The Chicago Bulls sure would have liked to have had an easier win at the United Center on Monday night against the Indiana Pacers, but they’ll take a tough one just the same. Derrick Rose was up to his old MVP tactics scoring 36 points, grabbing 8 rebounds and dishing out 6 assists while leading the Bulls to another come from behind playoff victory over the Pacers, 96-90. The Pacers have been tenacious at both ends of the floor, and the Bulls have certainly not played their best basketball, but Chicago holds a 2-0 series lead over Indiana after the narrow win. The Bulls again got off to a cold shooting start, and they also struggled to take care of the ball, but they dominated on the glass and relied on Derrick Rose as always when the going got tough. Indiana tried everything they could to slow down the MVP. Darren Collison limited Rose to just 4 points in the first quarter, but he was injured midway through the 2nd when he rolled his ankle stepping on a cameraman’s foot after a fast break basket. Indy also tried to cover Rose with bigger guys like Paul George and Danny Granger, and in the 2nd half started trapping him as soon as he crossed half court, but it didn’t matter. Rose made the right plays and continued to shred the defense and get to the foul line with consistency. “We did a great job on him all night,” said Pacers coach Frank Vogel. “He’s a great player. He made key plays down the stretch to win the game for them.”
While Rose gets much of the credit for the Bulls win, he was hardly alone on the floor. Carlos Boozer bounced back after a poor game one showing with 17 points and 16 rebounds on Monday, as well as playing much better defense on Tyler Hansbrough. The Pacers’ power forward scored 22 points in game one and then was held to just 6 on Monday. Some of that could be attributed to Psycho T missing some open jumpers in the second half, but he was a miserable 2-for-12 from the field. The defense on Hansbrough isn’t the part of Boozer’s game the Bulls’ coach was impressed with in this one. “The big thing was he was a lot more aggressive,” mentioned Thibodeau, “because of not being in foul trouble. His rebounding was great. I thought he got off to a good start offensively. We probably should have searched him out more in the post in the second half.” Plenty of Bulls made an impact on the boards in this game as Joakim Noah snagged 10 rebounds, Rose came up with 8 and Luol Deng grabbed 6 in addition to Boozer’s 16, but the bad shooting may have helped the rebounding numbers. “We certainly missed enough to get some offensive rebounds,” quipped Coach Thibodeau. They did manage to hit the shots late when they needed to, as yet again, D-Rose found Kyle Korver for a dagger of a 3 pointer, this one opening the gap to 5 points with just over a minute to go. They also made their free throws when they counted, hitting their final 16 shots from the charity stripe to help put Indiana away.
Momentum shifted several times in the second half in this one, as neither team could put the other one away. Indiana carried a lead for much of the first half, opening up the cushion to 9 points at one point in the first half, and went in at the break up by 3. A major turning point seemed to occur early on in the second half. Tyler Hansbrough missed a mid-range jumper and Rose came up with the rebound and an outlet to a streaking Luol Deng. Deng was blocked hard by Roy Hibbert, who seemed to catch Deng with some serious body contact. Deng stayed with the play, caught his own loose ball, and went back up and laid it in over Hibbert to tie the game at 49 with 9 minutes to play in the 3rd. It was the first time the Bulls had pulled even since it was all square at 14 with 1:39 remaining in the opening quarter. It got the crowd back into the game, as they rose to their feet and gave the loudest cheer since the player introductions. Just 35 seconds later, Derrick Rose hit his first 3-pointer of the series and the rally was on. The Bulls went up 65-58 and seemed to be pulling away for good, but the turnovers caught up with them again as Rose coughed up the ball the next two possessions as the Pacers closed in to down just 3. The gap was still 3 when T.J. Ford heaved up a 60+ footer at the 3rd quarter buzzer that banked in off the glass and silenced the stunned crowd. The momentum had swung to the Pacers entering the final frame.
The teams traded buckets for the first half of the 4th quarter, but the play that really turned things in the Bulls favor was an acrobatic bucket by Derrick Rose with 5:16 to play that resulted in a 3-point play and a 1-point Chicago lead after the free throw. The Bulls followed that with a couple of stops and a couple more hoops to open the lead to 5 before Indy got going again. A.J. Price hit a 3 from well beyond the arc, and the teams went back to trading points. It was a 2-point game with a little over a minute to go when Kyle Korver hit the biggest shot of the night. The defense trapped Rose near half –court, and he made a perfect pass to Joakim Noah in the post. The defense collapsed to Noah and he found Kyle Korver in the corner waiting to heave a 3-pointer to put the Bulls up 5 with just a minute left to play. Things got a little scary when Rose fouled A.J. Price on a 3-pointer, and he hit all 3 shots to cut the lead back to 2 with just 23 seconds left, but the Bulls hit all of their free throws down the stretch to seal the win. Both teams showed great poise in the late minutes of the game, but only Chicago had the kind of leadership that Derrick Rose provides. Darren Collison often provides leadership to Indiana along with Danny Granger, but he was sidelined at the end of the game, and his status for the rest of the series remains questionable.
