Almost 8 months since their last game, the Indiana Pacers returned to action today against the team that knocked them out of the 2010 playoffs -- the Chicago Bulls. And like that exciting, competitive first round series, the Bulls came out on top again this time, 95-86. Sure, it's just a preseason game, but considering there are only two (the teams play each other once more) before this condensed season begins, the players would have no doubt put in a little extra effort.
The game in a nutshell: The Pacers jumped out to an early lead and led 33-22 after the first quarter, but the Bulls came storming back to take a 52-47 halftime lead, holding the Pacers to just 14 second quarter points. The Pacers would pull within 1 point after three quarters, but the Bulls would pull away in the fourth for the final score, 95-86. Neither team was spectacular, but like they did before, Derrick Rose and the Bulls would summon that extra gear when they needed it, and the Pacers would simply have no answer.
What I liked:
1. Tyler Hansbrough's team leading 19 points and 11 rebounds -- with David West sitting out, Psycho-T showed that he's not quite ready to relinquish his starting job just yet. If he can keep up this level of play, Frank Vogel will have no choice but to give him more minutes. That will be a good thing, as it will give West more time to recover from his ACL surgery and give Hansbrough more time to develop. In short spurts Hansbrough will be one of the most potent forces off the bench in the entire league. It's early, but could he possibly be a Sixth Man of the Year candidate?
2. Paul George's 17 points and 10 rebounds -- the expectations are sky high for PG, who grew 2 inches to 6'10" during the extended offseason. He did not disappoint, with a stellar 17 and 10 performance. Even though PG only shot 5-13, he was aggressive, getting to the line 10 times (though he only made 6) and grabbed 5 offensive boards. If he can only find his stroke, PG is going to be a force to be reckoned with this season.
3. Jeff Foster's 10 rebounds in 18 minutes -- does this look like a man in the twilight of his career? Newly re-signed Jeff Foster was as feisty on the boards as ever, grabbing 10 big ones in just 18 minutes, including 5 offensive boards. This is what Indiana loves about him, and let's hope he can remain healthy enough to produce these kinds of numbers on a regular basis.
What I didn't like:
1. Danny Granger's performance -- disappointing night for the Pacers' leader, Danny Granger, who finished with 12 points on 5-17 shooting. The most glaring number is the ZERO free throw attempts. After all that talk about being more aggressive in taking the ball to the hole and working on his ball handling and so forth, Granger forgot to walk the walk. Let's hope this was just an anomaly and Granger will get his act together next game -- or else those Granger trade rumors might finally become a reality...
2. Hibbert's foul woes -- Big Roy did his best and put in decent numbers (14 points and 7 rebounds on 5-10 shooting) but he struggled with foul trouble for most of the night, and missed 5 of his 9 free throws. The big fellas has to do better than that, though to be fair 4 of his 7 rebounds were on the offensive end.
3. George Hill's debut -- the long awaited debut of George Hill in a Pacers uniform didn't turn out as planned. Hill played 19 minutes and finished with 3 points and 1 assist on 1-7 shooting. Perhaps it was playing with his new teammates for the first time, or perhaps it was the pressure of playing at home (Hill is from Indiana). Either way, it's not the start most envisioned for him. Alas, it's just a preseason game, so let's not read too much into it.
4. The rest of the Pacers bench -- not a single player from the Pacers bench scored more than 3 points. Dahntay Jones, 0-5, zero points. Lance Stephenson, 1-3, 2 points. Brandon Rush, 1-2, 3 points. All starters have positive plus-minuses, and all reserves had negative plus-minuses. That's the difference in the game right there. As a team they shot only 33.7%, and much of the blame has to go to the bench, who shot just 4-23 from the field (17.4%).
5. No David West -- no explanation necessary. We want to see him in a Pacers uniform, and soon.
Next game is on Tuesday. Maybe the Pacers can get a win in Chicago.