When Tyler Hansbrough stripped Carlos Boozer and ran a fast break that resulted in Indiana taking a 98-88 lead with under four minutes to go, all that ran through my mind was, "I don’t want this to end with ‘…but Chicago pulled through.’"
Anything but that.
Alas, it would be Derrick Rose that proved the difference between a team with a closer and a team without one. The Pacers outdid and responded to every single thing the Bulls did for 47 minutes, but when it came down to it, they couldn’t find a closer, whereas Chicago only had to go to #1. For the Pacers and their fans, this is heartbreaking. But if Pacers fans playoff veterans know anything, this is it. A faint smile overwhelmed by sadness creeps up their face, as a pat on the back to the devastated first timers silently tells them, "You are now initiated as a Pacers fan."
The game itself was everything Pacers fans could hope for. A wire-to-wire lead, big time responses to Chicago runs, each and every one of the team’s young players making huge plays offensively or defensively. Indiana caught Chicago at their most vulnerable, but just couldn’t seal the deal. To make matters worse, the Pacers did everything necessary to beat the Bulls except close it out.
The Bulls, who entered the postseason a woeful 7-16 in games where their opponents scored 97 allowed Indiana to take a 98-88 lead. The Pacers shot well, pushed the tempo and had the United Center in a nervous silence for 47 minutes. You can’t possibly ask for more from this team, except the win, which is the only thing that matters when this one is recapped and the play of the Pacers is overshadowed and forgotten by Rose’s 39 points.
But it shouldn’t be that way. The Pacers didn’t do much to deserve acclaim heading into the postseason, but for a series expected to be four blowouts, the Pacers held their own. Roy Hibbert was huge out of the gate, four offensive rebounds and 8 points in the first. Darren Collison validated his position on the team by going toe to toe with Rose in the first half, scoring 15 points in the first half. Danny Granger broke out of his slump in the third on a pair of three pointers, and then Tyler Hansbrough went into pure "I only know how to win" mode, hitting any and everything.
That doesn’t even look at the quiet play from Brandon Rush, A.J. Price, Paul George and company. It was the Pacers showing up on the big stage in a big way, hoping to turn heads and prove they belonged, but an effort and showing that would beat 28 teams wasn’t enough to beat the only team that mattered. Ultimately, it wasn’t just the Bulls pulling through on the close, even though that’s how it looks. Indiana gave up 21 offensive rebounds, and while that alone doesn’t tell the story about how many came off of airballs and missed offensive rebounds, they still weren’t able to keep Chicago off the glass when it mattered.
To add on the free throw disparity, expected when Derrick Rose attempts 21 free throws to Indiana’s 17 total, but even when they got to the line, Indiana did not cash in, making only 11 of their 17. It was a microcosm as the game wound down that Collison would miss a gift technical free throw and Kurt Thomas would grab the offensive rebound to all but seal the win for the Bulls. The most frustrating thing about this loss is that it’s not just about cleaning up that area. Indiana played a top tier game; it just wasn’t enough as Chicago closed the game on a 16-1 run. The only hope is that the Pacers don’t dwell on this one and can put forth at least three more efforts like this in hopes of extending the series as far as they can. Instead of shocking the world, they’re simply the team that lost. It hurts, but the positives are certainly there for this team.
After the jump, the Pacers prove they’re a playoff team:
- Tyler Hansbrough returned to the national stage for the first time since he had his One Shining Moment at North Carolina, and not only dissected the Chicago Bulls, but proved his detractors wrong for every second he was on the floor, even for the seconds he was off the floor. And they were seconds. Hansbrough, in the middle of carving the Bulls for long jump shot after long jump shot, took an elbow from Kurt Thomas that had him woozy and disheveled. It wasn’t enough to keep Hansbrough down, who came back and went back to work. He finished with 22 points, every single one frustrating the Bulls and their fans. If anyone is going to show up for this series after this game, it will definitely be Tyler.
- Danny Granger got (far too) much flak for singling out Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls after clinching the postseason, but a slow and nervous looking first half gave way to a explosion in the second half. Granger came out in the third quarter firing, and finished with 24 points. Granger said before the series that keeping Rose contained would be the key to the series. It proved to be a pretty good analysis when the only thing they couldn’t do was contain Rose. He didn’t back down post game, calling Rose a "crazy ex-girlfriend" in the sense Granger didn’t feel safe any time he was on the floor.
- Darren Collison had a big first half, matching Derrick Rose blow for blow. Even still, he couldn’t keep pace with Rose, especially Rose at the line, where Collison was only 1-3 vs. Rose’s 19-21. A slightly different animal, but Collison showed up on the big stage just like his team did. He did some of the best work on Rose, in an all things considered sense. A.J. Price has been streaky at best this season, but found some of that microwave offense off the bench to grab another 8. As a whole, the PG position did well for Indiana.
- The game was all about teamwork, and Roy Hibbert was the domino that it got all to start falling. Hibbert stormed out of the gate with 9 first quarter points, just enough to get Indiana to avoid falling into a slow start and leave Indiana scrambling. His start helped fuel the rest of the team to lead for over 47 minutes in the game.
- The team will need more from Paul George and Mike Dunleavy offensively, however. While the Pacers scored well and shot well, George and Dunleavy combined for 1-5 shooting and 2 points. Both have showed up as big x-factors for the team to have a chance, and any kind of offense from them puts Indiana in a far better position. To be fair, George did his work defensively on Rose late in the game, limiting him to jumpers in most cases, where Rose was woefully inefficient.
Indiana lost this one, but the season is not over. It will be hard for this team to bounce back after playing hard for the entire game, winning the entire game, and still come out with an L. But if the Pacers hope to make any impact in this year’s postseason, they will have to do just that. Even better news is that a similar loss in Game 2 doesn’t end the series, nor does a similar loss in Game 3. The bad news is that Indiana isn’t going to sneak up on Chicago again. It’s going to get harder and harder to win a single game in this series, so letting Game 1 slip away is especially disappointing. It’s time to recoup, get mad, and get ready for Game 2 on Monday night at 9:30 on TNT. Even this is better than drafting 12th.