Friday, Jan. 14, 2011
Posted 8:25 PM Updated 10:48 PM
By Aggrey Sam
INDIANAPOLIS, IND. With 99-86 victory Friday night over the Pacers, the Bulls didnt exactly reinvent the wheel, but after three consecutive losses on the road, they at least remedied their struggles away from home for the time being.
Additionally, the slow starts that have plagued them recently were a thing of the past, as the Bulls led after the initial period and didnt let up extending the lead into the second quarter and onward throughout the evening.
I couldnt wait to play, said Derrick Rose. We let that one the Bulls loss at Charlotte Wednesday night slip because of our defense and tonight, we made sure we played with a lot of intensity in the beginning of the game and made sure we played defense.
Added veteran Kurt Thomas: Those first two road losses at New Jersey and Philadelphia, we felt we had a bad third quarter. In Charlotte, we felt we dug ourselves deep in the hole in that first quarter. We were fortunate enough to get back in the game, but down the stretch, we didnt execute.
Tonight we were very focused. We wanted to stop this slide, losing on the road.
Slow-Start Blues Gone for the Night
Although the Bulls played with more energy in the early going Carlos Boozer (14 points, six rebounds) in particular was aggressive, scoring six first-quarter points before being saddled with two quick fouls but the offensively-potent Pacers, led by sharpshooting swingman Mike Dunleavy and blue-collar power forward Tyler Hansborough, took the early edge over their guests.
Chicago kept plugging away, however, and with a new wrinkle designed to combat opposing defenses trying to get the ball out of Roses (game-high 29 points, 10 rebounds) hands early high screens the Bulls settled into a groove, with Roses penetration and energetic play off the bench (Taj Gibson, especially, made a instant impact in Boozers stead), the visitors eventually took a 28-24 advantage into the second quarter.
I thought we had good energy, good focus right from the start. I liked our shootaround today, I liked our pregame and I liked the way we came out, said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau.
I think each and every game you have to analyze why you win and why you lose, and I think this team has been very good at taking the things we need to correct, focusing in on those things and trying to correct them, he continued. Today you could see it in the shootaround, you could see it in the pregame, that we would be ready to play.
Added Boozer: We were just ready tonight. We did a great job of focusing on what they do offensively. I thought we did a great job defensively and made them take tough shots, contested shots. We rebounded the ball well, we were efficient on offense. Everybody that came in the game was ready to play and thats what we need the rest of the season.
While the simple answer to how they righted the ship for one game, at least is they played with more energy, improved execution, better defensive awareness and a return to solid ball movement were more concrete examples of why the Bulls experienced more early success.
Early in the second quarter, sustained strong play from Chicagos second unit allowed the squad to maintain their slim cushion, although Indiana, which filtered its regulars back into the contest early in the period, pushed to turn the tables.
As one the teams primary scorers, Boozers early contributions (he ended up with 10 points and six rebounds in the half) were expected, but Gibsons six points and three rebounds in a 10-minute stint not only gave the Bulls the inside-outside approach Thibodeau prefers, but the fact that they were less reliant on Rose (who was permitted to rest until midway through the second period) was a welcome change.
Additionally, rookie center Omer Asik, in just a four-minute stint, produced admirably with five points and two boards of his own during his first-half appearance.
Gibson, who has been up and down lately, was effective on both ends and was only sidelined after picking up his third foul on a questionable call.
Some guys didnt play as much in the second half because of what was going on in the game with the matchups, explained Thibodeau. Taj was in there and he had some tough matchups; I thought he did a great job. Omer, I thought was very, very good; high energy.
While backup point guard C.J. Watson isnt a frontcourt player, his solid play permitted Rose (who had an outstanding half on the glass, gobbling up five boards to go along his nine points and three assists) to get some much-deserved rest.
Watson pushed the pace, penetrated Indianas defense, was a solid distributor of the ball and exhibited good shot selection, leading to Thibodeau granting the reserve extended playing time. Watson delivered, putting up eight points in seven minutes until Rose checked back into the game with 5:21 remaining before halftime.
C.J. was excellent, excellent, the way he ran the team, praised Thibodeau. I loved his aggressiveness throughout the game.
