Former Chicago Bulls player Scottie Pippen just went all Knute Rockne on Bulls fans everywhere.
And it wasn’t good enough.
Instead of dropping the notorious “win one for the gipper” speech before Game 2 against the Philadelphia 76ers, the former Bulls all-star and Basketball Hall of Famer asked Chicago’s fan base and entire locker room not to hang their heads and give up on the Bulls after losing Derrick Rose to a torn ACL in the Game 1 win over the Sixers.
Pippen penned — or at least typed — an open letter on the team’s website about maintaining a championship mentality in wake of watching Rose collapse to the floor in pain clutching his knee, but now looking back it comes off as cheap talk as Chicago lost Game 2 to Philadelphia, 102-92, on Tuesday night evening the series at 1-1.
Chicago needed guys to step up without the reigning MVP available: that went for Tom Thibedou making the necessary coaching adjustments, the Bulls’ bench muscling up, and die-hard and casual fans in the Windy City and around the league not hanging their heads. But instead, reality hit to close to home and not even Pippen’s prose get lift the Bulls to a “W”.
“You lost a very important piece to the puzzle, there is no denying that. But having dealt with Derrick’s injuries during the regular season, as well as those as some of the others, gave members of the bench an opportunity to step forward as you did all season long,” Pippen wrote.
“And every single individual on this roster has shown that they can make positive contributions to winning. Obviously the other starters in Richard, Luol, Carlos and Joakim—all All-Star caliber players in their own right—need to raise their level of game across the board to compensate for missing Derrick. But it’s the bench too that will be as important as ever in answering the call. And as we’ve seen these last two seasons, the Bench Mob is up for that challenge. You all believe in yourselves and the coaching staff believes in you too. You’ve already demonstrated you can have success without Derrick in the lineup. Now it’s time to do it when it matters the most.”
Sure Pippen’s words come off inspiring, encouraging and were meant to be a mental lift the franchise needs and fans. But those sentences and choice words can only do so much.
Unfotunately for Chicago, the letter couldn’t prevent the Sixers from shooting 64% in the second half, owning the glass — the Bulls were outrebounded 38-32 — or slowing down Philly in transition as they finished with 25 fastbreak points. Basically, Chicago was fine until they came out for the second half. By that time Derrick Rose presenting the game ball to officials and the emotions that followed had come and gone. So had the Bulls.
They may have gone 18-9 without Rose during the regular season, but that was then. In this whole new season Chicago is 0-1 without Rose. That’s one reality check hard to deal with.
Knowing Chicago’s resolve during the season when Rose was sidelined with a bad toe, groin, back, ankle and foot, this Bulls team is most equipped to persevere during the first round and that’s taking nothing away from Doug Collins and the Sixers. They showed glimpses in Game 2. Joakim Noah was amped up with 21 points and John Lucas pitching in 15 points in 26 mintues off of the bench. But the fact that Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng combined to go 7-22 from the field isn’t going to cut it.
Maybe Pippen’s letter will resonate all the way to Friday when the series moves to Philadelphia for Game 3.
Chicago entered the postseason with the best record in the NBA and still have their eyes firmly set on that championship prize. Securing homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs is some nice security to have, and as Pippen explained, the Bulls have survived without the likes of Rose and even Richard Hamilton for much of the regular season.
The postseason is a whole different story, especially when you have to secure a win on the road.
But Pippen perfectly details exactly why if any team can get through losing a superstar like Derrick Rose, it is this Chicago Bulls team. They didn’t completely show why on Tuesday, but this series is still long from over.