Yes, that’s right. Even though this recap was delayed a day, I’m still saying “whew.” That’s how I feel…and that’s just the kind of game it was. Here are my thoughts.
First, a lot of the post-game talk was about how Chicago’s defense failed. As Rob Mahoney (writing for SI.com) put it: “Chicago may boast the top defense in the NBA this season, but it allowed Indiana to score at a rate of 113.8 points per 100 possessions in Game 1, in part because of the Bulls’ inability to disrupt the scoring balance of Darren Collison, Danny Granger, Tyler Hansbrough and Roy Hibbert. That combination, which scored a combined 74 points on 51 percent shooting, proved to be surprisingly stable.”
Okay, look. I will admit Game 1 wasn’t the strongest defensive showing we’ve seen from this Bulls squad. And yes, there was a stretch in the fourth quarter when I thought Carlos Boozer had been paid off to throw the game. But Collison, Granger and Hansbrough were crazy-hot from the outside. Those guys combined to shoot 12-for-22 from 16-23 feet (Hansbrough was 7-for-10) and Collison and Granger went 6-for-10 from downtown. Furthermore, Brandon Rush and A.J. Price combined to go 4-for-5 from beyond the arc.
That’s some unusually accurate long-distance shooting. And several of those shots were contested.
I concede that the Bulls can clean up their defense a little bit. But I think the Pacers were converting long field goal attempts at a much higher rate than usual — the Hoopdata numbers back this up — and I find it difficult to believe they’ll be able to shoot as well in Game 2. Particularly since I’m sure coach Tom Thibodeau will be cracking the defensive whip.
I also think the Pacers had a really good defensive game plan. They were physical and aggressive. They bullied Boozer and Joakim Noah, forcing them into a combined 6-for-16 shooting at the rim. They committed hard “playoff fouls.” They had active hands, disrupting passes and contesting shots, refusing to give up anything easy.
Basically, the Pacers played really well. I’m tempted to say they played about as well as they could possibly hope to play. And they lost.
As for the Bulls, there’s plenty of room for improvement, mostly on offense. They missed 15 shots at the rim. They went 6-for-20 from three-point range (including Derrick Rose’s gak-inducing 0-for-9). They committed 15 turnovers and gave up 24 points off those turnovers. Overall, their offensive execution was poor. That was in large part due to Indy’s aggressive D. But still.
Fortunately, the Bulls have D-Rose and the Pacers do not. Look, we all know what Derrick did: 39 points (a playoff career-high) on 10-for-23 from the field and 19-for-21 from the free throw line. In the final 4:52, Rose scored 9 points, assisted Noah on a dunk and dished to Kyle Korver for a three-pointer that gave the Bulls their first lead of the game.
Just call him The Closer.
And did the Pacers ever feel safe? Even when they went ahead 98-88 with 3:38 left?
Said Granger: “With Derrick Rose on the other team, no. It’s like a crazy stalker ex-girlfriend. Every time you tell her you don’t want to talk to her, she’ll show up at your door again.”
Not exactly politically correct, but essentially accurate.
Rose is a superstar and he did what superstars do. He willed the Bulls to a win that they might not have deserved. Or, to put it another way, he stole a win away from the Pacers that they very nearly earned.
Some other thoughts:
How cool was it when Luol Deng got in Hansbrough’s face for committing a hard foul on Rose? On the one hand, Deng earning a tech during a hotly contested fourth quarter with the Bulls down 91-86 seems like a tactical error. But sometimes it’s important to set a tone. To let the other team know you won’t be intimidated and you won’t let them push your best player around. Deng isn’t what you’d call a natural leader. But standing up for Rose was a very leader-y move.
And, fortunatley, Collison bricked the technical free throw. After which Deng incited the crowd into a cheering frenzy. It was good to see.
Let’s not forget that Deng also contributed 18 points (7-for-13) and 10 rebounds.
Keith Bogans: 0-for-3 and a plus-minus score of -11 in 17 minutes. It was exactly the kind of playoff game Bulls fans have been worried about all season. I’m just sayin’.
Okay, about Boozer. Yes, his defense on Psycho T was, okay, it was dreadful. And the sequence in which Hansbrough stole the ball from Boozer followed by Boozer committing one of history’s dumbest fouls on Hansbrough’s breakaway dunk had me ready to light some torches, grab some pitchforks and assemble a mob to run Boozington out of town.
That said…Boozer’s D was, in part, affected by the fact that he was in foul trouble all night. In addition, Hansbrough was hotter than usual. Guys don’t normally shoot 7-for-10 from 16-23 feet.
Still, Carlos needs to get more physical, force Hansbrough to put the ball on the floor. Hansbrough lives for stand-still jumpers. It’s what he does. Boozer can’t give him that.
Furthermore, Boozer needs more offensive touches. Look, Rose cannot keep churning out 30-point games while driving into buzz saws every night. The Bulls need to figure out how to generate some consistent non-Rose offense. And since Boozer clearly isn’t out there for defense, it’s time to get him more involved in the offense. The Bulls need to post, re-post and re-re-post if necessary. Remember early in the season when Thibs wanted the Bulls to be an inside-out team? What happened to that?
Boozer is a proven scorer. That, along with rebounding, is why you have him on the floor.
Anyway, here’s my final word on the game. The Pacers came out relaxed and confident because they weren’t expected to win. To them, this was the first of four chances to get a win in Chicago. The pressure didn’t get to them until the final five minutes. As for the Bulls, they came out stiff and sluggish, and allowed the Pacers to set the tone.
They took Indy’s best shot. And won anyway. That could be bad news for the Pacers.