Well, well, well. Just 24 hours after you think it might be troubling that the Pacers got blown out at home by a Magic team that had its best player in foul trouble all night, Indiana flies over to Chicago and beats the NBA’s best team on its home court. In doing so, the Pacers became the first road team to win in the United Center and have now won in Chicago, Los Angeles (Lakers) and Boston, not to mention Toronto and Newark (which is arguably the hardest D-League arena to get a victory in).
This wasn’t some uber-slop fest like when they won in Boston, however. The Pacers played high-level hoops on both sides of the court during different stretches on the way to their 95-90 win over the Bulls. On defense, they held Chicago to just 36 points. And on the other end, they shot 47.5% from the floor, hit 5 of their 10 three-point attempts, helped their center abuse the Bulls bigs at times, and ran the pick-and-roll perhaps as well as they have all year. The offense disappeared at times, sure, but that shooting percentage — if you’re grading on a curve for this team — is like most hitting on a 60% clip.
Derrick Rose looked like MVP-Bot 3000 at times and he made some remarkable plays as well as just exploited some poor defense. Ronnie Brewer showed that Danny Granger’s better focus on defense this year may be contingent with him feeling guilty about missing shots. Cause when he was grooving tonight, Granger was paying not attention to Brewer, who scored 14 points in the second quarter. (Although Ronnie only scored 2 in the second half.) The Bulls also were able to exploit a mismatch as Rip Hamilton took George Hill down low for two straight hoops in one stretch.
But the Pacers kept adjusting and kept throwing different looks at the Bulls. And when it really mattered, in the fourth quarter, the rotations were expert and the big men ran at Rose out of his pick-and-rolls, either forcing him to give up the ball or at least impeding his progress and making him chose a less-direct method of attack. David West — who couldn’t hit the ground with spit from the mid-range on offense and blew more than a few would-be excellent pick-and-pop plays — was especially disruptive to the Chicago offense. Most spectacularly, he swatted Brewer to prevent a reverse layup, but it was much more than that. His hedging was textbook on several plays and he rotated well. It was in large part due to David West’s defense late that the Bulls didn’t hit a field goal in the final 3:17. (Sounds like a Pacers finish last May, doesn’t it?)
On the final play of the game that mattered, Chicago, down by 4, inbounded from the sideline. Rose threw it in to Joakim on the left wing and was clearly supposed to get the ball right back to make something happen as only he can. But Indiana cut off the pass and Noah was forced to create on his own since they only had 13 seconds to win what was still a two-possession game. Joakim dribbled and saw the defenders stepping up to cut him off. He tried to dump it off to a guy on the block but Granger was there for the steal. It was all over but the handshaking.
To me, this was a better win than even Sunday’s victory against the Lakers in Staples. In that game, the team really was humming along. Tonight, it was fits and starts of good and deplorable play (isn’t that right, George Hill?) and they trailed by 10 at the half. West was terrible and the bench outside of Tyler Hansbrough brought nothing to the table. It looked as though they might be run out of the building for a while, but with a quick flurry to start the third quarter, it was as if Brewergate had never even happened and it was anyone’s game. If you saw the Pacers/Bulls playoff series last year, however, you would probably think the same thing that everyone else did: “anyone’s game” meant the Bulls would win in the end — probably in an exciting, but not necessarily in an uncertain, way.
But when the Pacers needed a huge basket, they knuckled up and got two points. That never happened last May. This time though, the scuffling West found himself with the ball on the left baseline. Earlier in the possession, the Pacers ran a few actions, starting with a Paul George/Hibbert two-man game that turned into a Collison/West play on the other side of the floor. Darren drove and got hung up with nowhere to go on the sideline and kicked out to West. He should have shot it on the catch. Maybe he was worried he would miss as he did all night. No matter. With the shot clock fading, he put it on the deck and forced his way into the lane, taking the same sweeping jump hook that Monta Ellis made the other night and Magic Johnson immortalized in the NBA Finals. All cash.
The defense held on and that was that. And in that sentence “that was that” means that the Pacers solidified their second win on the road against a title contender in the past four days.
Here is how each guy played individually tonight.
|David West - 34 MIN | 6-18 FG | 4 AST | 3 STL | 2 BLK | 14 PTS |
Shooting 33.3% is gross but he was probably the MVP tonight. The defensive down the stretch was impeccable. Did all the winning things. Damn near put Noah in the stands boxing out on one play.
|Danny Granger - 37 MIN | 9-16 FG | 1-2 FT | 9 REB | 5 TO | 22 PTS |
Other than forgetting to play defense for the whole second quarter, he was excellent. Finally figuring out how to pick his spots to attack and when to lay back and spot up in case the first action doesn’t work out.
|Roy Hibbert - 35 MIN | 9-14 FG | 2-3 FT | 8 REB | 0 AST | 20 PTS |
The beast was back in beast mode, tossing in hooks, and making his presence felt in the post even when he wasn’t getting touches. Joakim had to stay home and was unable to be his disruptive self.
|Darren Collison - 33 MIN | 3-7 FG | 5-6 FT | 6 REB | 8 AST | 11 PTS |
DC was the polar opposite of last night. Made two bad TOs (early lazy pass and the behind-the-back slop) but ran the pick-and-roll expertly and got to the hoop when it was time to.
|Paul George - 33 MIN | 6-12 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 13 PTS |
It’s games like this that make you scratch your head that he still has 6-FGA games sometimes. Stayed aggressive and scored on drives, step-backs and spot-ups.
|Dahntay Jones - 11 MIN | 1-2 FG | 3 REB | 0 AST | 3 PTS |
I could have sworn he always drives with his eyes closed, but made an excellent pass down to Tyler while doing his China shop bull attack one time.
|Louis Amundson - 5 MIN | 0-1 FG | 1 REB | 0 AST | 0 PTS |
He played 5 minutes. It will go down in history as him having had played 5 minutes.
|George Hill - 25 MIN | 1-5 FG | 0 REB | 2 AST | 2 PTS |
Only thing George Hill did tonight on the court was make me wonder what Kawhi Leonard was up to. He’s now 1-for-9 with 4 points in the last two games.
|Tyler Hansbrough - 22 MIN | 3-5 FG | 4-6 FT | 6 REB | 10 PTS |
Looks like the Monstars gave Tyler his powers back. Was effective and active down low tonight, pissing off Boozer as only Tyler can. 6 FTAs and 6 boards in 22 mins.
|Lance Stephenson - 5 MIN | 0-0 FG | 1 REB | 2 AST | 0 PTS |
There’s always money in his banana stand shoes.