It started with a boost for the Pacers when Danny Granger returned after missing a game due to an undisclosed but admittedly serious personal issue. While Granger's return bolstered the starting lineup, the second unit took a hit with food poisoning leaving Mike Dunleavy in bed instead of available off the bench.
Then there was the first quarter which saw the Bulls sprint out ahead of the Pacers. First by ten, then fifteen and eventually 23 points. In the first quarter! I realize the Pacers have been digging early holes for themselves lately, but this took it to another level. They had the heavy excavation equipment out tonight.
The Bulls were hot, led by Luol Deng and also applying some aggressive defensive pressure on the Pacers. Pressure aside though, the Pacers also hurt themselves by missing a few point-blank shots around the rim. The combo ended in a 37-point quarter for the Bulls. You guessed it -- defense optional for the Pacers.
But this was a strange game, remember. So naturally, the Pacers defense was much more active in the second quarter and the Pacers caught fire from behind the arc. When Brandon Rush made a 3-pointer (his fourth of the quarter) with two minutes left in the half, the score was tied at 52.
The Pacers would trail by four at the half, but their 36-point second quarter erased much of the pain felt in the first quarter. But the strange twists and turns in this game weren't over.The Bulls came out in the third quarter like the second never happened and threw up another 37 points. While the Pacers didn't get run out of the gym, keeping the deficit around 15 points, they appeared to have nothing left in the tank to fire up another run worthy of challenging for the win.
There is no doubt, the Bulls pulled their foot off the gas in the first half after that early lead and allowed the Pacers to work their way back into the game. To the Pacers credit they swiftly took advantage in the second quarter. Having survived that run, the Bulls weren't going to ease up this time around and the Pacers advances were rebuffed until Jim O'Brien pulled the plug midway through the fourth quarter.
But even that move was strange, not that I'm complaining. Yes, the Bulls frustrated the Pacers in the fourth quarter as the teams essentially swapped baskets, but a 13 or 15-point lead midway through the fourth quarter is not a death sentence if a couple of threes fall and T.J. Ford or Danny Granger catches fire.
JOB pulled Granger with the Pacers down 13 with six minutes left. He wouldn't return. With a little over a minute left, the deficit was down to eight. Granger, Troy Murphy, Earl Watson and T.J. Ford were all on the bench where they were for at least the final five minutes.
Personally, I was happy to see the young players out there wrapping up a game that likely would've ended the same way regardless of which players finished on the court. But JOB essentially pulling the plug so early raised my eyebrows. Strange.
A few quick player notes:
- Strange play was evident amongst the individual players, as well. Danny Granger started the game with a ton of energy. He was real active at both ends, bordering on out of control on offense. Figured after a few tough days, he had some pent-up energy to release.
- Brandon Rush made some nice plays all night, pitching in a season-high 29 points with five threes along with 7 rebounds and a couple of blocks.
- T.J. Ford had a productive night, although also had a strange game. His early play was straight out of the vault from his December play. Poor jump passes and nothing going right, including Kirk Hinrich breaking him down. Then he snapped out of it and helped fuel the second quarter comeback. Not the best game he's had in the past couple of weeks but he ended up with a solid overall outing.
- Roy Hibbert was out of this game early. When the Pacers went behind the arc to work their way back into the game, Hibby's touches were non-existent. As it was, he only had five field goal attempts. Roy just wasn't into the game in the second half. His body language seemed, well, strange and he just never found a way to impact the game.
- The Bulls controlled this game nicely in the second half and took advantage of great games from Luol Deng and Derrick Rose. Deng finished with 31 points, 9 rebounds and 4 blocks while Rose did it all with 23 points, 8 assists and 9 rebounds.