Day one of the 2012 NBA Playoffs was an eventful one, much of it having nothing to do with the competitive action on the court. Sure, there was the fabulous game winner by Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant, but the other two games were complete wipeouts. Yet, those two blowouts got more attention than the Thunder's scintillating comeback win over the defending champion Dallas Mavericks because of that dreaded three letter acronym: A.C.L.
During the Chicago Bulls "not quite as easy as it looked" win over the Philadelphia 76ers, the story was Bulls star point guard Derrick Rose being helped off the floor with, what would later be revealed as, the dreaded torn ACL. It happened in the most awful way possible: with absolutely no contact. Rose will miss the remainder of the playoffs and probably a healthy portion of next season as well as he rehabs from the injury.
While the Bulls were a robust 17-9 with Rose out of action this season, it stands to reason that any realistic chances that the Bulls had of dethroning Miami and reaching their first NBA Finals since Michael Jordan roamed the United Center went out the door with him. It's likely they'll still find a way to take down the 76ers in round one, but beyond that, anything else would seem to be house money at this point.
While you never want to gloat about an injury to any player, particularly one to a player who's generally regarded as an all around good guy like Derrick Rose, the injury had to have caused a few players in a few other locker rooms to internally jump for joy. Namely those players in the locker rooms of the Miami Heat... and your Boston Celtics.
The Heat were widely expected to make the NBA Finals anyway, and the loss of Rose only magnifies that expectation, but the Celtics, who were left for dead by many people (myself included) back in February, have been playing their best basketball since November of 2010 and looked poised to be a real problem for either the Heat or Bulls in round two. In most cases, the expectation was that they would go down valiantly to either foe, but with the injury to Rose, all of a sudden the road to the Eastern Conference Finals looks wide open.
Before they can get there though, they'll have to get by an Atlanta Hawks team that has given them fits in recent years because of their size and athletic advantages. Simply put, the Hawks are a match-up nightmare, even without injured star Al Horford, who will miss at least the first five games of this series as he continues to recover from a shoulder injury suffered early in the season.
These two teams went seven horrifying (if you're a Celtics fan) games back in the 2008 playoffs before the C's finally subdued the upstarts from the ATL en route to the NBA Title that year, and after the C's willingly punted homecourt advantage in this series earlier in the week, the Hawks probably feel like the Celtics don't see them as much of a threat. A motivated team with better athletes and a deeper bench could cause problems in round one.
In addition, both the Bulls and Sixers have caused issues for the Celtics this season (the former even without Derrick Rose in the lineup) because of their rebounding ability (Chicago) and athleticism (Sixers).
But, maybe lost in the shuffle during the internal celebrating and day dreaming of Celtics players and fans alike, is that the C's have their own injury problems to worry about, and that might be the biggest obstacle of them all.
Under normal circumstances, the Celtics would have an acceptable eight man playing rotation with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Rajon, Rondo, Avery Bradley, and Brandon Bass as starters, with Greg Stiemsma, Ray Allen, and Mickael Pietrus off the bench. But, Allen has been struggling with bone spurs in his ankles this season, an injury that will require surgery at the end of the season, and Stiemsma is also dealing with some pain as well.
With Allen potentially not available for the playoffs and Stiemsma limited, the Celtics will essentially be playing with six players plus a few minutes from ineffective or untrustworthy bench guys like Sasha Pavlovic, Marquis Daniels, or Keyon Dooling. Stiemsma is obviously a far less pressing issue given his more subtle impact on the games, but Allen gives them crucial minutes off the bench as a scorer and floor spacer. Without him, teams will be able to squeeze the paint on players like Bradley and Rondo, who aren't deep threats, and make life generally miserable for the Celtics if they aren't shooting it well from the outside.
The lesson here is that, yes, Derrick Rose tearing his ACL certainly gives the Celtics an opportunity to do more damage in the playoffs than previously thought, the path isn't quite as open as it may seem. So, before you start making your hotel reservations for Miami in round one, keep in mind that the C's have had a lot of trouble with all three opponents on their side of the Eastern Conference bracket and have their own depth and injury concerns to deal with.