Bradley, since he won't be busy monitoring one individual scorer. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, conversely, will wear down a little more, since the Bulls will run more of their offense through Deng and Carlos Boozer. Depth -- a Chicago strength -- will be more important. Halfcourt sets -- a Boston strength -- will be more important. Coaching -- beats me, you pick 'em -- will certainly be huge.
But this entire conversation is all a little too hasty. That's the main point here. Rose's absence may have some impact on these playoffs, but it's too soon to know exactly what, and the last thing the Celtics need at this juncture is overconfidence. The road ahead is long, and a little humility always helps.
Lest we forget. This is all moot if the Celtics can't take care of business this week against the Atlanta Hawks -- who, by the way, enter the postseason 9-3 in their last 12 games and haven't failed to win a first-round playoff series in the last four years. The Celtics should win this series, but "should" is a dangerous word this time of year, so let's be patient.
First things first. Then we'll see what materializes down the road.