If there is a silver lining that accompanies the end of the Bulls' season—the final scene played out Wednesday night in Miami, where the Heat needed a huge late rally to beat Chicago 94-91 and close out the Eastern Conference semifinal series in five games—it's likely the realization that Rose has five additional months to get his knee back to the level that carried him to the NBA's MVP award in 2011.
With Rose, the Bulls lost four straight to Miami and were ousted in the Eastern Conference finals that year.
Without him, the Bulls lost four straight to Miami—their first four-game slide since that series—and were ousted again this time, albeit just one round earlier. Rose watched the finale from the bench, where he has been all season, and when the final horn sounded he walked on the court with his teammates, shook a few hands and then walked slowly up the tunnel toward the Bulls' locker room.
"We'll see. We'll see," is what Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said when asked what the plan for Rose is now that Chicago has entered the offseason. "He has to keep working. I think he's in a pretty good place mentally. If we were going to make a mistake, we wanted to make a mistake on the side of caution. We feel good about where he is. He has the whole summer to build more confidence. That's the important thing."
Add him to a Bulls team that outscored Miami by 29 points over a long stretch of Game 5—on the road, no less—and Chicago could quickly find itself back as a title contender next season.
Carlos Boozer finished with 26 points and 14 rebounds for the Bulls, who were without Rose for the 99th straight game. Nate Robinson and Jimmy Butler missed potential tying 3-pointers on the final possession of the season for Chicago, which dropped the last four games of the series.
Robinson scored 21 points, Butler had 19, and Richard Hamilton 15 for the Bulls, who kept fighting all the way to the end.
"We've got warriors here," Boozer said. "If we're healthy next season, we're going to be pretty good."
LeBron James scored 23 points, Dwyane Wade added 18, Chris Bosh scored 12 points and Udonis Haslem finished with 10 for Miami, which outscored the Bulls 25-14 in the fourth.
"When you play the Chicago Bulls you wouldn't expect any finish to be any different and anything less than that," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "We knew right from the beginning of the series that we were going to have to earn everything we got. That certainly played out to be true."
The Heat will play Indiana or New York in the East finals, with Game 1 in Miami on either Monday or Wednesday.
Game 5 didn't start well at all for Chicago. Marco Belinelli took the Bulls' first shot, a woefully short airball. Joakim Noah took their second shot, a very long airball. Their third possession was a turnover.
It was 10-0 before half the crowd was in their seats, and 22-4 just past the midpoint of the opening quarter. Since the start of Game 4, in barely over 53 minutes of play, the Heat had outscored the Bulls by 40 points. Everyone in the building—except for the 20 or so guys in red uniforms or wearing suits on the Chicago bench—had to be thinking that the series was over.
If so, then they were all wrong. The Bulls were unfazed, unflappable, unrelenting in the face of being counted out.
And before long, the massive deficit was a thing of the past.
"Sort of the story of the season," Thibodeau said.
Boozer went 6 for 7 in the opening quarter, his layup late in the period getting the Bulls within seven before James scored to end the first and give Miami a 30-21 lead. The Bulls were undeterred, and just kept getting stops on one end, making baskets on the other. Butler's 3-pointer with 4:46 left in the half gave Chicago its first advantage of the night, 38-36.
To recap, the game started with a 22-4 Heat run—and in the 13 minutes that immediately followed, the Bulls rebutted with a 34-14 burst.
By halftime, it was 53-47. In the third, after Chicago briefly led by 11—remember, they were down 18, making that a 29-point turnaround—the Bulls took a 77-69 edge into the final 12 minutes.
They just couldn't finish the job.
"This game took a lot out of both teams," James said.
Rose missed only six of Chicago's 274 games, including playoffs, over his first three seasons. Durability was never a question, as his 8,897 regular-season minutes combined in those years ranked fifth-most in the NBA.
Since January 2012, he has missed 126 of the Bulls' last 155 games.
Over that time span, Brian Scalabrine—who wasn't even in the league this season—appeared in 24 Chicago games, just five fewer than Rose.
Rose sat out 27 regular-season games last season while dealing with at least five known injuries, including right ankle, right foot, back and toe problems. His sixth injury last season, the one where the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee gave out with 1:10 remaining and with Chicago leading its first playoff game over Philadelphia by 12 points, obviously doomed the Bulls' chances of winning the 2012 NBA title.
That was 99 games ago. At the time, few might have thought that the injury doomed the 2013 chances as well.
"Until he is completely comfortable, we don't want him out there," Thibodeau said. "We knew this was a possibility."
When Rose had surgery, the most optimistic estimate had him returning to the lineup in about eight months, which would have meant around late December or early January.
Assuming he's ready to go when the Bulls open next season, probably late October, his layoff will end at 18 months.
There were reports several weeks ago out of Chicago saying Rose was cleared to play, and the Bulls have been asked countless times since about whether or not he would return. He's been practicing and it's become common in recent weeks to see him on the court not long before games, putting himself through shooting drills until his workout attire was drenched with sweat.
With him, there has been no doubt that Chicago is one of the league's elite teams. The Bulls were 33-7 last season, including playoffs, when Rose was in the lineup. Since that fateful jump-stop where his knee buckled and tore, the Bulls have gone just 51-48.
"We knew going into the season what we were going to be challenged with," Thibodeau said. "You are never going to replace a guy like Derrick individually and we understood that. For us, the challenge was everyone functioning well as a team, knowing what your job is, going out and doing your job. Unfortunately, we took more hits along the way."