A closer look at the Bulls’ 104-99 Game 1 win


Apr 16

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The better team, the Bulls, won Saturday’s opening playoff game in the United Center, 104-99.

“If anything, I’d love a blowout game,” said Derrick Rose, who blew away the Pacers and everyone watching with a spectacular 39-point effort, including scoring or assisting on the last dozen Bulls points as the Bulls overcame a 10-point deficit in the last three and  a half minutes. “We definitely did not want a game like this in the first game. I was just trying to win a game. Tonight I was not making shots (zero for nine on threes), so I was making plays. Whatever it takes to win I’m willing to do.

“I guess from the beginning we were not prepared for it,” said Rose. “Next time, we‘ll be ready. We’ll sharpen some things up and Monday (Game 2) we should be OK. I feel great. I’m getting a lot of rest. Right now, life is pretty good.”

The team that played better, meanwhile, the Indiana Pacers, lost.

“We should have won this game,” said Pacers coach Frank Vogel.  “The last several weeks we’ve been playing as well as anyone in the NBA.  This will be a series.  For our guys’ first playoff game, I thought it showed what we’re made of.  Yes, we’re confident, not dejected.  We should have won this game and the guys know that.  We’re playing with a lot of confidence and this is going to be a good series.”

Not what the Bulls would want nor what the consensus believed, and it is 1-0 Bulls as expected, though hardly as anticipated as the matchups didn’t quite go as predicted:

Point Guard: Derrick Rose vs Darren Collison. Rose was brilliant with 39 points, getting to the free throw line 21 times for the second consecutive game against the Pacers. His drives were breathtaking and unstoppable as he came out fast to try to kick start the uncertain Bulls and carried them home when the game seemed lost. But Darren Collison was very good, roaming through the Bulls defense like Steve Nash, circling around the baseline and out and getting 17 points and nine assists. He hit a pair of threes and burned Rose going under screens with jumpers. Rose had the edge, really a big one, but not as big as expected. A.J. Price backing up Collison shot the ball surprisingly well while C.J. Watson also lost him going under screens—the Bulls changed that some after halftime—while Watson had a questionable sequence to open the second quarter taking shots without much ball movement, giving the backup edge to the Pacers.

Shooting Guard: Keith Bogans vs Paul George. Neither impacted the game very much with George in early foul trouble and taking some shots guarding Rose late to show him some length, though without much success. Brandon Rush made shots backing up while Ronnie Brewer didn’t do much for the Bulls. Pretty much a wash.

Small Forward: Luol Deng vs. Danny Granger. Deng wasn’t moving much on offense in the first half while concentrating on defending Granger and doing an excellent job as Granger missed his first four jumpers badly to open the game. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau often tries to get Deng going with plays coming out of halftime and to start the game, though Deng didn’t really get into his offense until making a pair of threes in the fourth quarter and scoring 10 fourth quarter points of his 18 and 10 overall rebounds . Granger got more space after halftime with Pacers coach Frank Vogel making a nice adjustment on the one/three pick and roll with Collison and Granger to get Granger more space with the court spread. Vogel did an excellent job in attacking the Bulls at their weak spots and making adjustments as the game progressed. Granger did miss a pair at the end and didn’t get to the free throw line all game, though he made four threes and was 10 of 20 overall. He scored 24 points to 18 for Deng, who began slashing off screens the second half with Granger trailing lazily. So give Deng the slight edge.

Power Forward: Carlos Boozer vs Tyler Hansbrough. This was a big edge for Hansbrough as the Pacers’ primary game plan consisted of going at Boozer with Hansbrough, who had 22 points and recovered from a vicious, though accidental, elbow to the head from Kurt Thomas at the end of the third quarter to return and make two big jumpers to give the Pacers a 95-88 lead with 3:54 left. Hansbrough, who missed most of last season with vertigo, said he was tested for a concussion and didn’t have one. He said he left the court wobbly only because of fatigue. “I thought we played aggressively offensively and got Boozer in foul trouble,” said Vogel. “Tyler went at Boozer knowing we could score or foul him out.”  Boozer played just 26 minutes with 12 points and six rebounds, but also providing little help on the back side when the Bulls fronted Pacers’ center Roy Hibbert. Hansbrough stripped Boozer for a huge turnover and subsequent fast break layup and three point play for a 10-point lead with 3:38 to go that looked like the winner for Indiana. Earlier in the quarter, Josh McRoberts drove over Boozer with little resistance for an 89-81 lead. “We’ve got to guard Hansbrough better,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “He’s a very good 15 to 17-foot shooter. He knows how to draw fouls. It’s not only on Carlos. It’s on our entire team. We’re capable of playing much better defense and I feel we will.” It may fall to Thibodeau to sit Boozer or push him for more effort, which hasn’t occurred yet. Taj Gibson, though, was quiet in relief and matched by McRoberts. Big edge there to the Pacers.

Center: Joakim Noah vs Roy Hibbert. Noah ended with a double/double with 10 points and 11 rebounds while adding three blocks, though two late ones on Josh McRoberts after the game was effectively decided. Hibbert had 11 points, eight rebounds and a block and had Noah snatch a pair of air balls early for layups when he went to help. Noah did have a big run out fast break, finally, reminiscent of his overtime fast break to wrap up the triple overtime playoff game against Boston two years ago. But he disappeared for long stretches and added almost no offensive threat. So the Bulls starters again fell behind to after the first quarter with Bogans, Boozer and Noah not providing much offense and leaving it to Rose. Kurt Thomas came in for Boozer for defense late to team with Noah while Jeff Foster had a solid stretch and laid one of the two hard fouls on Rose on drives along with one from Hansbrough which drew a technical for Deng when he challenged Hansbrough and led to an unusually emotional Deng waving his both arms to the crowd and urging them up and into the game. “I love that (crap),”  said Noah. “I love it! I love our team. I feel we go through a lot of things. We went through adversity today and have all year. We’ve got to keep it up. I love watching Lu play like this. He’s so focused now. It adds another whole dimension to our team.” Again, probably even here with Hibbert’s size edge matching Noah’s hustle.

