The bowels of the United Center felt like a funeral parlor after the Bulls (16-4) first home loss of the season, a 95-90 defeat at the hands of the Central Division rival Pacers, a team determined to establish a rivalry. Though Chicago was short-handed without the services of the sidelined Luol Deng and Taj Gibson, the disappointment in Tom Thibodeaus voice and in the home locker room reflected more than just the final result.
We started sluggishly, we werent sharp and in this league, you get what you deserve, said the dejected coach. Getting ready to play is a big part of this league. I think youve got to be ready to play every night. I think as soon as you start feeling good about yourself, youre going to get knocked on your expletive. Thats the way it is.
It starts with me. Ive got to get them ready to play, so thats on me, he continued. Its pretty simple. We do the same things and it starts in practice, it starts in your shootaround. Come in, be serious, get ready. When the ball goes up, youve got to know what youre doing.
The feisty visitors, as they did in the preseason opener and tougher-than-expected first-round playoff series last spring, came out swinging against their more highly-touted Central Division rivals. With no Deng to pester him, Indiana small forward Danny Granger (22 points, nine rebounds) was both aggressive and productive from the outset, using his size to take advantage of fill-in starter Ronnie Brewer (20 points, 10 rebounds, five assists)capable of playing both wing positions, the reserve swingman is perhaps better suited to defending shooting guardsand inexperienced rookie Jimmy Butler, who surprisingly saw early action.
Its definitely going to hurt us, not playing with them, but its the NBA. No excuses, said Derrick Rose, referring to the absences of key cogs Deng and Gibson. Cant say we lost this game because we didnt have them. We were up 10 at half. We lost this game because of us and it hurts.
But behind the play of usual suspect Rose (24 points, two blocked shots)the All-Star point guard was in attack mode, both slashing to the rim and looking for his much-improved outside jumperthe Bulls kept it close in the opening period, though they had to endure yet another injury scare when veteran shooting guard Rip Hamilton (17 points) briefly writhed on the floor in pain before getting to his feet shortly thereafter. However, with the likes of free-agent acquisition David West (14 points, seven rebounds) and the developing young duo of center Roy Hibbert (20 points, eight rebounds) and point guard Darren Collison (11 points, eight assists) also contributing, the home team trailed, 24-23, after a quarter of play.
The contest remained a close-knit affair into the second quarter, as neither teams bench could get much going offensivelyboth sets of reserves have been lauded as among the leagues bestand with defensive-oriented styles ruling the day, easy baskets were few and far between. Athletic second-year swingman Paul George (13 points) began to make his presence felt for the guests, while Brewer also started to assert himself, with the passing assistance of his current and former teammate Carlos Boozer (11 points, seven rebounds), whose floor vision remains an underrated aspect of his game.
I think we were prepared. I think in the first half, we came out playing extremely hard, getting stops on defense, which allowed us to run the floor, get easy baskets. We were executing our offense, said Brewer, the lone player Thibodeau cited as being prepared.
As the half wound down, Chicago surged ahead, building a slim cushion by virtue of trademark tough defense, as well as opportunistic transition offense, something the team had gotten away from as of late. The visitors were flustered into turnovers and harangued at every turn, sending the United Center crowd into a frenzy as the lead ballooned to double digits by the intermission, when the Bulls took a 54-44 advantage into the break, following a 7-0 run to end the period.
We had a chance just to put them away. I think in the first half, we took their confidence a little bit. Then, they got it back with a couple of easy baskets and started the third quarter, and they just ran away with it, said Rose. We could have focused a little bit better today at walk-through and shootaround, and stuff, but as a player, I really didnt see it. But as a coach, he sees everything, so the only thing we can do next time is come in here, go into shootaround and go into walk-through, and be very professional.
Added Thibodeau: The ball moved in the first half. Second half, I didnt think we had the same type of movement. Youve got to try to attack them before theyre set, then when theyre set, theyve got great size up front, so youve got to try to move them. Ball moves, great things will happen. I didnt think we were as aggressive as we needed to be. Got to the line maybe 12 times in the first half, I think three in the second, so I guess weve got to drive the ball harder, got to post it harder.
Indiana immediately stormed at the beginning of the third quarter, closing the gap to two points with a 11-3 run, sparked by Hibberts interior play, to start the second half. But the Bulls responded, as Joakim Noahs (10 points, 13 rebounds) high activity levelthe center seized a defensive board went coast to coast for a layup, a blast from the pastand Brewers continued perimeter marksmanship got the squad back in rhythm.