Additionally, after a slow individual start (although he did a nice job defending Pacers star Danny Granger, his small-forward counterpart), Luol Deng (17 points, five assists, three blocks) found his touch late in the half, playing a key part in helping the Bulls take a 53-41 lead into intermission.
Grangers such a good shooter. My whole mindset was I didnt want to lose him. He gets a lot of screens, hes always moving and I know my length, every time he takes a shot, I do the best I can to challenge the shot, so I didnt really want him to get any space, said Deng, who picked up a technical foul in the quarter.
Thibodeau added: The thing about Lu, I probably would have liked less minutes for him, but hes in such great shape and he can handle the minutes. Hes prepared himself for this the way he works in the offseason and the way he takes care of himself during the season so hes shown he can handle the minutes.
Hes really the glue to the team because whatever we need, he provides. Guard a range-shooting four, he goes to that guy. Primary scorer two or three, he guards that guy. You need rebounding, he gives you rebounding. You need scoring, he gives you scoring.
Third-Quarter Blues Nonexistent
Chicagos slow starts have been the focus as of late, but in reality, the team has had problems all season with having one lackluster period per game, whether its the first quarter, the second or third.
On this occasion, however, the Bulls kept their foot on the gas, as Rose began to assert himself as a scorer, Deng built on his strong ending to the first half and their teammates continued to execute.
Ball movement was once again a staple and Dengs defense on Granger fouled up Indianas comeback efforts, prompting Pacers head coach Jim OBrien to go to a small-ball lineup.
That adjustment didnt make much of a difference the Bulls frontcourt versatility nullified the moves, as both Deng and Gibson can defend on the perimeter and the home team struggled to consistently get quality shot attempts before the shot clock wound down.
Veterans Thomas and Keith Bogans (the former snatched 13 boards through three periods; he finished with a season-high 18 rebounds) didnt make big offensive contributions, but their toughness, defensive acumen and overall savvy helped keep Chicago in control.
They played great defense, they played with a lot of energy. Our energy we brought to this game was very important, Rose told CSNChicago.com. Keith, he was chasing people off the screens, making sure that he contested every shot and making sure that he made it hard on their twos, and he made it pretty hard. We played good team defense tonight and K.T. rebounded the ball, he was playing great defense in the post, making it hard on Pacers center Roy Hibbert.
Added Thibodeau: Kurt was fabulous. He stays within himself. He knows who he is, so hes out there for defense and rebounding, hitting open spot-ups when youre in the pick-and-roll with him and hell make the right play.
Said Thomas of his approach: Just being aggressive out there. Just chase down loose balls and continue to work, and try to get into Derricks hands as fast as possible.
A combination of stout defense and a blend of persistence in getting to the basket or patience in seeking out open jumpers led to a 79-63 Bulls advantage after three quarter of play.
Closing Things Out
Indiana, while they didnt truly threaten the Bulls lead, challenged Thibodeaus bunch enough that by the midway point of the final stanza, he was clearly dissatisfied by the goings-on on the court. After his customary early fourth-quarter breather, Rose was reinserted into the contest, as the Pacers attempted to trim their deficit to single digits.
The Pacers finally cracked that barrier with 3:21 to go, making it a nine-point affair on a Granger (team-high 22 points, 7-for-19 shooting) layup.
On the subsequent possession, however, Deng knocked down a 3-pointer, followed by a Rose basket on Chicagos next possession. It wasnt a picture-perfect ending, but the Bulls were able to hold off their divisional rivals down the stretch.
We had a good balance to our offense. I thought we had a good mix of post-ups, pick-and-rolls, catch-and-shoot, transition and I thought we were much more high energy with our cutting and making the ball move, and when we do that, were going to be successful. But the big thing is the defense, said Thibodeau. The defense, the rebounding, the low turnovers. You do those three things, youre going to be in position to win.
Added Deng: We want to be a defensive team and if thats who were going to be, weve got to stop people. We cant be trying to outscore people which were capable of doing weve got to stop teams and win games that way.
The Bulls improved to a league-best 8-0 in their division, demonstrating their dominance in the Central. Perhaps one game wouldnt solve all their issues, but it at least gave them a temporary fix heading into a highly-anticipated matchup with the Heat at the United Center the following evening.
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.