The Indiana Pacers came out looking to prove like they belonged in the NBA playoffs as the eight seed, facing the first-seeded Bulls. And it ended up turning into a dog fight down-the-stretch…
Roy Hibbert made his presence known right away by making his first three field goals in the opening minutes of the game. The Bulls’ defense was powerless to stop the penetration of Darren Collison, who torched Chicago for 15 first half points. Derrick Rose was nearly unstoppable with 18 in the half but the Pacers answered every Bulls’ comeback attempt with a bucket of their own as Indiana ran out to a 55-51 halftime lead.
The coveted Bulls’ defense started to show up as the second half began, but the Pacers continued the offensive assault and retained their hold on the lead.
Danny Granger began the game 2-of-7 from the field but ended up finishing at 10-of-20 for the game. He and Tyler Hansbrough answered every Bulls’ run with a huge basket of their own.
It wasn’t until Luol Deng received a technical foul for getting into the face of Hansbrough, who had just smacked Derrick Rose in the face on a move to the basket, that the fans in the United Center started to get into the game. Deng motioned to the crowd to get on their feet and make some noise to rally the stunned fans who were witnessing a lowly Pacer team take control of the game against the Bulls, who had not led once at that point in the game.
Indiana held a 98-88 lead with only 3:38 remaining in regulation.
Then the comeback ensued. And, this time, there would be no answer from the Pacers.
Joakim Noah seems to elevate his game to another level when the post-season arrives. And in crunch time of Game 1, Noah did just that. Joakim had a vital tip-in and then finished an and-one dunk off a cross-court pass from Rose.
Then, the soon-to-be MVP went to work and finished with an and-one lay-up of his own through the body of Indiana’s Roy Hibbert.
At the other end, Rose and the Bulls defense came up with a critical stop by forcing Darren Collison to miss a 19-foot jumper.
Rose followed that stop with a 7-foot jump shot that finally tied the game at 99-99.
Chicago’s defense came up huge again as Kyle Korver, of all people, came up with the blocked shot, and seconds later nailed the long three-pointer with 48 seconds left to give the Chicago Bulls their first lead of the day and the series.
Danny Granger was forced into a tough, contested long two-point attempt on the next possession and Rose hit two more of his 19 made free throws to extend the lead to two possessions with time winding down.
Rose had a career playoff-high of 39 points.
He also added six assists, six rebounds and three blocked-shots to his statline.
Fittingly, it was Joakim Noah who snuffed out the Pacers’ final gasps as time expired, as he blocked two close-range attempts from Pacers’ forward Josh McRoberts.
Pacers’ interim head coach Frank Vogel came up with a clear game-plan; Let Rose do what he wants and hope his teammates can’t beat them. But as Deng, Noah, Korver and the Bulls’ reserves smelled the game slipping away— a game that they knew was supposed to be their’s— they took action and gave their star point guard the help he needed to end up with the 1-0 series lead.
The final score of the game was 104-99 in Chicago’s favor.
The question in Bulls’ fans minds should be whether or not this effort by Indiana is a sign of things to come.
Could this be a competitive series now?
Or did Rose and the Bulls suck the life out of Indiana as they swung a 10-point deficit into a 5-point win in the closing minutes.
We’ll find out on Monday.