In a weekend dominated by college basketball, the best action of the day may have come out of the NBA as the Indiana Pacers showed unrivaled resilience in getting a huge win against the Chicago Bulls. And it wasn’t an easy one…even though the first 40 minutes suggested it was going to be. The Pacers managed to avoid a crippling poor start which has been a trademark against this Bulls team and did so in spectacular fashion.
Roy Hibbert (10) and Tyler Hansbrough (13) led the way in scoring 23 of Indiana’s 31 first quarter points. The Pacers did a tremendous job working on the stout Chicago defense, getting to the free throw line and hitting down shots. Brandon Rush led the way in the second quarter (no typo), scoring six huge points, and making three big defensive plays on one play after a lazy Dahntay Jones pass found its way into Chicago’s hand for a fast break. Rush not only reacted quickly to get back in transition, but defended the shot and managed to draw an offensive foul. Nothing seemed to go Chicago’s way; when they got to the line, they were missing, and Indiana used that to capitalize big time.
Indiana pushed the lead all the way up to 17 points and held it at 14 at halftime. They put up 62 points on Chicago in the first half, a big deal considering the Bulls’ defensive reputation. In fact, they had allowed just 73 points all game in their last victory against New Jersey, which was their eighth in a row. It remained Indiana’s game into the third quarter, where the team pushed the lead all the way up to 20 points. I think even the most optimistic of Pacers fans would admit that was a bit of a shock. Nothing in the previous matchups had suggested that was possible, much less going to actually happen. Every time the Bulls tried to get some momentum, Darren Collison was there, Tyler Hansbrough was there, anyone was there. The quarter ended on a key play from A.J. Price, who pulled out of a fast break, drove the lane, and completed a three point play.
It was shaping up to be that kind of night for Indiana. They continued to score at all, putting up 89 after three, but if the Pacers had a weak link all night, it was the second unit allowing Chicago scores and not responding with baskets of their own. After a Jeff Foster put back put the game at 95-80 with over eight minutes left, Derrick Rose, already in foul trouble, re-entered the game, and made it look easy. How easy? Rose’s three pointer in the fourth to cut the lead to ten opened the floodgates. From there, it was all about Derrick Rose and the Indiana Pacers’ futile efforts to contain him.
Rose was getting every drive he wanted. Every time he touched the ball he was at the free throw line. With every possession, the Bulls inched closer. Every possession, another Pacer wound up in foul trouble. Hibbert and Hansbrough salvaged what they could with some big buckets down the stretch, but the Bulls defense stepped up, and stepped up large. After Rose cut the game to two points at the line, Hansbrough responded with just the team’s 13th point of the fourth quarter. It suddenly became a completely different game, and Indiana was on the verge of choking it away.
After some rough plays going against the Pacers, a lot of them having to do with the Pacers inability to grab a rebound when they needed it at the end or get the shot they wanted as Collison committed a late turnover with time running down, the Bulls had the ball for the final possession down three. Once again, it was all about Derrick Rose, who pulled up for a three pointer and was, by no surprise at that point, able to draw the foul on Collison that sent him to the free throw line to tie it up.
Rose made his case for MVP tonight as he attempted his 17th, 18th, and 19th free throws of the game, completing his 19th point of the fourth quarter, and tying the game at 102. Danny Granger tried to win the game at the buzzer, but Rose may have gotten away with a foul of his own, as the two teams went into overtime.
Once there, the Pacers got MVP type play from Tyler Hansbrough. Following his 29th point to open up the overtime period, he made the biggest play of the night for the Pacers, poking loose Rose’s possession, passing to a wide open Collison for two big points, his only assist of the game. The Pacers pushed the lead to 7, suffered foul casualties to both Hansbrough and Danny Granger all while weathering yet another Bulls comeback.
With the Bulls down just three, Paul George found Josh McRoberts inside as the whistle blew, sending him to the line. The culprit? Rose himself, his sixth foul, and with that, along with Josh’s free throws, clinched a well earned and well deserved Indiana victory, putting them one step closer to their postseason aspirations.
Tonight’s game showcased exactly why every possession matters in a basketball game. The Pacers won this one by the skin of their teeth despite holding a 20-point lead, and if one thing, just one play changed, they likely don’t get this one to overtime, and without one play in overtime, this could easily have been a loss. The Pacers were able to score on the Bulls defense because they took every possession very seriously, committing just ten turnovers, only a few of the backbreaking, truly horrible variety.
