Finally the Bulls played like the Bulls.
I’m still not sure exactly what happened in Games 1-4.
Maybe they just needed the wakeup call they got in Game 4.
Maybe the Bulls were abducted by space aliens and replaced with android duplicates until right before Game 5.
Maybe we’ll never know.
Whatever the case, the Bulls pulled a switcheroo on the Pacers. Through the first four games, the Pacers were the aggressors. They were dictating the terms of the series with their intensity and (especially) their ultra-physical play. Last night, the Bulls became the Bullies.
Or, as Stacey King said, “Now the rabbit’s the one holding the gun.”
The hunter became the hunted. And the Pacers didn’t like it. Not one bit.
It’s kind of funny, too, considering all the hard and borderline dirty fouls Indiana dished out in this series. The Bulls never really complained about them, either. Even when Jeff Foster was dropping elbows on faces, Chicago coaches and players took the high ground, eschewing the “dirty” talk and describing the Pacers as a tough team playing hard.
Then, when the Bulls (finally) got physical back, Danny Granger took the low road.
Said Granger: “[Joakim Noah] pulled a cowardly move. He cheap-shotted a couple of my teammates, and one gets thrown out … The refs never catch what he did … it’s cowardly. And I’m going to say something about it. I wanted to say something about it all the way to the game was over. I just don’t think the game should be played that way. You can play hard and fight and battle, but when you start cheap-shotting people it gets out of hand.”
Granger was referring to a sequence in which Noah was jostling Josh McRoberts during the battle for a rebound. McRoberts said Noah elbowed him in the throat and, in retaliation, McRoberts threw a punch-like blow in Noah’s general direction. The blow whiffed, badly, but McRoberts was tossed anyway.
Said McRoberts: “I was trying to shove back to defend myself.”
Tom Thibodeau’s response? Whatever.
Said Thibs: “It’s just heat of the battle stuff.”
Added Noah: “I played dirty? Ok. I’m just trying to win basketball games, man. It’s the name of the game. I’m just out there trying to do what I gotta do. Like I said, I give a lot of credit to their team. The play hard as hell. They were competitive. I don’t have anything bad to say about them. Everybody saw what happened out there. Now you want to call me a dirty player? I don’t think I’ve ever been a dirty player. It is what it is. It’s ok.”
Granger really shouldn’t have been surprised at the turn of events. After all, the Pacers came into this series overmatched, and they made the first four games competitive by being as physical as possible. I wouldn’t call them the second coming of the Bad Boy Pistons or Pat Riley’s Knicks, but there was an awful lot of grabbing and hacking going on. And as we all know, if you mess with the Bulls, you just might get the horns.
And yeah, the Pacers got gored last night.
The Bulls controlled the game from the opening tip. The Pacers kept things close in the first half and then were utterly dominated in the second. Chicago outscored Indiana 62-43 over the final two quarters. The beating truly began thanks to an MVP-like stretch from Derrick Rose, who erupted out of the slump he was in during Games 3 and 4. He did it on offense. He did it on defense.
With 5:52 left in the third quarter and the Bulls leading 61-57, Rose dished to Taj Gibson for an 18-footer. On Chicago’s next possession, Rose drilled a three to push the lead to 66-57. On the other end, Rose made an amazing block on seven-footer Roy Hibbert. With 4:31 to go in the third, Rose nailed another three. Five seconds later, he stole the ball from Darren Collison, sprinted the other way, drew a foul from Tyler Hansbrough, and converted one of two free throws. Then, with 2:47 left in the quarter, Rose knocked down yet another three-pointer to push the lead to 75-60.
And the rout was on.
Now let’s look at that block on Hibbert.
Rose wasn’t the only slump buster. As a team, the Bulls pulled out of the dreadful offensive funk they were in. Well, everybody except Carlos Boozer, that is. (To wit: Boozer, who suffered a turf toe injury during the second quarter, finished with fewer points than Rasual Butler.)
Chicago literally blew the lid off the rim.
Luol Deng scored 24 points on 7-for-14 shooting, adding 6 rebounds, 7 assists and 3 steals for good measure. With his grandfather and sister watching from the stands, Joakim Noah had 14 points, 8 rebounds, 4 blocks and 3 steals. The bench added 36 points and 15 rebounds. Taj Gibson in particular delivered a strong performance (10 points and 7 boards) in relief of Boozer.
And Keith Bogans — yes, that Keith Bogans — went 5-for-7 from downtown and finished with 15 points. The Bulls are now 27-2 when Bogans scores at least 6 points.
Oh, and did I mention yet that Kyle “The Four-Inch Vertical” Korver dunked?
Well, he did. Korver dunked.
Yep. It was that kind of night for the Bulls.
They finished with an Effective Field Goal Percentage of 56.6 percent and an Offensive Rating of 124.4, easily their best marks of the series. Finally (there’s that word again) players were spaced correctly, and moving without the ball, and making smart passes. After averaging 18 turnovers per game for the first four games, the Bulls limited their miscues to 14 while forcing the Pacers into 21 turnovers, which turned into 34 points for Chicago. The Bulls also went 14-for-31 from beyond the arc.
Like I said, it was just that kind of night.
After the failed comeback in Game 4, Noah said this was a team that deals well with adversity. Well, he was right again, and now the Pacers get the summer off. Meanwhile, the Bulls await the winner of the Atlanta-Orlando series, which is now 3-2 in favor of the Hawks.
Said Rose: “Speechless right now. I really can’t believe it. It’s a great accomplishment. I’m happy for my teammates, happy for my coaching staff. They did a really great job.”
A tip of my hat and a firm handshake goes out to the Pacers, who gave the Bulls all they could handle and really could have won an additional game or two in the early going. I’m sure games against them next season will have an extra edge to them.
But that’s next season. The Bulls have more season to go this year.