By Brad Spencer
"Where's the fight? Where's the fight?"
It's not really a question, rather more a prompting. Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau is down on one knee, blowing out his already sheared vocal cords once again. He's not pleading with his team. He doesn't have to. The Bulls have fought all season long.
Reigning league MVP Derrick Rose battled through turf toe, a groin strain and an ankle sprain before the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee was the difference maker. Rose, his drive, his confidence, his playmaking ability, is gone for the season — and likely a significant portion of next season. Just before the injury, Rose appeared on the cover of GQ Magazine next to the headline Derrick Rose, The Next Jordan?
For now, that's for sure a question.
Whoever said basketball wasn't a tough sport never scrambled for a loose ball, banged bodies with a 245-pound 7-footer, traded elbows in the paint, ran dead-smack into a LeBron James screen.
C.J. Watson's elbow bends the wrong way. Rip Hamilton is ripped into pieces throughout the regular season, only plays 28 games. Joakim Noah, he of long hair and lightning like intensity, is felled by a severely sprained ankle in Game 3 of the playoffs. In slow motion the twist looks so painful you cringe and gently cradle your own ankle. On your way to the fridge to replenish your thirst, you don't realize you're limping. Just when you've restored your gait, Taj Gibson sprains his ankle.
It's been a wild, jaw dropping and, at times, humorous season. In January, John Lucas III stood in the flight path of King James during one mesmerizing alley-oop slam dunk. Rose popped a wicked game-winning jumper at the buzzer to beat Milwaukee. Luol Deng's tip-in game-winner in overtime baffled the Raptors. Rookie Jimmy Butler lined up for free throws in the wrong spot not once but twice.
"I can't believe I did that," Butler says back in March before a game against the Knicks when I politely mention seeing one of the miscues on television. "I'm just giving my teammates more reasons to harass me!"
He later reveals this Bulls crew is a tight bunch. They hang out together, go to dinner, see movies. "We're all good friends," he says, "very close."
Well, there's blood on the court. It's dripping from Deng's face. He's played much of the season with a torn ligament in his left wrist, grimacing in pain every time he hits the floor. Now he has a gash in his face that requires stitches. The blood on the court gets wiped up. Deng returns and the fight resumes.
Omer Asik is gassed. He's near exhaustion. Watson sees the young Turk briefly alone under the basket, a quick chance to add to his team's one-point lead. Asik is mauled. The foul is the exact definition of being flagrant, where the Bulls would shoot two free throws and retain possession of the ball. It's not called that way.
Free throws are missed. Free throws are made.
The fight is over.