Bulls

Game 2: Bulls must contain (still) confident Pacers

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Game 2: Bulls must contain (still) confident Pacers

Monday, April 18, 2011Posted: 10:55 a.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

After a loss--albeit a loss in which they led until the game's final minute--the Pacers' confidence might seem a bit misplaced, especially for a team with only one starter (leading scorer Danny Granger) and a handful of veteran reserves with any postseason experience.

The tail end of Indiana's practice at West Side basketball facility A.T.T.A.C.K. Athletics Sunday afternoon was spirited and, while players were joking and relaxed, (reporters were treated to an impromptu one-man dunk competition by rookie swingman Paul George) there was no mistaking their defiance.

"We are encouraged. We know we're a good basketball team. We know we can play with this team. We played a good basketball game for 45 minutes. They got the best of us down the stretch, but we definitely feel like we can play with this team and we're looking to earn a split Monday night," vowed interim head coach Frank Vogel.

READ: 'Madhouse on Madison' song to be featured in game tonight

"I don't think there's a lot of psychology that goes into that bouncing back from Sunday's heart-breaking defeat. We've been playing good basketball for a long time. We're a confident bunch. We expected to play that way. We expect to play that way Monday night."

The 37-year-old's contagious confidence has spread through his entire squad and, while the Pacers certainly don't look at Saturday as a moral victory, it's clear that their last two matchups against the Bulls have them believing that not only could they steal a win from the top-seeded team in the playoffs, but a heist of the entire first-round series isn't out of the question.

"We also believe that we can definitely compete against any team, so it's not just knowing that we've got nothing to lose, we believe that we can compete with any team in this league and when we're all on the same page, we believe we can beat any team in this league, too," said Pacers point guard Darren Collison. "Vogel is real confident. He instills a lot of confidence in everybody on this team.

"He's not just saying it to say it; he believes that, and whenever a coach has that much belief and that much confidence on the court, it carries over to the players."

Realistically, Indiana does comprehend that throwing a scare into the Bulls wasn't enough--to paraphrase the beginning of Granger's amusing ex-girlfriend stalker comparison, "With Chicago, no. With Derrick Rose, no."--even if it took a furious, 16-1 run down the game's final stretch for Chicago to pull off the come-from-behind win.

"That game's over with. Now, we just need to make the adjustments and try to improve," said Granger. "We played okay. We played well enough to win, but we just didn't finish it off. We went back to the film, we looked at a lot of things, made a lot of mistakes. We obviously could have played better, but that being said, we almost had the game.

"We had a really big chance to turn the series because winning the first game on their home court could have really changed the series," continued the small forward. "You're going to win some games, you're going to lose some, but I think when we give teams our best punch, a lot of times, we'll win that game."

Granger, whose pre-series comments about the Bulls going as Rose goes drew a lot of attention, isn't changing his tune about the Pacers' focus heading into Game 2, although Indiana still had no answers for the likely MVP's heroics Saturday.

"We can't give up 39 points, 21 free throws to him again. Those would be losing numbers for us, so that's our main priority right now. We realize they have other players, but our main priority right now is Derrick Rose," said Granger. "I don't know if he's going to score 40 points every game--I mean, he's capable--but that's what it took for them to beat us that time, so this time, if we can limit his effectiveness, hopefully we can come out with the win.

"When we looked at the tape--the final stretch of the game--we had a lot of breakdowns, not only defensively, but on the offensive end and it was uncharacteristic for what we wanted to do during that period of the game," he continued. "We got some good looks. They just didn't go down for us. Then, on the other end, we had a bad defensive lapse, where we gave up the three to Kyle Korver. We kind of messed up on that. Derrick Rose was getting to the basket at will the whole game. He did it in the fourth quarter, the last two minutes. We just couldn't really get a handle on him."

Vogel acknowledged that, upon further review, not as many of the fouls that led to Rose's repeat journeys to the charity stripe were as egregious as he first believed.

"Not a lot of them were bad calls. Most of them were him being aggressive and getting to the basket. We've got to have a wall of defenders every time he comes in there," he said.

Vogel wouldn't divulge any details of the Pacers' planned defensive adjustments, but expect Indiana to employ a trapping strategy to complement the physicality that greets Rose on his forays to the rim.

"We just practiced some different looks that we might throw at Derrick Rose and some of their other guys," said Vogel. "We've got to a better job keeping him out of the paint."

Confirmed Tyler Hansbrough: "We're going to try and keep the ball out of his hands as much as possible, and try to contain him a little better and not let him run around the court, and do his thing."

Unlike the widespread perception that guarding Hansbrough is one player's responsibility--more on that to come--the Pacers know they can't leave any lone defender on an island with Rose and are even willing to sacrifice to contain the explosive scorer.

"It's a hard task, but it's not one man's job to do it; it's all five guys on the court. We've tweaked some things," explained center Roy Hibbert. "I could be saying, 'Hey, you know what? I only got one shot in the second half,' but I wanted to be a defensive presence and I was really trying to do a good job with clogging up the paint, helping out as much as possible and just making sure Derrick Rose didn't get any easy looks at the basket."

