Going into last night’s game, Chicago had compiled a 3-17 record at Conseco Fieldhouse since Indy’s basketball palace first opened in 1999. And it’s not like the Pacers have been a powerhouse team the last several seasons. For whatever reason, the Bulls simply haven’t been able to win there.
That all changed last night. I have to admit, though, it looked like they were destined to leave Indianapolis with a 3-18 record at Conseco. For most of the game, the Bulls played defense like were just waiting to get back on offense. The Pacers scored 60 points in the first half and had 86 through three quarters.
Fortunately, Chicago finally put the clamps on in the fourth quarter, during which Indiana scored only 15 points on 33 percent shooting. It helped that Danny Granger (27 points, 9-for-23) was chucking up jumper after jumper, and Roy Hibbert (4-for-13) was just flinging the ball at the basket. The Bulls also forced six turnovers in the final quarter, thanks to the fact that the Pacers are forced to masquerade Earl Watson and T.J. Ford as point guards.
Said Kirk Hinrich: “We were able to string some stops together, and we did a good job of moving the ball down the stretch. Guys just started making simple plays, and it seemed like things started going our way when we got some stops.”
Another huge factor in this game was Chicago’s aggressiveness. The Bulls forced the action toward the hoop, earning 33 free throw attempts to only 19 for the Pacers. A big reason for that was the play of John Salmons, who scored 21 points of te Bulls bench by going 7-for-10 from the field and 7-for-10 at the charity stripe.
Said Salmons: “I felt pretty good tonight. I wanted to attack the rim as much as possible. I feel that by doing that, I can take a lot of pressure off Derrick Rose so he doesn’t have to make all the plays for us. He’s been doing a great job of that for us lately.”
Rose finished with 21 points (9-for-18) and a game-high 7 assists. Unfortunately, Derrick also tied Watson with a game-high 5 turnovers. But he began and ended a 9-0 fourth quarter run with a three-point play and a long jumper that turned a 92-86 deficit into a 96-92 lead. And the Bulls never looked back.
Said Pacers coach Jim O’Brien: “Rose in the open court was the difference in the basketball game. He attacks like a running back. There is no point guard in the league that can guard him one on one.”
O’Brien is exactly right. I just wish Derrick would use his gifts to draw more fouls. Rose finished with three foul shots, and he’s averaging only four attempts per game on the season. Free throws are what sustain a team down the stretch and during those long stretches when their offense gets out of whack. Given his speed and strength, there’s no reason Rose shouldn’t be getting seven or eight foul shots a night.
Not that I’m trying to nitpick or anything.
Luol Deng had an…unusual game. He scored a team-high 23 points to go along with 11 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 assists and 2 blocked shots. But after a fire-and-lightning first quarter in which he scored 14 points, Deng just kind of hung back on offense. This has been a recurring theme for Luol lately: A strong first quarter followed by three quiet ones. I don’t know if he’s pulling back on his own or whether Vinny Del Negro just stops calling his number. All I know is that if Deng ever plays a full game the way he’s been starting them, he’s going to score 50 one of these days.
In case you’re wondering, Tyrus Thomas behaved himself, and nearly ended up with a double-double (9 points, 7 boards) in 28 minutes. The numbers aren’t great, but he provided some stability off the bench, which is all Vinny has been asking of him.
The good news is the Bulls (23-23) made it back to .500. The bad news is they have to face Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic tonight in Chicago. On the second night of back-to-backs. Without Joakim Noah. That’s a pretty tall order. Let’s hope the team is up to the challenge. It would be nice to be above .500 before the All-Star break for a change.
1st timeout: Deng fouled by Granger (2-for-2)
2nd timeout: Hinrich three-pointer (Rose assists)
3rd timeout: Rose missed three-pointer
4th timeout: Miller layup and the foul (1-for-1)
5th timeout: Miller missed jumper
Note that Derrick’s three-pointer was an attempt to beat the halftime buzzer on a play that started with only two seconds left on the clock. So that “failure” after the timeout can be forgiven. If we scratch that possession, the Bulls were successful on four of five post-timeout possessions. Note also that Chicago went on a 10-3 run after the first timeout.