Bulls win one and lose one against Pacers


Mar 6

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Monday’s Bulls success against the Indiana Pacers may have been the definition of a Pyrrhic victory as the Bulls avenged their January loss to the Pacers, but may have lost Richard Hamilton to a serious shoulder injury.

More wins like this and the Bulls could be in trouble.

Hamilton left Monday’s 92-72 win a minute into the game after running into a Roy Hibbert screen. Hamilton was said to have difficulty afterward even lifting his right arm as a result.

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said the team won’t know the extent of the injury until further examination Tuesday.

“He tried to shake it off,” said Thibodeau. “At first I thought might be stinger. That was not the case. They said we have to wait to see tomorrow. Hopefully, he’ll be OK.”

Richard Hamilton

It wasn’t a positive sounding Thibodeau, though he’s not one to read much inflection or body language, at least off the court. But if Hamilton is down it could be one of those third strike things. Hamilton has gone out twice this season for long stretches, missing 24 of the 39 games, though he seemed to be working his way back nicely, shooting nine of 14 and averaging nine points in just under 20 minutes the last two games. But if he’s out again, it raises the question of whether you can count on him with such a frequency of injury. As it happens, the NBA trading deadline is a week from Thursday, which means the Bulls could preempt a potential loss of Hamilton with a trade.

Of course, the big problem with that is the team is 32-8 after Monday’s win, the best record in the NBA, with excellent chemistry and relentless resilience. Any sort of significant trade to add someone of the caliber of Hamilton would probably require trading at least two players and a draft pick. And with C.J. Watson out again, this time with a sprained ankle and not expected to play at least for a few games, it hardly seems like the Bulls can afford a significant further disruption in their roster.

Perhaps they recall Mike James. Maybe Thibodeau goes with more playing time for rookie Jimmy Butler, who has performed well in flashes. It’s not likely you can pry away a fairly high level player like O.J. Mayo or Ray Allen, who both likely would be rentals given expiring deals. Maybe make a move for someone like Nets’ shooter Anthony Morrow as the Nets might want to save some money and acquire a draft pick for a Dwight Howard package. Maybe the Suns take a player and a pick for Shannon Brown, who hasn’t fit in well. I figure the Wizards would dump Nick Young, though nobody else then would get to shoot. After the Bulls beat the Cavs last week, you hope it’s not Anthony Parker. Wayne Ellington, anyone? Yup, I’m going to be sorting through wacky trade proposals for the next week if Hamilton isn’t OK.

“We always talk about (that) we have enough in this room to win,” said Carlos Boozer. “If we have a guy go down — we don’t want anybody to be hurt — but we have complete confidence in whoever is going to step up and fill that role. We had that last season and have that again this season.”

Still, the guessing on what the team might do is likely just starting with the news about Hamilton uncertain and the trading deadline just over a week away. And Joakim Noah, who had nine points and an impressive 17 rebounds in the Bulls massive 60-32 rebounding edge, knows Hamilton’s importance. After all, the Bulls let go their starter in 82 games at that position last season, Keith Bogans, to add Hamilton in what was felt as the missing piece to add offense and complete defensively with top shooting guards, like Miami’s Dwyane Wade. But absent Hamilton, it’s like the Bulls have taken a step backward regarding personnel.

“We hope that Rip’s not too hurt,” said Noah. “We need him to get to where we want to get to. Ronnie Brewer was an animal out there tonight. Taj-e-woo (Taj Gibson) was an animal tonight. The whole team is on the same page. We’re about the right things. We’ve got to keep it up. I know the city is proud now. We’ve got to keep representing and we’ll be all right. Hopefully he’ll (Rip) get some massage. We’ll call the spirits and make sure he’s all right and hopefully he’ll be back on the court soon.”

King Pyrrhus, who was an actual king unlike, say, LeBron James since Pyrrhus had won something, defeating the Romans. But he lost so many soldiers it was a crippling victory, thus the phrase.

It’s too bad it had to occur Monday as the Bulls were concluding a score back to back with a nifty second half finish over the Pacers after closing out the 76ers Sunday in Philadelphia. Both teams had defeated the Bulls earlier this season, and it remains a private motivation of the team not to feel inferior to anyone.

