Joakim Noah was the Game 7 MVP with six blocked shots and 14 rebounds (seven offensive). He also showed up offensively, registering 24 points on 12-of-17 shooting.
After trailing 61-44 after the first half, the Nets made a valiant comeback, cutting the Bulls' lead to just four points at one point in the third quarter. The Bulls consistently stopped every Nets run, though, with clutch perimeter shooting and hard-nosed defense.
Marco Belinelli was a real difference-maker down the stretch for the Bulls, hitting four straight free throws with under 30 seconds left to keep the Nets at bay. He ended the night with 24 points, six rebounds and two assists.
The Bulls were the better-coached team and more disciplined group for the entirety of the series, and they clearly showed that with a dominant Game 7 win.
Now they're faced with what many observers believe to be the impossible task of keeping the Heat from hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy for the second straight year.
Even with the Bulls splitting the season series with the Heat—including a win that stopped the Heat's winning streak at 27 games—the focus of the series will be on whether Derrick Rose will play.
It's amazing that the focus of a series can be on a player who hasn't played a single game the entire season. But that's what happens when players with the same injury have returned and made an impact for their team, even this season.
The player I'm talking about is Iman Shumpert, who tore his ACL just like Rose more than a year ago in the 2012 NBA playoffs.
Shumpert came back in mid-January, and he's starting to really find his groove during the playoffs. He's averaging nine points and 6.8 rebounds in 28.5 minutes per game.
That is reason enough for fans to be clamoring about Rose's decision to not return yet, even after doctors cleared him to play in early March. While we all don't know how hard it is to return to play in the NBA after tearing your ACL, it's harder to understand when other players have returned and when some of Rose's teammates are playing through injuries and sickness.
Joakim Noah played in every playoff game with plantar fasciitis in his right foot. Nate Robinson fought through the flu to lead the Bulls when they desperately needed leadership.
It's noble of Rose to say that he trusts his teammates to get the job done. But it's a cop-out answer when he follows it up with the statement, "I want to (come back), but I have to think of the big picture."
Rose's biggest reason for not returning right now is that he feels he needs to get to a point where he's "not thinking and instead just reacting," according to video embedded above.
To be honest, that doesn't even make sense since Rose can't make that transition without getting into games and forcing himself to play through the difficulty of worrying about his injured knee.
It's getting to the point where Rose looks less like the fearless leader he was for the Bulls and more like a player who's timid and scared of not being the All-Star and MVP he once was.
Rose is also beginning to seriously hurt his image and reputation. His indecisiveness is showing that he's more focused on himself and his return than he is on his team's success.
If Rose has decided that he's not going to play during the playoffs, then he needs to come out and say it so his team knows where they stand. Rose's focus on his injury has transitioned from being a wise one to being one that is displaying his fear of failure.
The more Rose focuses on how his knee is holding him back, the more he will allow his knee to control him as a player. That's going to shift his career in a negative direction if he indeed does that.
What defined Rose's career for the first four years was his ability to not let anything hold him back. He was aggressive, confident and motivated to be the best that he could be night in and night out.
Now his career is defined by his torn ACL, and that's no one's fault but his own. Well, and maybe his brother, Reggie, who appears to be having an impact on his decision.
His sponsor, Adidas, even pumped serious marketing into its "#thereturn campaign." The more games Rose misses, the worse it makes him look. He's not only letting his team down, he's also letting the city of Chicago down.
Luckily for Rose and the Bulls, he has the perfect opportunity he needs, with a second-round playoff series with the might Miami Heat starting on Monday.
It's a perfect stage for Rose to show the NBA and the Bulls that he's ready to be the player that Chicago needs him to be. It's a perfect opportunity for Rose to make a bold statement against all of his detractors.
Will Derrick Rose's Reputation Take a Hit if He Doesn't Return Against the Miami Heat?
If Rose doesn't return against the Heat, the critics will love to point to his fear of failure as what will hold him back during his career. If his reputation is of any level of importance for him, then Rose absolutely has to return against the Heat, especially if the Bulls struggle in Game 1 or 2.
He has a chance to make one of the most memorable returns in the history of professional sports. Ultimately Rose has to be the one who makes the decision, but he needs to understand that his reputation is now at stake.
With Luol Deng, Nate Robinson, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Kirk Hinrich fighting through injuries and illnesses, it's time for Rose to make #thereturn.