Paul George said after the game they were treating this as a playoff game, and they played it like one with care given to each and every possession. They took advantage of the Bulls when they could, they hit the shots they had to hit, they made the stops they had to make. This was a big step forward for this team, which had taken their lumps in close games all season, to come away with a win here, it’s a positive turn as they continue to build for the postseason, hopefully continuing to peak, and to peak at the right time.
After the jump, Brandon Rush may be signaling the arrival of spring:
- Tyler Hansbrough led the way for the Pacers with 29 points and 12 rebounds on 12-19 shooting, in other words, just another day at the office. He put forth two steals and one assist, those being the biggest of the night. Hansbrough broke out of his one game slump to raise his efforts to six 20-point games in the last seven, averaging 23.6 and 8.1 in that stretch. Tyler had gotten a little bit of a short end for his efforts in recent games having broken his career high against the poorly defensive New York Knicks. But if Hansbrough’s efforts against the best defensive team in the NBA aren’t convincing, what is? Are we watching something really special here?
- Roy Hibbert had a big first quarter, but had three big points in the fourth quarter to keep the surging Bulls at bay. They were solid plays inside where the big fella was fed, and on one occasion spent a solid five seconds just backing Joakim Noah down in the post where he managed to draw the foul. He also came away big on defense in the extra period by swatting away one of Rose's shots late to further helped put this one away. Elsewhere on the front line, Jeff Foster racked up a few more Jeff Fosters, saving possession for the Pacers and keeping the team alive when they had to. With the game tight at the end, a confusing foul on Chicago sent Danny Granger to the line, until the replay showed it was Foster who needed to be there. Of course, this twist of fate led to everything that took place afterwards as Foster missed both free throws horribly. Yikes.
- Josh McRoberts had a quiet night, but made one of the more enjoyable plays. Following the recent loss in Chicago, Josh had gotten a lot of flak for getting dunked on, but returned the favor on Omir Asik, where Josh immediately gave Asik a look as if to say, "Why did you have to embarrass yourself?" Fortunately, no one will care about this poster.
- The wing play got a lot of positives. Danny Granger had a bit of a slow night, but 9 free throw attempts gave him 19 points despite a poor shooting night inside the arc, did hit three of his four field goals from deep with six boards and a pair of solid plays that wound up as assists. Paul George had a quiet 6 and 7 and iced the game, but he consistently set up his teammates with steals by poking loose balls and being active on the defensive end. Brandon Rush also showed up big time. In addition to his big three pronged defensive stop, he actively looked for his shot. If as spring rolls around for his third season that Rush begins to play solid ball yet again, the Pacers may be in solid shape moving forward in the season. Let’s hope this history repeats itself.
- Darren Collison played a strong game, making a conscious decision to minimize Derrick Rose’s offensive contributions by attacking Rose and getting to the basket. He finished with 17 points and 8 assists, and up until the fourth quarter, completely had his way with the Bulls defense. He struggled to find any kind of consistency in the fourth when the Bulls clamped down, but continued to make the effort, and may have come out ahead had he not suffered a few bad bounces. A.J. Price on the other hand, came away with a lot of positive plays and a number of negative ones. He hit just three of his eight field goal attempts, but each held a lot of importance.
- More on Derrick Rose. He finished the game with 42 points with only 2 assists. He went to the line 21 times, and quite simply, got every single call he wanted in the fourth quarter. If there was any doubt about Rose’s MVP candidacy, it looks a little more solidified after putting his team on his back, singlehandedly erasing a double digit deficit, and watching helplessly from the bench as his team fell out of rhythm in the final 30 seconds of the game. It was impressive to watch, even if every trip mounted more and more frustration the Pacers fans and team.
This was, as mentioned, a big boy win for the Indiana Pacers. They overcame not only a furious, out of this world effort from Derrick Rose, but grabbed the first division win of the season from the Chicago Bulls, who were 12-0 in the division prior to tonight. The team’s effort has been exceptional as they braved a hellacious, potentially sending ending series of games by going 3-1. While neither Chicago nor Boston were at full speed, the Pacers got a good feeling of where they stood against both of them should they draw either of them in the postseason.
Speaking of the team’s playoff hopes, which get brighter with every win, the team opened up a 1 1/2 game lead on the Bobcats, who fell tonight in Oklahoma City. The Bucks also won tonight against the Nets. Indiana will turn their attention to the Memphis Grizzlies in a game that concerns me. Memphis, despite being short Rudy Gay, have played some solid basketball of late without him, and provide matchup issues similar to the ones Atlanta infamously do. A win would mean a lot, but a win will also take a lot. Here’s to hoping they can pull out a solid road win and move a step closer to ending the playoff drought.