Tom Thibodeau

Have the Pacers laid out the blueprint to beat the Bulls?


Chicago vs. Indiana was supposed to be one of the blowouts of the first round. Our preview predicted a sweep. What the Pacers liked to do the Bulls could defend, and the Bulls had Derrick Rose.

Two hard fought games in, the questions are not about this series — the Bulls are going to win it — but what the Pacers have done to make it close. How Rose has had big but inefficient games, how the Pacers have been able to hang in there? A lot of people around the league said if a team could limit Rose, they could limit the Bulls.

If the Pacers can do this, what will Orlando or Boston or Miami do?

Rose has averaged 37.5 points per game and is shooting 43.8 percent. That’s not that high but Rose’s offensive numbers — shooting percentage, true shooting percentage, assist stats, turnovers and the like — are all not far off his regular season numbers. Save for the fact Rose is shooting 14.3 percent from three.

But that level of inefficiency is part of what keeping the Pacers in this. Indiana is using 6’8” Paul George on Rose, and as Sebastian Pruiti points out at NBA Playbook that length allows George to recover quickly when Rose drives, or to go under screens and still contest jumpers.

How many teams have a long defender like that? Boston has Rajon Rondo, Miami has Dwyane Wade, both of whom could give Rose some trouble.

But the bigger issue may be the supporting cast, particularly the bench. In game one of the series Tyler Hansbrough was more effective than any Bulls role player. At various times Jeff Foster and Roy Hibbert created problems for the Bulls inside.

Kelly Dwyer at Ball Don’t Lie echoes something we were told by scouts and others in talking about the Bulls heading into the playoffs — the hard work that got them the league’s best record is not enough in the playoffs. They need execution and that has slipped.

The team made its hay in the regular season by going hard just about every night, taking advantage of opponents that were often going through the motions during the dregs of an 82-game season. Nobody drinks the dregs during the postseason, though, and Chicago’s effort alone won’t give the team the typical 10-point advantages its used to. The team can talk defense all it wants when the cameras are rolling, but this is a team that needs to find its way offensively.

Scoring has rarely been the strong suit for the NBA’s 11th-ranked offense, and the Pacers can get after it defensively. But the Bulls will be no match for the rest of the Eastern bracket if they don’t start to convert good looks. Luol Deng(notes) and Noah have combined to average 35 percent shooting through two games in this series, and these are mostly close shots around the rim that aren’t dropping down for Chicago’s lengthy defensive-minded duo. At some point, the chippies have to fall.

When you look ahead, Zach Lowe at is not sure Orlando has a perimeter defender who can slow Rose, and Rose’s body control just may lead to fouls on Dwight Howard. But the Celtics and Heat, that is a different story. They can slow Rose. And if they do, somebody has to pick up the offensive slack.

It’s just two games in, but the questions about the Bulls are getting louder. There is a blueprint out there. And the games will only get harder.

James Harden: “I am the best player in the league. I believe that.”

James Harden, Stephen Curry
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James Harden was the MVP last season — if you ask his fellow NBA players.

The traditional award (based on a media vote) went to Stephen Curry (in the closest vote in four years), and that was the right call (in my mind). But from the time it happened Harden did not buy it. And he still doesn’t buy it. In the least — and he’s using that as fuel for this season. That’s what he told Fran Blinebury over at

“I am the best player in the league. I believe that,” he said. “I thought I was last year, too.”

Well, it’s a more realistic claim than Paul George’s.

“But that award means most valuable to your team. We finished second in the West, which nobody thought we were going to do at the beginning of the year even when everybody was healthy. We were near the top in having the most injuries. We won our division in a division where every single team made the playoffs.

“There’s so many factors. I led the league in total points scored, minutes played. Like I said, I’m not taking anything away from Steph, but I felt I deserved the Most Valuable Player. That stays with me.”

That’s very Kobe Bryant of you to turn that into fuel. Defining the MVP Award is an annual discussion that nobody agrees on.

I could get into how Harden was the old-school, traditional stats MVP, how that ignores how Steve Kerr used Curry, and how that opened up the Warriors’ offense to championship levels. Curry put up numbers, but he was also the distraction, the bright star that Kerr used to open up looks for Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and others. Curry’s strength was not just what he did with the ball in his hands, but his gravity to draw defenders even when he didn’t. Did the Warriors stay healthier than the Rockets? No doubt. Should Curry be penalized for that?

It’s simple for Harden — if he can put up those numbers again, if he can be the fulcrum of a top offense, he will be in the discussion for MVP again. And, if he can lead the Rockets beyond the conference finals, nobody will talk about that MVP snub anyway.