Saturday, April 16, 2011Posted: 2:55 PM
By Aggrey Sam
It couldnt happen, could it? After an incredible regular season, the top-seeded Bulls couldnt lose the first game of their opening-round series to upstart Indiana?
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No, but only by the skin of their teeth. For the majority of the game, that answer was in doubt, but led by an amazing performance by likely MVP Derrick Rose, Chicago closed Game 1 with a 16-1 run to win a thriller, 104-99, Saturday afternoon at the United Center.
We didnt play well, didnt play our best, but at the end, we did what we had to do to pull out the win, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. We got the win, which is the most important thing.
We know were going to have to play a lot better in Game 2.
Countered Pacers interim head coach Frank Vogel: Im very proud of the effort of our club tonight; very disappointed in the loss. Ive got a great deal of belief in this team. Im not surprised that we almost won this game; should have won this game. Weve been playing about as well as anybody in the NBA the last few weeks and this is going to be a series.
Our guys know we should have won this game. We can play with this team. We can play with any team in the NBA.
One of the few issues of the Bulls successful regular seasonslow startsmanifested itself, as Indiana utilized turnovers to score early transition baskets to complement their effective offensive rebounding, resulting in a 10-4 start for the visitors.
Led by Joakim Noahs (10 points, 11 rebounds) offensive rebounding, Chicago quickly worked its way back into the contest, as the center's uncanny zeal was back in effect from the games outset.
Rose (39 points, 19-for-21 free-throw shooting, six assists, six rebounds) also made his presence felt, but despite his efforts and Carlos Boozers (12 points, six rebounds) early low-post success, the Bulls still trailed their guests.
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Solid team defense and the scoring of offensive catalysts Darren Collison (17 points, nine assists, six rebounds) and center Roy Hibbert (11 points, eight rebounds) were keys for the Pacers, who ended the opening period with a 27-23 advantage.
Chicagos second unit, the Bench Mob, typically sets a certain tone when it comes to energy, but that aspect was lacking in the beginning of the second quarter, as Indianas reserves instead rose to the occasion and widened the deficit. Turnover issues, shoddy marksmanship and inconsistent defensive rebounding persisted for the Bulls and with foul trouble saddling Boozerhe picked up his third foul early in the periodthings werent looking up for the home team.
Though Rose consistently got to the basket to either finish or draw fouls, Chicago simply couldnt make up the necessary ground, not with Collison matching Rose as a scorer and contributions from the likes of feisty second-year power forward Tyler Hansborough (22 points), in comparison to sporadic efforts from Roses supporting cast.
Largely by virtue of their 50 percent first-half shooting from the floor (and 5-for-8 three-point shooting, compared to 2-for-7 from deep and 42.9-percent shooting from the floor for the Bulls), Indiana went into halftime with a 55-51 lead.
Pacers leading scorer Danny Granger (24 points, six rebounds, three assists) came out firing after the break, knocking down a pair of three-pointers and scoring another bucket in the post, giving the visitors a double-digit advantage in the early portion of the third quarter. More significantly, the Bulls simply couldnt buy a basketoutside of Rose, who had his hands full with Collison on the other endand their disappointing performance was reflected by the lull in the usually upbeat United Center audience.
Hansbrough continued to be productive for Indiana, at least until he took a shot from Kurt Thomas and was laid out on the floor, motionless, before he was taken into the arenas tunnel. There, he appeared to be woozy and needed assistance from team personnel, but he returned to the contest in the fourth quarter.
I just got elbowed, said Hansbrough, who noted that he didnt lose consciousness and reportedly had tests performed before he returned to action. I dont think it was anything intentionalits just the way it happenedand got the breath knocked out of me.
But even with the crowd getting behind them late in the period, the Bulls couldnt sustain any positive momentum and trailed through three quarters, 79-71.
It was bombs away to start the final stanza, as both squads contributed to a barrage of three-pointers to start the period. Although Granger did his part to help the Pacers cling to a slowly-decreasing lead, his small-forward counterpart, Luol Deng (18 points, 10 rebounds), finally came alive for the Bulls, scoring in his typically versatile fashion to add to Chicagos push.
After Hansbroughs return, the hyperactive North Carolina alum delivered a hard foul on Rose, causing Dengironically, a Duke productto engage him verbally, earning him a technical foul and the support of the crowd, which he exhorted in the aftermath of the near-skirmish.
Instead of motivating the Bulls, however, the incident seemed to get Hansbrough going, as he picked up where he left off and knocked down three consecutive jumpers, then made a steal and finished off the play with a fast-break dunk, plus a foul, for a traditional three-point play.
Just when it seemed like the Bulls were dead in the water, Noah, the teams inspirational leader, refused to let them sink, making back-to-back playsfirst, one of his patented tip-ins after keeping an offensive rebound alive, then running the floor for a fast-break dunkto bring Chicago within four points, 98-94, with 2:27 to go.
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On Chicagos next possession, Rose drove to the rim, hit a twisting layup and completed a three-point play to bring the Bulls within two points before tying the contest at 99 apiece with a spinning floater in the lane.
Derrick Rose was too much down the stretch, said Vogel. I look at 39 points and Im shocked that I see 39 because I thought that we did a good job most of the night on him. The kids out of this world. Hes got Allen Iversons speed, Jason Kidds vision, Chauncey Billups shooting and Michael Jordans athleticism. How do you guard that? We did a good job on him. He was too much.
Suddenly, the Bulls defense was back at an elite level, racking up defensive stops against their young opposition. With the Pacers defense almost solely focused on stopping Roses penetration, the Windy City native again got into the lane, then kicked it out to sharpshooter Kyle Korver (13 points, 4-for-4 three-point shooting) who nailed a three-pointer with 48.4 seconds remaining, giving the Bulls their first lead, 102-99.
Derrick made a great read. My man helps, hes going to kick it out to me. If he doesnt help, hes going to drive the middle of the lane, Korver explained. Toward the end of the fourth quarter, he was like, Im looking for you, Im looking for you, and I kept telling him, Im ready, Im ready. He made a great play.
Rose added: Kyle is a knockdown shooter. Thats why hes on the court with me at the end of the game. If you help too muchleave him openthats like a layup to him and Im just reading the court. Ive been in that position numerous times and me driving kind of gets everybody coming in the paint, and he was wide open.
On the Bulls next trip, they didnt initially convert, but the irrepressible Noah kept the ball alive and it wound up in the hands of Rose, who was fouled.
With an MVP chant in the background, the All-Star point guard calmly drained a pair of free throws with 14.8 seconds left on the clock, concluding a 16-1 run to end the game. On their final possession, the shell-shocked Pacers were unable to threaten their hosts, as Noah repeatedly denied their attempts around the rim, much to the delight of Bulls fans.
I was just trying to win a game and tonight, it was just me making shots and making plays. Whatever it takes for us to win, Im willing to do, said a relaxed Rose afterwards. Right now, life is pretty good.
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.