Long-time readers -- all 9 of you -- know that I abhor injury-related excuses. Shaddup, line up and play; that's why you get the big bucks.
Having said that, I do make exceptions because there are excuses ... and then there are facts. When a team loses a Tom Brady, a Justin Morneau or, yes, a Derrick Rose, it is a fact that the team simply cannot function anywhere near as well as it did when it had its MVP-caliber superstar.
The moment I learned Rose blew out his knee, I knew the Bulls no longer could win the NBA title.
What I didn't know was that Rose's teammates were going to fail to come out of the locker room at halftime of Tuesday's playoff game. The Bulls somehow managed to get outscored 36-14 in the third quarter by a mediocre 76ers team, and they went on to get humiliated at home.
Where was Luol Deng, an All-Star? Where was Carlos Boozer, the big-money forward? Where was Rip Hamilton, the supposed final piece to the puzzle? I'm not going to blame C.J. Watson and John Lucas III -- Rose's point-guard replacements; there's a reason they are career backups. I'm blaming Deng, Boozer and Hamilton for not showing up. And I'm blaming Tom Thibodeau for not having his team ready to play.
Yes, losing Rose was a horrible break for a team seemingly poised to win it all. Still, on the same night Deng & Co. spit the bit against the Sixers, the Celtics managed to win despite playing without suspended point guard Rajon Rondo (a top-five MVP candidate this season) and injured 2-guard Ray Allen (one of the great shooters in basketball history). Playing at Atlanta against a Hawks team that is decidedly better than Philly, the Celtics prevailed because Paul Pierce put his team on his back and carried it to victory.
Pierce, apparently, didn't get the memo about choking because the star point guard wasn't playing.
The Celtics could have used the absence of Rondo and Allen as an excuse. Had they lost, nobody would have been surprised. Instead, Pierce played wonderfully and got lots of support from his teammates. Instead, they won.
Unlike the Bulls.