The game evolved into a dogfight, with Rose shouldering the offensive load with his typically determined drives, with able assistance from the perpetually-moving Hamilton and the Pacers turning to their man in the middle, Hibbert, for low-post scoring, as well as getting an energy boost from rugged reserve Tyler Hansborough (10 points, six rebounds), the scourge of Chicago during that first-round series a year ago. Heading into the final stanza, Indiana snatched the lead back from the Bulls and held a narrow winning margin, 75-74.
They came in at halftime, made an adjustment, slowed the game down a little bit, executed their sets, got the ball in the spots where their key guys were able to work. We were missing shotsnot that thats an excusebut we had some turnovers. Theyre a great rebounding team, physical team and that kind of took us out of some of the things we were doing in the first half, said Brewer. I dont think we ever were not aggressive. We dont really play passive. If we get stops, we tend to push the ball, but we werent getting stops. They were able to knock down shots, get fouled, go to the free-throw line and that puts a standstill on the ball, and makes us run our sets and if youre not making shots, you cant put points on the board.
West, an All-Star power forward when he was in the Western Conference, but still obviously not 100 percent after suffering an ACL injury late last season, gave the Pacers a lift early in the fourth quarter with his combination of finesse and physical play. But the visitors breathing room was short-lived, as Boozer came to life and the Bulls again raised their level of defense to slice into the deficit.
After being dormant for a while, Granger regained his effectiveness and again powered the Pacers to a seven-point spreadin this hotly-contested affair, that was like a 20-point lead in a normal gamebut scrappy play from the Bulls had them back in it down the stretch. However, the 50-50 balls that normally went Chicagos way were instead corralled by the visitors, whose underdog mentality after being tormented by their division rivals was worn on their sleeves.
Noted Rose: They were the aggressor. They were getting to the rebounds, loose balls quicker than us. Weve just got to learn from it. Usually, we out-rebound teams, but it just didnt happen tonight.
Although the Bulls cut the deficit to 92-90 with under a minute to play and secured possession after a Noah rebound, deep reserve Brian Scalabrinein the game for Boozer, who had struggled defensively and had five foulsmissed a potential go-ahead three-pointer, eventually leading to a Hibbert dunk with 13.1 seconds remaining as the Pacers scrambled upcourt.
I was just trying to pick my spots. I think I picked them very well, where we got ourselves in a position to win, but it just didnt work our way at the end. We still got a good shot off, but we never want to put ourselves in that position. Thats exactlyexactlywhat we did tonight, a dejected Rose said, prior to taking a 12-second pause to collect his thoughts when asked what aspect of the loss was most disappointing. Not learning from my mistakes. Jumping on the team and letting them come back. Its always like that. Hopefully we get to learn it soon.
Chimed in 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, guy was wide open in the corner. He could have took a shot with a guy on him or he could have passed the ball to a wide-open person. Passed it to a wide-open person, who had a great shot, who works on that shot every day, so its a good shot. Unfortunately, it didnt go in for him.
Thibodeau concurred, albeit tersely: Derrick in the open floor, I thought he made the right play. The help was there, they collapsed, Scalabrine open in the corner three, make-or-miss league. He missed.
Theyve got to be ready from the start. Desperation in the fourth quarter, poor effort. That efforts got to be there from the start of the game, he added. You get your energy from your preparation. Thats where your energy comes from, your concentration, getting prepared, knowing what youre doing, so you dont do the necessary things, youre not going to be ready to play. Simple as that.
It was all academic in the end and the disappointed audience, while treated to a competitive game, buzzed with a sense of foreboding that the Central Division wasnt going to be the cakewalk they thought.
Theyre a good team, but its not about them. Its about us, said Noah. You win some, you lose some. We know we made mistakes that hurt us tonight.
Its always going to be a physical game, especially when the game gets close. Theyre a good team and we know that we can play better, he continued. Noah felt like expletive. We lost. You always feel like expletive after you lose.
Basketball is a game of runs, but you look back on it and you see the mistakes that you made, what you could do personally to help the team and tomorrow, we have a day off, so well go in and watch some film, and learn from this. Youve got to learn if you can deal with the good things that happen, youve got to be able to deal with the bad and learn from your mistakes, the center went on to say. I dont know about not being prepared, but I feel like were always pretty prepared. But we definitely didnt play to the best of our ability.
Brewer added: I dont think after a loss, you have a good taste, regardless. First loss at home, on the roadwhatever it isyou want to win every game that you step on the floor, especially at home. You dont want to lose in front of your fans, so well get back to the drawing board, come back with a lot better effort for 48 minutes of basketball.