Regardless of whether it's slowing down Rose or exhibiting more poise in crunch time, the young Pacers know they have to grow up in a hurry. However, they came into the series with a chip on their collective shoulder and after coming so close to bringing in the postseason with a monumental upset, they're not exactly dissuaded from trying to beat the odds.

"I'm not sure if it's confidence or it's just us getting out there and wanting to prove something, that we belong in the playoffs," said Hansbrough. "A lot of people have written us off."

Philosophized Hibbert: "We've got one under our belt now and it's in the moment when things click.

"We'll be able to figure it out when we're in the moment," he continued. "We're disappointed--a loss is a loss--but we know what we're capable of and we're hungrier than we've ever been before. We want a split in Chicago and then go home to Indy and get those wins there. I'm kind of happy this isn't like the NCAA college basketball tournament where this is one-and-done.

"It's going to be a long series; I just want to tell you guys the media that."

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.

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: The basketball world mourns the loss of Kobe Bryant

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: The basketball world mourns the loss of Kobe Bryant

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, Matt Peck, John Sabine and David Watson reflect on the passing of an NBA icon, Kobe Bryant.

0:30 - Reaction to Kobe's passing on Sunday

18:00 - More discussion about Kobe Bryant and his impact on the league

25:00 - The guys favorite memories of Kobe Bryant

Listen here or in the embedded player below.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.

What's next for Denzel Valentine after standout performance against Spurs?

What's next for Denzel Valentine after standout performance against Spurs?

Denzel Valentine is beloved throughout the Bulls’ locker room. It takes only a brief sweep around to glean that.

“I love playing with Denzel, that's my guy,” Kris Dunn said. “No matter what, that's my guy. He know[s] that.”

No matter what.

“Man, Denzel is a true professional,” Zach LaVine said. “We're thankful to have him on this team, I think any team would love to have him. He's someone that is beneficial to us because he's gotten put in a tough situation where he came off the bench, and he's a player that's a regular rotation guy.”

Any team would love to have him.

“They show a lot of support, man, it's just crazy. We have a really good, close-knit team,” Valentine said of his teammates. “Zach — he's been a really good help in this situation. Talking to me every day. Coby [White], Kris, I can go down the line of everybody that's a part of it, so. I got blessed, man, I'm on a really good team with really good teammates.”

Let’s rewind. Valentine logged his fourth-highest minutes total of the season (19:06) on Monday, tied his season-high for scoring (16 points) and played crucial, crunch-time minutes in one of these Bulls’ most memorable victories — a 110-109 squeak-by over the San Antonio Spurs on a night the late Kobe Bryant was commemorated from start to finish. 

Valentine added three assists, four rebounds, four 3-pointers and was a team-high +18, as well.

“I thought Denzel was terrific. He's kept himself ready and came in and helped us win a game,” coach Jim Boylen said.

It can’t have been easy keeping the rust off. After missing all of last season due to ankle reconstruction surgery, Valentine is averaging by far his lowest minutes per game this season while shooting 39.5% from 3-point range. He has been phased in and out of the rotation on multiple occasions.

“That's my job as a professional, to stay ready and play when called upon,” Valentine said of how he endures with playing time not a given.

In four games which Valentine has played more than 19 minutes this season, he averages 13.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game on 50/44/100 shooting splits. The Bulls are 3-1 in said contests.

“Playing winning basketball,” Valentine said on what he brings when given opportunity. “Whether that's scoring, passing, playing defense, rebounding. Just whatever I can do to affect the game. People always want to look at my shots, but I think I impact the game in a lot of different ways. I think my defense is underrated, and I impact the game in a lot of different ways.”

Valentine said he’s excited to continue to prove himself with advanced opportunity likely in the near future. Thad Young’s insertion into the starting lineup with Lauri Markkanen out for at least the next month opens a gaping need for scoring off the bench. Since Markkanen went down, Valentine is averaging 13.8 minutes per game. Before then, he hadn’t played more than seven since logging 16 minutes in a blowout loss to Milwaukee on Dec. 30. 

But tonight, he was instrumental to a victory. Of his four 3-pointers, two came in the fourth quarter as the Bulls were clawing their way back from, at one point, a 10-point deficit. 

“He brings that. Scoring, another playmaker. You know, when Denzel get rolling, you get to see a different player in him,” Dunn said. “He has that same mentality that I have in the sense of — you know, just go out there and do whatever you can do to win.”

Valentine is beloved throughout the locker room.

“That's not up to him, to play his minutes. He came in, and he's the biggest reason why we won the game I think,” LaVine said. “I think he was 6-for-10, he had 16 points in [19] minutes. You know, high-IQ player, playing on and off the ball, so it was big and I appreciate having him as my teammate.

“Denzel has some of the highest respect in the locker room, we know who he is as a player, and as a person.”

But are his teammates hinting at something? Trade speculation has swirled around Valentine with the deadline impending and the Bulls’ role for him undefined. Now, though, the team’s need for him is evident, given their short-handedness. 

The waters are muddy, but all there is to know for sure is this: All parties have remained and will remain professional.

Time will tell the rest.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.