The Bulls are banged up. The Cavaliers look like a beater of a car. And nobody is crying for either of them. Injuries ceased to be an excuse about three ankle sprains ago in this tough-guy series.
It’s what you do with your pain that matters.
In the Cavs’ Game 5 victory, Kyrie Irving played on a sprained right foot and a left knee that has tendinitis. He hobbled his way to 25 points on nine-of-16 shooting.
Derrick Rose, still struggling with the effects of a stinger from Game 1, missed his last 11 shots Tuesday night. In medical terms, a stinger is defined as “an injury to the nerve supply of the upper arm.’’ In basketball terms, a stinger can be defined as “um, zero-for-11 isn’t going to cut it.’’
“This time of the year, everyone’s nicked up,’’ Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said Wednesday. “Kyrie is out there, he’s playing. LeBron, that’s what your stars do. You have to get out there and play.’’
Game 6 of this Eastern Conference semifinal will be the biggest game of Rose’s pro career because A) the Bulls are in danger of being knocked out of the playoffs and into a very uncertain future, B) Rose has to play well for his bruised team to win and C) the statute of limitations has run out on whatever his previous biggest game was.
In our wired, self-absorbed world, the only thing that matters is “now.’’ And so here we are, tapping our foot impatiently for more from the Bulls point guard. Now, Derrick. Now would be good.
Is it fair to Rose? Probably not. He is not the player he used to be, before his three knee procedures, and to count on him for consistent greatness is to count on being disappointed. But when he reaches back for some of that pre-torn-ACL brilliance, the way he did in Games 3 and 4, you get greedy.
Chicago is greedy for more Rose. The Bulls are desperate for it.
Simply put, they are done if he can’t elevate his game Thursday. And that elevation has to include defensive play too. With Irving limping noticeably in Game 5, there was no excuse for allowing him to have such an impact. It was as if the Bulls looked at him like a just-swatted bee, thinking the danger was over. Well, no. The stinger was pointing straight up.
“That’s the thing: Great players always have the ability to rise up,’’ Thibodeau said. “We were concerned about it throughout. Most of these guys are nicked up in some way right now. They’re still dangerous. Doesn’t take much for him to get going. We’ve got to make sure we’re challenging his shots. He’s very clever in the pick and roll, good finisher. You don’t guard Kyrie or LeBron individually. It takes your whole team.’’
Thibodeau said Rose was “nicked up pretty good’’ Tuesday but that he felt better Wednesday, when the Bulls had a film session. Whether Rose’s shoulder woes caused his shooting woes in Game 5 is immaterial. When you see what Irving and LeBron James (38 points on a sprained ankle) did Tuesday, it only puts a bigger spotlight on what Rose wasn’t able to do.
Big-time players come up big in big-time games, even when they’re hurt. In Game 6 of the 1988 NBA Finals, the Pistons’ Isiah Thomas scored 25 points in the third quarter against the Lakers, despite a severely sprained ankle. No one is expecting that from Rose, but 25 points on 10-of-18 shooting for the game isn’t asking the world. Time to rise up, kid.
The NBA playoffs are about surviving, individually and collectively. The Cavs don’t have Kevin Love because of a shoulder injury. A hamstring injury kept the Bulls’ Pau Gasol out of Games 4 and 5, though he said he’d play Thursday. He said Wednesday he still hadn’t jumped since sitting out with injury. Jumping: kind of important in basketball.
With the Bulls down 3-2 in the best-of-seven series, it’s all hands on deck, even if those hands are broken.
“Right now, it’s win or go home,’’ Gasol said. “There’s nothing left besides (Thursday’s) game. What percentage I’ll be able to play, I don’t know. But whatever percentage (it is), that’s what I’ll give.’’
The Bulls need Rose close to 100 percent, or whatever 100 percent is for him now. They need the best he has.
And he needs to remember that pain is his friend.