LAS VEGAS — A night meant to celebrate USA Basketball and Derrick Rose's return took a horrific turn Friday night at Thomas & Mack Center on the UNLV campus.
With 9 minutes, 33 seconds remaining in an intrasquad scrimmage during which Rose displayed speed, explosiveness and an attacking style that looked very familiar, Pacers' All-Star forward Paul George suffered a gruesome lower right leg injury.
USA Basketball said in a statement early Saturday that George "suffered a right leg, open tibia-fibula fracture," underwent successful surgery and remained hospitalized. He is likely to miss the entire 2014-15 season, according to reports.
In an injury scene far too familiar for fans of Rose and the Bulls, George snapped his lower right leg at a 90-degree angle against the basket stanchion while chasing down James Harden on a breakaway. [WARNING: GRAPHIC VIDEO]
After a lengthy period spent stabilizing George, whose mother and father were in attendance, he was wheeled off on a stretcher and Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski gathered both teams at center court to address the crowd and call the game "out of respect for George and his family."
USA Basketball officials said players were too emotional to address reporters. A very somber Krzyzewski and USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo, both visibly shaken, said George went immediately to the hospital.
"Everything is on hold right now, and it should be," Krzyzewski said. "It would be inappropriate to talk about anything else when there's a serious injury like this. It was a very emotional setting. There's a brotherhood in the NBA. To me, a family or brotherhood shows its heart and depth at a time like this."
Rose finished with eight points on 3-for-4 shooting with four turnovers and one assist as the Tom Thibodeau-coached White team downed Rose's Blue squad 81-71.
"It was difficult to watch the injury that Paul George sustained tonight while representing his country," NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. "The thoughts and prayers of all of us at the NBA are with Paul and his family."
The crowd chanted George's name as his stretcher exited through an arena tunnel. Colangelo said he already had placed a call to Pacers owner Herb Simon.
"This is a very tough blow, not so much about us but about Paul," Colangelo said. "It's a first for us in USA Basketball. It's a tough situation for our entire organization, our coaches, our players. It's very, very emotional.
"We need to take a step back before we address anything like rosters. It seems so unimportant in the great scheme of things."
Rose knows all about that. For the better part of two seasons, he has been judged on most anything other than being a basketball player.
His decision to skip the 2012-13 season after tearing his left ACL got scrutinized and analyzed. A torn meniscus in November 2013 cut short his comeback after just 10 games, and questions surfaced about his durability. His recruiting habits were more discussed than his explosive first step.
But basketball is what Rose does best, and he showed glimpses of his greatness again. He started alongside Stephen Curry, George, Anthony Davis and Kenneth Faried in his first game action against bona fide NBA competition since that meniscus injury last Nov. 22 in Portland, Ore.
Returning to the court — and a return to form — should silence most of the off-court scrutiny surrounding Rose.
In his first-quarter stint, Rose drew a large hand in pregame introductions and promptly made his first three shots — an acrobatic driving layup, a two-handed funk off Faried's offensive rebound and a coast-to-coast blur of a drive after getting beat by Kyrie Irving on a backcut. Rose also fouled James Harden for an ill-advised, four-point play.
Meanwhile, Thibodeau displayed his typical sideline histrionics — screaming, gesticulating and standing virtually throughout.
Rose has been a beacon of positivity throughout this week. He has spoken confidently about his health and happiness, proud of the mental fortitude he has displayed through his knee injuries and rehabilitations and eager to accomplish more.
He has credited the franchise for sending Jen Swanson, the team's director of sports performance, here to work with his off-the-court maintenance. He has spoken appreciatively of general manager Gar Forman, executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson and Thibodeau checking in on him frequently.
And in a taped pregame interview with ESPN, Rose even called Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf "cool." That interview surely spoke to some damage control, too, after a Sun-Times article quoted Rose addressing tension between his camp and the organization.
It's instructive to recall that through all the uncertainty of the last two seasons Rose remained a respected and beloved teammate. Joakim Noah, whom Rose said is texting him often for motivation during Noah's knee rehabilitation, routinely cited Rose's perseverance through his injuries as leadership. Taj Gibson often spoke of Rose's humility and team-first attitude.
Now, it's time to move the platitudes back to the court. The last time Rose participated in a full NBA season and postseason, he became the youngest most valuable player in league history and the Bulls advanced to the Eastern Conference finals.
That's in the past, but with all eyes on the future, the Bulls and Rose are hoping for a repeat.
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