By Dennis Berry
You are a head coach of a basketball team. Your team is up by a comfortable double digit lead with only a few minutes left in the game. The other team is making a run and while they have not cut it to single digits, they have momentum.
That is what Bulls' Head Coach Tom Thibodeau was facing Saturday afternoon in their first game of the playoffs. He decided to leave Derrick Rose – the reigning MVP – in the game to secure a victory.
The Bulls won Game One of their series against the Philadelphia 76ers 103-91, but it came with a price. It cost the Bulls their star player. Derrick Rose tore the ACL in his left knee. The injury will keep Rose out of the playoffs. It may also end the Bulls chance at their first NBA Title since 1998.
Rose was never touched when the injury occurred. He was going for a layup when he came to a jump-stop and seemed to change his mind as the 76ers' defense collapsed. He then made a pass before falling to the ground.
There was 1:20 left on the clock when Rose went down. The Bulls were up by 12 points. Of course the question of why Rose was in the game was asked to Thibodeau after the game.
He pointed out that the 76ers were on a run. The Bulls' lead was 20 points with just over four minutes left. The 76ers had started to cut into that lead. He felt that it would be needed to have his best players out there to keep the 76ers from getting any closer.
It is hard to put the blame on Rose’s injury on Thibodeau. He was doing what he felt was best during the game. Injuries can happen anytime during a game. With an injury like Rose sustained, it was going to happen sooner or later. If it was not during the late stages of game one, then probably later in the Playoffs.
There is a flip side though. Say you are the coach of a team that is getting blown out in a game. You are down 20 points when the final quarter starts. How long do you keep star players in the game?
If you want to see a positive example of what could happen, look at the Los Angeles Clippers. They were just not getting beat; they were getting dominated by the Memphis Grizzlies.
At one point in the third quarter they were down 27 points. They trailed 85-64 going into the fourth quarter. With 8:00 minutes left in the game, they trailed 95-71.
Most people turned the game off around the time. The Clippers had shown so little and the Grizzlies had played so well that the result seemed like a foregone conclusion. Memphis was going to win game one. Los Angeles would try to quickly forget about what just happened and move on.
Funny thing was that Los Angeles had other plans. Instead of just taking the loss and moving on, they decided to keep playing. They went on a 28-3 run over the final eight minutes to win 99-98.
The comeback tied for the largest comeback by a team trailing entering the fourth quarter. The only other time it occurred was in 2002. The Boston Celtics trailed the New Jersey Nets by 21 going into the fourth quarter in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
It was a comeback that almost did not happen. Clippers' Head Coach Vinny Del Negro said that he almost took Chris Paul out of the game with six minutes to go. No doubt fearing that a Rose type injury may happen to his star point guard.
Wisely Del Negro did not listen to his inner voice and kept him in.
The Clippers comeback is something coaches from high school, AAU, and college can point to. They always want their players to play hard not matter how much they are winning or losing by. They can remind them of what happened when the Clippers did not give up.
Unfortunately for coaches they will also have to make that tough decision. How long do you keep key players in a game?
We saw both sides of what could happen in the first two days of the NBA Playoffs. One team lost its superstar, the other made a record comeback to win game one.
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