Even though I foreshadowed the possibility, the fact that the Indiana Pacers handed the Chicago Bulls their first home loss of the season (95-90) still surprised me. I had to watch the reply last night before throwing in my 2 cents about the game.
In this season's first meeting, the Pacers caught a break when the Bulls lost both Luol Deng and Taj Gibson to injury. But they also improved themselves with the additions of David West and George Hill. It was another barometer game for this young team.
The Pacers played a decent first quarter, leading 24-23 at the break (which they were fortunate to be as Derrick Rose's parking lot bank shot at the buzzer was waved off), before Ronnie Brewer and the Bulls turned it up and the Pacers forgot how to defend. When the Bulls led 54-44 at the half, it didn't look good for the Pacers, but to their credit they bounced back with a trademark third quarter, outscoring the Bulls 31-20 to lead by a single point heading into the fourth. The Pacers led most of the fourth but the Bulls kept attacking, and just like last years playoffs, it appeared to be only a matter of time before Derrick Rose would take them over the top.
A bit of luck came the Pacers way when, trailing 92-90, Rose drove into the lane, and when the Pacers defense converged, Rose passed the ball out to Brian Scalabrine in the corner for a wide open three, which was just short. A scramble for the rebound led to a flying Joakim Noah who flicked the ball back inbounds, right into the hands of Darren Collison, who raced up the floor before stumbling and pushing the ball to Paul George, who in turn passed it to Roy Hibbert right under the ring for a two-handed flush with 13 seconds to go. The Pacers D kept the ball away from Rose on the ensuing possession and Granger intercepted a Noah pass, making 1-2 from the line for the final scoreline.
Yes, some luck was involved, but the Pacers proved to themselves that they could hang with this Bulls team (albeit a depleted one), especially after such a disappointing home loss to the Magic the day before. The smart money is still on the Bulls every time these two teams play, and the Bulls would be heavily favored in a 7-game series, but it's a good statement game by the Pacers to show the rest of the league what they are capable of when on their game.
Danny Granger really stepped up with 22 points on 9-16 shooting, plus 5 rebounds and 2 steals. He did have 5 turnovers and allowed Ronnie Brewer to blitz him in the second quarter, but on the whole this was one of this better performances of the season. Roy Hibbert, the man in the plastic mask, continued to shine with a 20 point, 8 rebound and 4 block night, tossing in his baby hooks almost at will. Last season those shots felt like mini-prayers each time they left his fingers, but this season they've looked as certain as any shot in the league.
As for the new additions, Geprge Hill didn't have much of an impact in the game (2 points in 25 minutes), but David West was one of the key pieces in the victory with 14 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks, hitting some big shots early and late.
Tyler Hansbrough kind of broke out of a mini-slump with 10 points and 6 boards, but it's clear he's capable of doing so much more. He's just in a funk right now and needs to fight his way out of it and look for that form he had during the preseason.
It's clear that these two teams have a special passion when playing against each other (I wouldn't call it a "rivaly" considering how one-sided it is). Derrick Rose said after the game that he'd never forget how the Pacers celebrated in the corridors and in the locker room after the game, and that he couldn't wait to play them again.
Interpret that as you will, but I see it as both sides paying respect to each other. On the one hand, the Pacers were ecstatic to beat the team that tormented them in the playoffs last season and the current top team in the NBA (record-wise), in a place where they had been previously undefeated. The wins over the Celtics and the Lakers were great, but this one meant a lot more to them. Can't blame them for getting a little too excited.
On the other hand, Rose's reaction showed how much he respects the Pacers. By thinking that they showed him disrespect, Rose is actually saying that playing the Pacers means something to him. He knows this is a team that they could meet again in the playoffs.