Bench: That, probably along with Rose, made it just enough for the Bulls to have on and avoid an upset, as Kyle Korver scored 13 points in 21 minutes and made the big three that gave the Bulls their first lead of the game with 48.4 seconds left in the fourth quarter. “Derrick kept telling me he was going to be looking for me,” said Korver. “I told him I was going to be ready. I was waiting for my man to sag. That’s why I’m there. Hopefully, my guy is thinking to help or not. And we can catch him in the middle. If he stays with me, then Derrick has a lane. If not, I’m open. It’s the way I’ve been used my whole life.” Edge and game to the Bulls, though just barely.

“A win is a win,” Noah said. “There’s no stealing. They’re a tough team. Just because they’re playing one against eight doesn’t mean you’re automatically going to win because people say you are supposed to win You have to go out and play the game. We know we didn’t play our best. It’s on us to make the corrections and pick it up.”

Those corrections, if you can call them that, will likely be more in aggressive play on defense and less changes in the way the team plays and who plays. The Bulls had terrific defensive sequences down the stretch after that 10-point deficit with three and a half minutes to go on forcing Hansbrough, Granger and Collison misses and not leaving the Pacers with anything open when it seemed they needed just one more score to put the Bulls away.

(see my earlier story for more details on the game:

“We had this game pretty much in hand up until the last two and a half minutes,” said Granger, the Pacer who said he favored playing the Bulls over the Celtics because you only had to stop Rose (ooops). “We were that close to a big upset in the first game. Rose is hard to stop. We’re going to have to go back to the drawing board to figure out how. It hurts even more. I’d rather lose by 20. We were right there. We needed to make a few plays down the stretch and get stops and we would have had the game. They made some great defensive plays. You have to give them credit. We made a lot of good plays to win the game. We came up two or three short.”

It probably is the end of the series, which most had written off already. The Pacers had this one, and now have to win four more. That certainly seems unlikely. You can say a win like this has the makings of a championship team in winning a game when not much went right. Though you also have to wonder whether a team that has to rely so much on one player can go that far, even if the player is the MVP to be.

Rose was magnificent with a collection of breathtaking dashes to the basket, twisting, spinning and turning through defenders like they were set up on an obstacle course, avoiding charges by jumping over defenders. He even had on one of those chest pounders on a late driving score for a three point play to bring the Bulls within 99-97 with 1:50 left, pounding on his own chest instead of a Pacer doing it for a change. It was a career playoff high for Rose even with little outside shooting, three points better than his Game 1 against Boston in 2009.

There was some talk the Pacers would try to be physical, perhaps even dirty with Rose. It wasn’t overt, but there were a pair of hard fouls, one by Jeff Foster and a second midway through the fourth quarter by Hansbrough.

“It was hard, but not really that hard,” said Rose. “I wasn’t holding my arm after they hit me. That’s why I continued to drive. I was fine with it, (but) you’re not going to get punked. I know I’m quiet, but that doesn’t mean anything. If you’re out there and think it’s a dirty foul, you have to say something.“

That’s what Deng did in rushing over to confront Hansbrough—Deng later said it wasn’t a dirty hit—resulting in a technical foul with 4:52 left and the Pacers ahead 91-86. The Pacers behind Hansbrough would go on to take the 98-88 lead with 3:38 left before the Bulls stormed back for the victory.

That closing defensive stretch after an earlier defensive stench was impressive. It actually started with a silly Noah foul after the Bulls had forced the Pacers to waste 23 seconds with Hibbert with the ball and nowhere to go. Then came Collison short arming a jumper before a Rose floater to tie it at 99, Deng posing as glue to Granger, who eventually would throw the ball way before Kyle Korver’s three for the 102-99 first Bulls lead of the game. Then came Granger with another miss,a  quick jumper off the inbounds. Thomas, in as a defensive change for Boozer, then grabbed a Deng miss and Rose was fouled and made two more free throws with 14.8 seconds to effectively end it.

Deng had gotten the crowd back into the game after that hard foul on Rose during what was an impressive performance by the Pacers as they seemed to stop every momentum changing Bulls shot with a matching shot on the next possession.

So it was a rare display of emotion from the usually dispassionate Deng with Deng waving his arms and screaming, “C’mon.

“It just happened,” said Deng. “Emotionally, I stepped up. I feel like the way the game was going we felt we needed the crowd behind us. The crowd responded great and it kind of got us going. Just the intensity of the game and the atmosphere. It just happened. You can call it whatever you want. I don’t think we’ll look back and say we stole it. Everyone is expecting us to win. We can’t have that midnset. The media, friends, everyone has us winning this series. In the locker room, we’ve got to take it one game at a time. I like it when they play us physically. It gets us going.”

The Bulls were stronger and tougher when they had to be. They outrebounded the Pacers 49-34 and had a huge 19-8 edge in second chance points. They made the plays and they had the player of the game. And they barely succeeded at home. We’ll find out soon enough if that emboldened the Pacers or enervated them.

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