“We know those teams beat us last time,” noted Luol Deng, who had 20 points, including a pair of three pointers in the third quarter when the Bulls broke open a close game. “We don’t want teams to keep beating us. No matter what. We feel we’re good enough to beat anyone in this league. When a team keeps beating you, that’s giving you a message. This was a big game tonight. They came in here and beat us last time. If they come in here and beat us again, going forward their players get comfortable and confident. That’s the biggest thing in this league. Once you know you can beat someone, then you feel comfortable doing it you get up for it.”

And so after last season’s playoffs, a 4-1 Bulls victory but all tough, close games, this was an important game given the Pacers came in 23-12 with six straight wins. But this also was the “celebration game,” the followup to the Jan. 25 Pacers’ victory in the United Center after which Bulls players said they didn’t much like the Pacers’ excessive celebration in victory.

It became something of a cause as Pacers players said the Bulls were manufacturing an issue.

“We didn’t celebrate,” said Danny Granger. “We high fived and walked off the court. We went on to next game. We don’t take all that pleasure in beating Chicago. The media talked about it. I don’t know what they saw.”

“We don’t take lightly when a team beats and celebrates on our court,” said Boozer, however, after the game Monday. “We don’t forget too easily. We talk about all those things before the game. I remember them jumping around and celebrating. We don’t like anyone celebrating at our expense.”

So, no the issue wasn’t going away, at least for now.

Pacers players seemed to be brooding about it with private talk coming in that of all teams to say something how could the Bulls with Noah who celebrates with pantomimed pistols each time he even makes a jump shot. Noah then added to it after Sunday’s win in Philadelphia saying nobody out celebrates him and basically guaranteeing a win Monday.

Noah was fairly subdued after the win and after an unusually long shower as his apparent plan to outlast reporters went availing. It’s fairly likely Noah heard from Thibodeau, who will praise an opponent’s shooting form when they’re zero for 15.

“Good win for us,” Noah said. “Coming off a back to back. We played very hard. We were excited about this game. We handled our business. We played hard. It feels good to win in that fashion.” Noah added he was feeling good and winning made him happy. He didn’t quite get to the Bull Durham/Crash Davis interview practice, but he was heading there.

Noah got in a “one game at a time” comment, which certainly would please Thibodeau. And he added about whether there were words exchanged after the game that,” There are always words after the game. Good words when we win. Bad words when we lose.”

Actually, there were some words, aimed at, of all guys, Brian Scalabrine.

The Pacers didn’t seem very happy about this one and the substance of their post game explanations from Granger and Hibbert was that the series was 1-1 with both games played in Chicago. So they sort of accomplished what they set out to do. Granger said things would be different when the teams played in Indiana next month. Oh, yeah! Though being crushed like they were Monday hardly seemed like it. Coach Frank Vogel, usually a voluble, friendly sort, was mostly trying out his three word responses and a nasty look when an Indianapolis reporter suggested this game showed the difference between the Pacers and Bulls.

“That (rebounding) is one of the things that has been our Achilles heel,” said Paul George, who led Indiana with 21. “We were dominated out there tonight, and that was one of the biggest differences.”

Meanwhile, it might have gotten nasty after the game ended as Tyler Hansbrough went to confront Scalabrine and appeared to give him a push. Bulls players turned less with malice than confusion about what the heck was that? And since Hansbrough’s nickname is “psycho,” you always have to give pause.

Brian Scalabrine and Tyler Hansbrough

Scalabrine, who is the Chicago fans’ unofficial victory cigar, had hit a short baseline jumper for the final margin with 23.7 seconds left. I’m not sure what happened, but my guess is Vogel thought the Bulls could have run out the clock and not shot. Sort of one of those unwritten rules so as not to embarrass an opponent. I hate those rules as it’s very hard to get copies. As it happened, the Bulls had the ball with 25 seconds left, so they would have had to shoot. My personal opinion is if you let the clock run out for a 24-second violation it looks worse toward the opponent. “If you execute you can beat them,” said Vogel. “We did that here the last time.”

Fans had been chanting for Scalabrine to enter the game with about six minutes left and the Bulls ahead 82-61. Thibodeau, whose end of game life is dictated by one amazing Tracy McGrady scoring stretch, hates to take his starters out. But after the tough game in Philadelphia and with the big lead he apparently relented, removing Deng as none of the other starters had played in the fourth yet.

