Monday, April 18, 2011Posted: 11:35 p.m. Updated: 2:06 a.m.
By Aggrey Sam
An underwhelming performance for three quarters and change. Derrick Rose keeps the Bulls afloat before taking over the game down the stretch late to rescue the Bulls. Throw in a late Kyle Korver three-pointer for good measure. Repeat.
Apparently thats Chicago s strategy in its first-round series against Indiana , as it took another dominant outing from Rose and a bounce-back game from Carlos Boozer to survive the feisty Pacers, 96-90, Monday night at the United Center . The Bulls lead the series 2-0 with Game 3 looming Thursday in Indianapolis .
Im fine with it. As long as were winning, Im not worried about that. My teammates are winners. As long as I keep passing them the ball, telling them to shoot, were good, said Rose, when asked about his ability to shoulder the load. The only thing we can do is get better. We played, I think, our worst and were blessed to get these two wins.
WATCH: Thibodeau on taking care of the ball
Echoed Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau: Hes a leader, I think hes earned everything that hes gotten, he runs our team great and I think he wants the challenge.
A genuine energy filled the United Center from the outset and even though it wasnt initially an aesthetically-pleasing outing, the renewed hustle of Joakim Noah and improved effort of Boozer (17 points, 16 rebounds) were on full display. Noah played with his former level of intensity, something he struggled to regain through his various rehabilitation processes, while the much-maligned Boozer looked to be more assertive offensively.
Boozer was more aggressive because of not being in foul trouble. His rebounding was great, said Thibodeau. I thought he got off to a good start offensively. We probably should have searched him out more in the post in the second half.
Explained Boozer himself: I just tried to play off my teammates. I thought in the second half, they paid a lot more attention to me, rotating.
The tandem together was a force on the boards, dominating the visitors, although that was mitigated by the Bulls unforced errors on offense, resulting in a low-scoring contest and made more difficult for the hosts when Rose (36 points, six assists, eight rebounds) accrued two early fouls.
WATCH: Rose says Bulls will walk through the fire together
While Boozer scored effectivelydespite uncharacteristic 3-for-7 foul shooting Chicago trailed after the opening period, 18-17.
Behind reserves like Mike Dunleavy and A.J. Price (13 points), Indiana gradually opened up a gap between the two squads, as the Bulls were absolutely frigid from the field and unable to prevent the sweet-shooting Pacers from knocking down deep jumpers. But upon the return of Rose, the Bulls played at a faster paceand with more passion in generalmaking it a close-knit affair.
Once again, however, the visitors withstood Chicago s push and opened up another comfortable margin, but suffered a major loss when point guard Darren Collison injured himself by crashing into baseline photographers after completing a fast-break layup, resulting in a sprained left ankle.
I just remember going up for a layup and I think I rolled on it wrong, Collison recalled. Ninety percent of the time, if I have an injury like that, Id go right back out there and play on it, but its just frustrating because I cant even jog on it.
Right now, I think its day-to-day. Most likely, Im going to try to be back for Game 3.
It an X-ray was negative. Right now, its just real sore and swelled up pretty bad, but well see.
Said Pacers interim head coach Frank Vogel of his floor general: Hes a big part of what we do.
You always miss your leader, just from a cohesiveness standpoint and everything.
The Bulls turned up the defensive pressure late and by virtue of forcing turnovers, the home team climbed back to cut the deficit to 47-44 at halftime.
As the Bulls are prone to do, they stormed back after the break, going on an 11-3 run to open the third quarter.
WATCH: Deng says playoffs are never pretty
Luol Deng (14 points, six rebounds) came alive to complement Roses effortsnot only as a scorer, but as a distributorand Boozer continued his ownership of the glass, as well as his low-post scoring. Suddenly, Indiana was on its heels and Chicago again resembled the unselfish, defensive-minded, 62-win team it was during the regular season.
Everybody contributed to the Bulls third-quarter chargefrom veteran role players Keith Bogans and Kurt Thomas to primary scorers Boozer and Rosebut it was the improved team defense that truly led the way. Thibodeaus bunch got back to its active, help-side ways, enabling them to create easy opportunities via the transition game.
Still, behind go-to scorer Danny Granger (19 points), the Pacers didnt fade away quietly and aided by some careless Chicago miscues, tied it 67 apiece following a successful T.J. Ford half-court prayer at the third-period buzzer.
The final stanza started inauspiciously enough for the Bulls, as it became clear that Indiana was more than eager to engage in the grind-it-out style of play that worked so often for the hosts in the regular season.
With the Pacers also getting timely outside shooting, strong play off the bench and a physical, active defense, the guests had all the momentum.
Every fan, member of the media, team employee and player in the arena knew where the Bulls would turn to bail them out: Rose, who delivered in his typically cold-blooded fashion, knocking down jumpers and careening past Indiana defenders like a pinball for a remarkable finish, a trip to the charity stripe or both.
The game dictates that. Hes a primary scorer, the balls in his hands a lot and we need him to score, so hes done it, said Thibodeau. But Im comfortable with his decision-making, too. Hes going to make the right play. I dont think you see the impact he really has by his assist number.
Added Boozer: We got the ball in the MVPs hands and he took over, which is normal for us. I know we keep talking about it every day like were surprised, but we shouldnt be surprised anymore, right?
Rose provided Chicago with a slight cushion and when the young Pacers couldnt respond, he once again found Korver, the teams designated sharpshooter for a clutch three-pointer, making it a 90-85 game in the Bulls favor with 1:04 to play.
WATCH: Noah says Rose is "big time"
We did a great job on him all night. Hes a great player, said Vogel. He made key plays down the stretch to win the game for them
Were just trying to give him some different looks. Give him a steady diet, he picks you apart, he continued. We tried to trap Rose out at halfcourt, as opposed to him drawing our whole team and then finding him.
Our guys played their hearts out. Cant ask for anything more than that.
The game seemed in the bag for Chicago, but despite Indiana not being able to capitalize on some fortuitous opportunities in the waning moments, Rose proved he was both a giver and taker after fouling Price on a three-pointer with 23.4 seconds left, a call that earned the scorn of the home fans.
Price drained the trio of free-throw attempts to make it a two-point game, but Bulls sealed the deal by navigating the inevitable end-game foul scenario and subsequent foul-line parade with success.
These games are definitely tough. It takes a punishment to keep going in there and keep getting beat up. Tonight, I just tried to mix up my game, shoot jump shots a little bit. But Im going to still attack, play the way that I playaggressiveand that opens up my teammates, said Rose. The only thing Im worried about is my turnovers. Of course, I had six of them. That definitely changed the game. If anything, I can learn from it and do better next time. With the team, weve got to come out with an edge, got to take their confidence and we didnt do that tonight. it was still a pretty close game, all the way until the end.
WATCH: Korver on cleaning up some things
Were very happy to be here, of course. We wouldnt take anything back, but our play has to get better. Weve got to be more smooth, more efficient, especially on the defensive end, where weve got to try a lot harder. But I feel like were going to get things together pretty quickly.
Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.