This game was very physical, as was game one. One reporter actually mentioned to Rose that it seemed like he took less of a beating in this game that in the previous one, but this is playoff basketball. This is the way these games are supposed to go. When a reporter asked Pacers’ coach Vogel if he was surprised that the officials let the play get so physical, he responded in a very matter-of-fact manner: “No, it’s the playoffs. The Eastern Conference Playoffs, this is what they do. It’s fun.” Carlos Boozer seconded Vogel’s opinion when asked if this series seemed more physical than most. “I think it’s normal,” remarked Boozer. “I’ve been in a lot of playoff series. I don’t think it’s abnormal. I think it’s what the playoffs are about. The stakes are high. Everyone wants to win. Everyone wants to get an edge.” The physical play is something that Rose should be no stranger to, but the post guys will have to be tough against Foster, Hibbert and Hansbrough in the post.
Despite the way the Bulls have struggled in the first two games of this series, the Bulls did not look as bad as the final score would indicate. While there is no excuse for the turnovers, Chicago’s shots simply did not drop. Keith Bogans was just 1-for-4 from beyond the arc, and Luol Deng and Joakim Noah combined to shoot just 5-for-23. That type of shooting won’t continue as the series goes on. The worst luck the Bulls had was on tip-ins and put-backs. Chicago was just 5-for-19 as a team on second chance field goal attempts, and were actually outscored on second chance points despite 11 more offensive boards than the Pacers. The Bulls defensive effort was good for most of the game, and Chicago absolutely owned the glass. The biggest problems for the Bulls seem to be psychological. All season long, the Bulls have had to hear about how they didn’t have any playoff experience, and it may finally be affecting them. They are trying so hard to prove that they can win in the playoffs that they are pressing and being too cautious on the offensive end. They are hesitant to shoot, hesitant to pass, and it is making it hard to hit shots and play smoothly on offense. Playing in front of the home crowd might be compounding the problem. Now that the first couple games are in the books, the jitters should be gone. The Bulls are eventually going to start playing better on offense, and that is a scary thought.
The Indiana Pacers don’t seem like the type to scare easy, however. Many people expected them to come out flat after the deflating loss in game one, but they didn’t do that. This team has certainly demonstrated their resiliency thus far in the series, at least to their coach. Vogel was asked if he was worried about his team’s ability to bounce back after the loss, and his answer was annoyed and almost defiant: “Do you have any question about that? I don’t.” Indiana has played very well so far, but they will be hard pressed to continue to play at this level if Darren Collison is unable to play for a couple of games. There is no question they will continue to fight, just as they have through the first two games. “Very disappointed that we didn’t come out with the W,” stated Vogel, “but our guys played their hearts out, can’t ask for anything more than that.” The Pacers will certainly be facing an uphill battle down 2 games, but they seem up for the challenge.
The Bulls have never been a team to shy away from a challenge, and beating Indiana in Conseco Fieldhouse will certainly be one. In the NBA playoffs, no one has done anything until someone wins on the road, and Chicago hasn’t done that yet. If they want to go into the Pacers’ house and beat them, they know they will have to play better. “Our play has to get better,” explained Rose. “We’ve got to be more smooth, more efficient, especially on the defensive end. We’ve got to try a lot harder. I feel like we’re going to get things together pretty quickly.” If D-Rose is right, the Indiana Pacers had better be a little scared. Watching game two, I couldn’t help but feel like the Bulls were a sleeping giant. All of their offensive and defensive timing was just a little bit off, and the shots just weren’t going down. The pressure of trying to impress the home crowd in a playoff series may be getting to them, but getting away to Indiana might be just what they need to play a little more loosely and be more sure of themselves on both ends of the floor. If they are quicker to make the extra pass, and to close out on shooters, and to put up shots when they are there, these Bulls won’t be sleeping anymore, and Indiana will be in some serious trouble. I think the Bulls will get things going sooner rather than later, and the Pacers, especially if they don’t have Collison, could get run out of their own gym. Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum I smell the blood of the Pacers, they’re done.