But the Pacers’ reserves got the score to 83-70 with 3:38 left, which was plenty of time for a three barrage. So Thibodeau put back in Deng and Noah and told Rose to stretch and warm up. “I thought we needed more scoring on the floor,” said Thibodeau. “If it got any closer, he was going in. He was in the bullpen warming up.”

Deng scored a couple of baskets and Rose sat, and Scalabrine finally came in with 30.7 seconds left and ended up making that jumper to the delight of the fans, at least the Chicago ones.

Vogel seemed to say something to Hansbrough just before Hansbrough went to confront Scalabrine to end the game. Nothing much happened other than the apparent push, though that might be good for a media, “These guys don’t like each other thing” for the next game.

There was plenty of so called media hype for this one with those Derrick Rose comments in January about the Pacers celebrating too much after the win. Both Vogel and Hibbert had addressed it as foolish since and it’s been a regular topic on Pacers’ TV broadcasts heading toward this game. The Pacers see themselves as an up and coming team, and the targeted team is now the Bulls.

And it didn’t go well for the Bulls early with Hamilton getting hit and going out and Deng, Boozer and Rose all shooting poorly, a combined three of 16 among the three in the first quarter, though the Bulls led 22-20 after one in the usual physical play between the teams.

“Our whole team for whatever reason, nobody had it going,” said Boozer. “We were down by a point (43-42 at halftime) because we were playing so freaking hard and rebounding well, making them take tough shots. I thought we did a good job playing hard and setting the tone on the boards. And then the offense picked up in the third quarter.”

After that sluggish first quarter, the Pacers edged ahead in the second with John Lucas, playing for Watson, hitting some shots and Ronnie Brewer playing for Hamilton coming up with several defensive gems and finishing with 12 points and seven rebounds. They kept the Bulls in the game. “Ronnie could have been player of the game,” said Boozer. “He may have been the only one to shoot over 50 percent.”

Lucas did also, adding 13 off the bench and Taj Gibson 10. Kyle Korver hit both his three point tries as the Bulls were nine of 15 overall on threes. Their defense held the Pacers to 34.2 percent overall after Indiana as the Pacers came in averaging more than 100 their last three games.

“I pride myself on trying to move without the basketball,” said Brewer. “If I see the back of your head I’m gonna move. Booz did a fabulous job finding me. I try to catch the ball and make some layups, though I missed one tonight and felt bad.” So what does Thibodeau say when he doesn’t dunk the ball, which Brewer doesn’t often.

“He says, ‘Make it!’” related Brewer. “Not quite quiet like that.”

The Bulls were no longer quiet after halftime, speeding up the game to avoid setting up against the Pacers physical defenders and beginning to hit shots. After a slow start to the quarter, Rose and Deng combined for five three pointers and a 20-5 run to close the quarter and 75-56 lead after three.

Hibbert reverted to his robotic tin man game, and the Pacers settled for jumpers and chasing Bulls players from behind.

“Their bigs are kind of slow getting back in transition,” noted Rose, who had 11 of his 13 points in the third quarter and then sat out the fourth. “That’s the way we should play every night. That’s when we’re at our best. I wasn’t worried. I’ve shot worse than that before. That’s the way I think. I wasn’t finishing the way wanted I wanted to finish. Maybe not enough focus. It was a rare game where I couldn’t finish the way I wanted to. I was getting to the hole. I wasn’t spinning the ball right off the glass. Not enough arc. One of those nights, I guess. I tried to be aggressive in the second half and they were giving me the three. So I took it.”

And then there was Noah, with at least 16 rebounds in five of his last nine games, playing again like he did before breaking his thumb early last season and dominating All-Star Hibbert. That guy was an All-Star?

“We knew if we ran we’d (tire out) Hibbert,” said Brewer. “Joakim brings a lot of energy. You’ve got a seven footer running that fast to the front of the rim. You’ve (defense) got to come to him. Which allows whoever is pushing the ball to find Lu in the corner for threes or D. Rose or layups on top of the rim.”

And so the sturm and drang of this particularly rivalry moves on, the quest for aesthetics amidst the push and shove of every day play. It continues in Indianapolis the penultimate day of the regular season. The Bulls have to hope it is with Hamilton.

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