The Indiana Pacers came out with a bang. With nothing to lose, they were fearless, strangely loose, confident. The Bulls didn't do anything different because they didn't need to -- they won more games than any team in the NBA this season doing what they do. Hibbert scores the first 4 Pacers points on putbacks. Collison is on fire. Then Granger catches fire. Then Hansbrough goes insane. The Pacers are up 98-88 with about 3 and a half minutes to go. They've never trailed.
Everybody's nervous. Everybody's thinking the unthinkable. Could the Pacers shock the Bulls and the world in game 1? It was their best chance to steal a game in a series most didn't think they would win one. Then, reality came crashing back. The Bulls notched it up another gear. The Pacers choke. The Bulls go on a 16-1 run to finish the game. Final score, 104-99. Bulls 1, Pacers 0.
In short, the Pacers outplayed the Chicago Bulls for 45 minutes and lost the game. Sure, the Bulls are unquestionably the better team, but the Pacers let this one slip away. And they know it.
Final score, 104-99. The Bulls outscored the Pacers 33-20 in the fourth quarter.
Derrick Rose led all scorers with 39 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, but shot only 10-23 including 0-9 from 3-point range. He did most of the damage from the free throw line, where he was 19-21. Luol Deng had 18 and 10, Joakim Noah had 10 and 11, Carlos Boozer had 12 and 6 (foul trouble all night) and Kyle Korver had 13, including the go-ahead 3-pointer (he was 4-4 on the night from downtown). As a team, the Bulls shot 43.9%, but they did have 21 offensive boards against 14 turnovers.
For the Pacers, Danny Granger led the way with 24 and 6, after shaking off a bad start. He shot 10-20 from the field and did most of his damage in the third quarter. Tyler Hansbrough was unstoppable, shredding Boozer for 22 points, also doing most of his work in the second half. Collison and Hibbert were effective early. Collison scored 15 of his 17 in the first half and had 9 assists and 6 rebounds overall. Hibbert scored the team's first 6 points but finished with only 11 and 8, plus 5 fouls. As a team, the Pacers shot 46.4%, including an excellent 10-18 from 3-point range, and only had 10 turnovers. But they were outrebounded 49-34 and shot only 11-17 (64.7%) from the line.
Breaking it down
The Pacers showed the best and worst of themselves yet again. So many times this season they have given up big leads down the stretch and fumbled away games in the dying minutes. Against the Bulls, it was no different.
That said, a lot of positives to take away from the game. They contained Derrick Rose probably as best as they could have. Yeah, he had 39 points, but the man is a freak but the Pacers put him on the line instead of giving up easy layups and dunks for most of the night. They had Boozer in foul trouble right from the get-go, which restricted the Bulls offense a little. And Hansbrough exploited Boozer's defense down the stretch to come up with big basket after big basket.
The problem again lies with defense and rebounding. The Bulls outhustled the Pacers for loose balls and got stacks of offensive boards and second chances. They didn't give up as many uncontested shots as I thought they would have, but they did when the game was on the line, which is why they lost. That, and the poor free throw shooting. With so many great shooters on the team, the Pacers should not struggle so much from the line. 11-17 is inexcusable. Collison missed two big ones, including a technical (from Deng) in the fourth that could have deflated the Bulls.
Individually, the standouts for me were Hansbrough (absolutely) and Collison (at least in the first half). I loved the fearless attitudes of these two young guys. Collison took it right at Rose in the first half, which is what he needs to do every game in order to slow Rose down at the other end. Hansbrough just killed the Bulls with his mid-range shots, hustle and energy, even after he was clubbed in the head with an inadvertent elbow and had to head to the locker room. These two guys were fearless and demonstrated that they have the potential to be big time players. Still mistake prone and have a lot to learn, but the potential is there.
Other guys that demonstrated a bit of that fearless attitude were AJ Price and Hibbert (at least in the first half). I like AJ's willingness to shoot the long ball off the pick and roll. Hibbert is more like a roller coaster. He shows flashes of toughness and desire for the ball down low, where he could dominate the Bulls, but other times he disappears and you don't even realize he's on the floor. If he could just channel that intensity more evenly...
Granger top scored, but didn't have a great game in my opinion. To be honest, he just had a good shooting game. His shots fell, but apart from a nifty post-up move against Deng, he didn't show me anything that impressive. And he missed when it counted. I hate when they isolate him because it's not a high percentage play. Most of the time he just jab steps and takes a contested jumper. To me, Hansbrough and Collison were the leaders on the team tonight.
Other guys -- Paul George looked like a bit of a deer in the headlights tonight. He started and played 24 minutes but only had 2 points (off a fast break alley-oop) and was virtually invisible all night. Brandon Rush didn't look stoned, and he seemed confident shooting the ball (hit a couple of 3s), but as usual he didn't get himself involved enough. Foster did what he usually does but McRoberts didn't play to his advantages all game and struggled.
Mike Dunleavy's playoff debut was a non-event. 15 minutes, 0 points, 0-3 shooting. What became crystal clear in game 1 is that the Bulls are unbelievable at defending shooters who try and weave through traffic and screens for that open shot. Dunleavy didn't get a single one tonight, and Granger maybe only a couple of times.
That means that the Pacers either have to do a better job at getting their shooters open, or they need to dump it down low to Hibbert more. I don't really trust Hibbert down in the paint against Noah, but it's a gamble they have to take. Give Hansbrough that mid-range jumper all day long because he can make them pay. Allow Collison to create plays with his penetration.
Oh, and the coach. Frank Vogel did an admirable job to get his team in a position to win, but I guess you could say he failed because he didn't get them over the line. The Pacers weathered numerous storms from the Bulls until the last three minutes. But it was his first playoff game and apart from a technical he gave up he was poised and observant. I think he's a good fit for this young team in this series because he energizes them and gets them to play with effort and confidence.
I have a sinking feeling that the Pacers may have just thrown away their best chance to win a game in this series. I have not seen them shoot this well and execute so well offensively (at least for 45 minutes) for a very very long time. They were even kind of okay defensively. And they still lost. What happens when those shots stop falling? Shudder.
I guess there are two ways to look at this. If you are the pessimist, as I tend to be, you'll think -- the Pacers played as well as they possibly could have in this game and still lost. There's no way they'll shoot this well again. They are too young, too reckless, too inconsistent and too fragile mentally to recover from this loss. They are going to get pounded in the next 3 games and bow out on a whimper.
If you're the optimistic, which is what I want to be, you might think -- the Pacers showed that they can play with these Bulls and beat them. They showed that the Bulls are not as unbeatable as they think they are. A little choke at the end of the game (okay, a big one), but these are predominantly first-timers with zero big game experience. Next time, they won't allow it to happen again. Next time they'll keep their composure and close out the game. Growing pains. This is how you learn, right?