Game Recap: Pacers 95, Bulls 90

 Let’s be completely honest about something…

…it would be very, very, very easy to focus too much attention on the Bulls’ last chance of winning this game.

There were 22 seconds left and the Bulls were down 92-90. The Indiana defense collapsed on a driving Derrick Rose. Rather than force up a contested shot, Rose passed to Brian Scalabrine for a wiiiiiiiide open three-pointer that would have given Chicago the lead.

Scal missed. The Bulls were forced to foul. Game over.

I knew it was going to go down that way. When Rose bolted toward Chicago’s offensive end with Scalabrine still on the floor, I knew the Pacers would opt to leave Scal open. Let’s face it, the Pacers knew what they were doing. That’s the man they wanted taking the last meaningful shot against them. And that’s what they got.

But don’t expect any apologies from the Bulls.

Following the loss, everybody on the team — from the coaching staff to the players — formed a united front: Rose made the correct basketball play. It just didn’t work.

Said Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau: “We were looking for Derrick in the open floor and he made the right play. The defensive help was there. They collapsed on Derrick and Scalabrine was wide open in the corner for a 3. It is a make-or-miss league and he missed.”

Added Ronnie Brewer: “D. Rose is D. Rose. He makes plays for himself, he makes plays for others. It shows his unselfishness that he made a play. A guy was wide open in the corner, [Rose] could have took a shot with a guy on him or passed the ball to a wide-open person. He passed the ball to a wide-open person who had a great shot, who works on that shot every day. It’s a good shot, unfortunately it didn’t go in for him.”

Although this lacked the drama and importance, Rose’s decision reminds me of how, in Game 1 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals, LeBron James passed to a wide open Donyell Marshall for a potential game-winner.

Marshall missed and the world erupted.

Why on earth didn’t LeBron, who was driving toward the hoop much like Rose was last night, take the burden on himself? Isn’t that what superstars do?

Said LeBron afterward: “I go for the winning play. If two guys come at you and your teammate is open, then give it up. Simple as that.”

LeBron was correct back then. Rose was correct last night. That’s the beauty and damnation of sports. Sometimes making the right decision doesn’t work. And sometimes making the wrong decision does.

But you have to figure making the right decision will have better long-term results.

At any rate, you can question whether Scal should have gotten that last shot, or whether he should have been on the floor at all in that situation, but this loss wasn’t about that fateful shot.

Said Rose: “I think it was a good shot. At the time, I thought I didn’t have a shot. And I think I made the right play. But if anything, I’m going to learn from it. We’re going to learn from it as a team. We’re not going to try and put ourselves in this position anymore. And put teams away early.”

And there we have it.

Rose got to the heart of the matter.

To me, this defeat — the Bulls’ first home loss of the season — came down to little things. Minor mistakes and defensive lapses. Especially in the second half.

During the third quarter, the Pacers grabbed four offensive rebounds and hit seven shots at the rim.

In the fourth, they hauled in another three offensive boards and got three slam dunks.

The Pacers ended up outscoring the Bulls 50-40 in the paint and outrebounding them 44-41.

Yes, Chicago shot poorly (40 percent) while Indy shot unusually well (47.5 versus their season average of 42.1), especially Danny Granger (9-for-16 despite shooting 37 percent on the season).

Yes, Carlos Boozer (5-for-14) and Rip Hamilton (6-for-20) were shooting with blinders on.

Yes, the absences of Luol Deng (wrist) and Taj Gibson (ankle) likely affected the outcome.

But the rebounds, the layups and dunks, all the effort and hustle plays that went the Pacers’ way…

…those are the reasons the Bulls lost.

The Bulls put themselves in a position to lose by getting sloppy to start the third quarter. By letting the Pacers outwork them throughout the second half. Everybody on that Indiana team showed up locked in and ready to go to war. The Bulls, on the other hand, didn’t have their hard hats on. They weren’t mentally prepared for a slugfest.

Said Thibs: “I didn’t think we were as aggressive as we needed to be. … It’s pretty simple. We do the same things. It starts in practice and at shootaround. Come in, be serious and get ready. When the ball goes up, you’ve got to know what you’re doing. Getting ready to play is a big part of this league. You’ve got to be ready to play every night. I think as soon as you start feeling good about yourself, you’re going to get knocked on your ass. That’s the way it is.”

Well, the Bulls certainly got knocked on theirs last night. Not because of injuries or Scalabrines off-target shot. But because the Pacers wanted it more.

Said Rose: “Looking back, we could have focused better at shootaround. They were the aggressor. They were getting to the rebounds, loose balls. Usually, we outrebound teams.”

Rose is right. The Bulls usually outwork their opponents. Last night, they didn’t, and they lost because of it. And the Pacers let them know it on their way off the floor last night. Which may have been a boo boo.

Said Rose: I will never forget how they celebrated just from winning this game. I can’t wait to play them again.”

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