Just when Derrick Rose was on the brink of alleviating fears that he would be unable to fully recover from a nagging ankle injury he collapsed while clutching his left knee.
Rose landed awkwardly after a jump stop and fell to the floor with 80 seconds left in Saturday's 103-91 win over the Sixers in Game 1 of their first-round NBA playoffs series at the United Center. Sixers coach Doug Collins waved for Bulls athletic trainers onto the floor. Rose was writhing in pain and clutching his left knee before being helped off the court and into the locker room by trainer Fred Tedeschi and assistant trainer Jeff Tanaka.
Coach Tom Thibodeau said after the game he was unaware of the extent of the injury and was awaiting test results.
"If it's a little injury he doesn't normally go down like that," Luol Deng said. "Like I said, it looked bad. Now we're just hoping for the best."
Rose sat out the regular season finale and has played in only five games in the past six weeks because of a nagging right ankle injury. After shaking off a slow-shooting start in which he missed six of his first seven shots, he looked anything but rusty in finishing with 23 points, nine assists and nine rebounds in 37 minutes, 13 seconds.
The Bulls locker room felt as if the team had lost instead of won. Not even Rose's teammates knew how serious the injury was.
C.J. Watson will likely start in Tuesday's Game 2 if Rose is unable to play.
"It sucks because he was just getting back," Taj Gibson said of Rose. "He looked good in practice yesterday and he was looking good in the game offensively and defensively. It was good to have our leader back."
Bulls players defended Thibodeau's decision to have Rose remain in the game late in the fourth quarter. Philadelphia had cut a 20-point lead to 12 at the time.
"I don't work backward like you guys do," Thibodeau said. "The score was going the other way."
Rip Hamilton added 19 points on 6 of 7 shooting while Luol Deng had 17 points and six rebounds. Joakim Noah added 12 points and 13 rebounds for the Bulls, who outrebounded the Sixers 47-38 and had 11 more second-chance points.
Korver helped the Bulls pull away in the fourth quarter and finished with 11 points. Elton Brand led the Sixers with 19 points.
"I thought we came out great and had a great edge to us and a great intensity," Korver said. "We had really good ball movement. Everybody was touching the ball. I thought we played at a very high level."
Tempers flared briefly in the third period when Evan Turner got his arms tangled up with Carlos Boozer, resulting in players from both teams having words near center court. Rose and Hamilton were called for technicals, as was Brand.
Evan Turner was booed when he checked into the game and whenever he got the ball early in the game. The St. Joseph's product and longtime Rose rival told a Philadelphia-area newspaper that he preferred to play the Bulls rather than the Heat because it was a more favorable matchup, although it hardly seemed favorable as the Bulls outrebounded the Sixers 47-38 and had 11 more second-chance points.
Turner finished with 12 points.
"It's the saddest win," Korver said. "But we have to pick ourselves up. We've played a lot of games without him. Maybe it was just getting us ready for this."