The Chicago Bulls finished the regular season with an NBA-best 62 wins. The Indiana Pacers finished the regular season with 37 wins. There was not supposed to be a lot of suspense surrounding the two teams’ first-round matchup. However, nobody told the Pacers they were supposed to go quietly against the Bulls, and the NBA Playoffs got started with an absolutely fantastic game.
The Pacers set the tone early by making jumper after jumper against Chicago’s top-ranked defense. The Bulls out-scored the Pacers 44-32 in the paint and 26-11 from the free-throw line, but the Pacers led for most of the game because of their sharp jump shooting. Darren Collison and A.J. Price were able to nail off-the-dribble threes when Rose went under the screen against them. Danny Granger was able to drain some quick-release catch-and-shoot jumpers with barely any room. Tyler Hansborough could not miss from 18 feet. The Pacers hardly got any wide-open threes or easy opportunities at the rim against the Bulls’ defense, but it didn’t matter — they were able to score on the Bulls’ defense because they believed that they could make any shot on the floor at any time.
The Bulls didn’t have much working for them on offense outside of Derrick Rose going to the basket. Fortunately for them, the Pacers had no chance of stopping Derrick Rose when he decided to go to the basket. Rose went 0-9 from beyond the three-point arc on Sunday, and only one of his 10 field goals came from outside of 15 feet. But even when Indiana tried to play Rose for the drive, he was able to snake his way into the paint and either make a twisting layup or draw a foul — Rose made 7 shots in the painted area, and sunk 19 of his 21 free throw attempts.
With 2:32 remaining in the game, the Pacers had a six-point lead. Then Derrick Rose took over. After a missed Tyler Hansborough layup, Rose fired an absolutely gorgeous pass to Joakim Noah for a dunk that cut the lead to four. On the next two possessions, he converted an impossible and-1 and hit a floater to tie the game. With the game tied at 99, Rose drove the lane, forced the defense to collapse, and hit a wide-open Kyle Korver for a three. In less than two minutes, Rose single-handedly turned a six-point deficit into a three-point lead, and a loss into a win. That’s what MVPs do.
This was a great win for the Bulls, but it did reveal that they could have some serious problems going into the playoffs. The Bulls’ depth was one of their greatest assets in the regular season, but they would have fallen to a 37-win team on Sunday if Derrick Rose didn’t have an absolute masterpiece of a game. Carlos Boozer was hampered with foul trouble, and was completely outplayed on both ends of the floor when he was in the game. Joakim Noah provided great energy and grabbed eight key offensive rebounds, but shot poorly. C.J. Watson, Taj Gibson, and Ronnie Brewer barely made an impact, and Omer Asik barely played.
In the playoffs, most teams tighten their rotation and rely less on their role players; one has to wonder if that will hurt a team as deep as the Bulls. The Bulls got what they needed from their supporting cast: Luol Deng made some big shots, Kyle Korver made all four of his threes, and Kurt Thomas was in the right place at the right time in that way he always seems to be. Still, the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th best players on the floor Sunday were all wearing Pacer jerseys, and that has to worry fans hoping to see the Bulls go all the way.
I think this will be the closest game of this playoff series — The Pacers couldn’t miss from outside, the Bulls couldn’t buy a jumper, and Chicago was still able to scrape out a victory. Still, the Pacers did reveal that the Bulls have some weaknesses, and those weaknesses could come back to bite them later in these playoffs.