Watching the Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls tip-off preseason in a world where Derrick Rose actually plays basketball now overcame the ugliness of the first preseason game of the 2013-14 NBA season for the two teams. While the preseason schedule technically kicked off earlier today when the Oklahoma City Thunder won against Turkish club Fenerbahce Ulker, this was the first game pairing two NBA teams.
There was an extra buzz tonight because of Rose's anticipated return and being a game between the Pacers and Bulls, nothing about the game except for the level of play felt like a preseason game. Not only did Rose return, but so too did Danny Granger. Local fans (with NBA TV of course) nearly missed out on the show, but David Benner helped lift the curtain on the localized blackout, allowing fans to see the glorious brick fest, highlighted by Chicago wrapping up their night shooting 37.8% vs. Indiana's 32.9%.
Shooting aside, the game was competitive, and the shooting was low at times because the two teams looked sharp and ready as what are likely to be two of the league's best defensive teams. It was a game of runs, with Indiana falling short late with 12 points in the fourth quarter. Rose will get the headlines, and deservedly so, by looking fully prepared to potentially terrorize the league with his lethal speed, attacking abilities, and whining on non-calls, the Pacers angle is mostly positive for just some woeful shooting performances.
Granger looked ready to go, at least as ready to go as someone still working through rehab can be. He didn't shy away from contact, even taking a charge along the way. Assuming he can hold up through the physicality that comes with playing the Chicago Bulls, the next step will be getting his shot right. Granger was 2-10 on the night with six points in almost 29 minutes action, but it was great right now to see him on the floor and in better condition than he appeared this past winter.
Paul George's time was limited due to foul trouble, but it's time to get as excited as you can about a guy and his first preseason game of the year (after all, Taj Gibson had a backbreaking 9-12, 18 point night). George was lethal with his midrange as the only Pacer to shoot above 50%, hitting fadeaways, catch and shoots, and generally looking like the best player on the floor. But his night wrapped up early as he hit the bench with six fouls. He finished 5-9 with 14 points, going against Luol Deng, holding him to 4-16 shooting.
David West is still good too, by the way, in case there was any real concern about that. He had his own midrange jumper going as part of his own 14 point night. Roy Hibbert had a great start to the game shooting, but stumbled to a 4-14 game. Hibbert's own struggles shooting the ball, or more appropriately, laying the ball in, was shared by his teammates as the layup epidemic played a vital role in Indiana finishing under 33% shooting and losing the game.
Everyone took their turn missing routine gimmes, none more glaring the rookie Solomon Hill hawking out an in-stride steal and just whiffing on the layup on the other end. That's a rookie moment he won't soon forget, but there was a lot to be pleased with in S. Hill's night. That particular steal was his second pick six steal, and he appears to be a wildly efficient player, picking up from where he left off in Summer League.
The bench as a whole will be a work in progress for the time being, they simply didn't look in sync and nothing they shot was going in. It's hard to imagine them remaining this poor, but there were noticeable upgrades throughout the bench. Luis Scola and C.J. Watson are clear upgrades over their counterparts from last season, even if their numbers didn't quite reflect it. As for the negatives team wise besides shooting, early lack of rebounding gave the Bulls seven quick offensive boards as part of 17 on the night.
The starting lineup had a great stretch in the third quarter, shooting off an 18-2 run by forcing turnovers, making smart plays, and simply overpowering the Bulls' starters. It was a brief, but promising, stretch in the game where the Pacers absolutely looked like the Pacers they're expected to be this season. Despite all of the woeful, well, everything not Paul George, this is going to be a good team, and it's great to finally see them take the floor.
It'll be Thursday before we see the Pacers again as they're off to Manila, Philippines right after the game's over to play the Houston Rockets as part of their Asia tour, the Rockets wrapping up their own preseason game at home. It'll be interesting to see how the Pacers respond to the long travel, and whether they'll come out sharper simply having a game under their belt. It wasn't pretty, but at least basketball is back.